Their shared love of art brought them together. Now, Ernie Kretzmer is honoring his late wife, Alisa, with a new rehearsal studio for the Sarasota Ballet
On an early September day, the Sarasota Ballet was rehearsing for its upcoming season, which opens Oct. 23. As the dancers were about to run through another sequence, the studio doors inside the FSU Performing Arts Center opened, and an unassuming man quietly stepped inside.
Like he’d done on many other occasions over the last 10 years, sponsor and patron Ernie Kretzmer was there to watch the company rehearse. Only this time, he was met with a room full of applause.
The 90-year-old arts-lover recently donated money to kickstart the company’s construction of a new rehearsal space. The new facility will not only significantly improve the dancers’ current space, but it will also honor one of the ballet’s biggest supporters: Kretzmer’s late wife, Alisa.
The ballet is currently vetting potential locations and hopes to have the space open by next season. The Ernie and Alisa Kretzmer Sarasota Ballet Studios will feature two stories and a glass front façade, which will let in light and allow passersby to see inside.
Although the amount of Kretzmer’s gift remains undisclosed, it was substantial enough to begin building the studio space while the ballet continues its $2.5 million fundraising campaign. The gift, which was facilitated by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, will help meet the needs of the rapidly growing Sarasota Ballet. But for Kretzmer, it was about paying tribute to Alisa, who died in April.
“She was crazy about the ballet,” says Kretzmer. “Every opening night of a new production, she was full of anticipation. She was the one who really stimulated me and introduced me to ballet. Now it’s my chance to do something in her memory.”
The Kretzmers met through a mutual friend at a New Year’s Eve party in 1982 in New Jersey. They were both immigrants to America and both widowed, and they quickly bonded over their shared love of classical music. Exactly one year later, they were married. Shortly after marrying, Kretzmer read an article in Time magazine touting Sarasota as the cultural home of Florida. The two began vacationing here the following year and fell in love with the city’s flourishing arts and culture scene.
Now, with his gift, he hopes to keep their love for Sarasota’s arts alive.
The donation comes at a crucial time for the organization. Entering its 25th season, its 56 professional dancers and approximately 350 students will use the space to rehearse together, instead of being split between the FSU Center for the Performing Arts and the ballet’s auxiliary rehearsal space on Tallevast Road. Director Iain Webb looks forward to the shared space.
“That was one of the biggest inspirations for me when I got to London and the Royal Ballet School,” says Webb. “I would walk down the corridor, and there would be Rudolf Nureyev walking past, and all these big stars. As a young dancer, it gives you inspiration.”
Though this studio means a great deal for the future of the Sarasota Ballet, it isn’t the first time that Kretzmer has had an impact on the Sarasota arts community. Over the past decade, the Kretzmers donated to numerous organizations, including the Sarasota Orchestra, the Sarasota Opera (the orchestra pit in the renovated opera house is named after the couple) and most recently, Kretzmer’s giving will go toward creating new performer housing for Florida Studio Theatre and the Sarasota Opera in the Rosemary District.
“Honestly, with Ernie, he and Alisa were raised in the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, which means ‘repair the world,’” says Scott Anderson, senior philanthropic adviser at Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and the Kretzmers’ personal giving adviser. “They want to make the world a better place, and he has a strong belief that he is here to grow the world.”
When he’s not catching the latest ballet, symphony or opera performance, Kretzmer can be found relaxing at home, listening to his favorite composers on classical radio. For him, the satisfaction he gets from enjoying art and supporting it are analogous: they are good unto themselves.
“I don’t think in terms of impact,” says Kretzmer of his philanthropy. “I just want to do good.”