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Adam Pinsker obituary: Former Dance St. Louis executive director

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 1, 2010 - Adam Pinsker was a rarity: a talented musician with a head for business. In fact, in 1954, he began his career as staff pianist and manager with the United States Seventh Army Symphony in Stuttgart, Germany. He went on to become a successful arts administrator who managed orchestras, chamber music ensembles and dance companies like Dance St. Louis, where he served as executive director for nearly a decade.

A memorial service will be held in New York on Dec. 4 for Mr. Pinsker, who died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 29, 2010, at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He was, his wife Judith said, "a very youthful 79."

On the Map

Dance St. Louis was founded 44 years ago when Washington University professor of dance Annelise Mertz and a small group of like-minded folk set about bringing modern dance to St. Louis. But it took Mr. Pinsker, who arrived nearly three decades later, to put the company -- and St. Louis -- on the dance map.

"Dance St. Louis was totally unheard of nationally before Adam Pinsker came in," said Sally Brayley Bliss, who headed Dance St. Louis from 1995 to 2006, beginning 14 months after Mr. Pinsker's departure. "He did a fabulous job and his work was massive in its impact, which made it easier for me. I just continued the whole thing. I just followed his leadership.

"I don't think even St. Louis really was aware of dance before Adam," Bliss added. "There were a few dance schools and small dance companies, but all these people in the schools never knew what was outside St. Louis."

Dance St. Louis, formerly called Dance Concert Society, is a nonprofit presenting company, meaning that it brings performances to St. Louis. Mr. Pinsker began producing seasons that brought nationally and internationally known dance companies to St. Louis to perform the full spectrum of dance at local venues -- from ballet and modern dance to ballroom, tap and jazz.

Under Mr. Pinsker, the organization increased its subscriptions from 577 to 3,000 patrons, its annual budget to almost $2 million from just more than half a million dollars and its season from eight performances to 24.

The Business of Art

Adam August Pinsker was born on Sept. 16, 1931, in Long Branch, N.J. He grew up in Manhattan and graduated from St. John's College in Annapolis, Md.

He served as manager of the New Jersey Symphony from 1960 to 1966. After managing the Buffalo Philharmonic under Lukas Foss for two years, Mr. Pinsker held a similar position at the Pennsylvania Ballet from 1968 to 1970.

He shared his skills for effective management during his stint as president of the Association of American Dance Companies, later renamed Dance USA, the national service organization for dance. In 1969, at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation, Mr. Pinsker joined the association and successfully led the organization to attaining nonprofit status, writing charters and bylaws and hiring publicists.

In a 1993 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mr. Pinsker said he took the job with the association because some of the best in the business didn't know how to handle the business end of their art.

"The dance world in 1970 was inchoate," he said. "The so-called dance explosion had just happened, but all these companies that were suddenly so popular had no press agents, no accountants, no corporate status. I was hired to help them all get organized."

Mr. Pinsker stepped down as president of the association in 1975. After working several years as an art industry consultant, he said it was again time for "a real job" and he brought his skills and his family to St. Louis. They lived briefly in Webster Groves, then settled in University City.

Selling Dance

Mr. Pinsker led Dance St. Louis from 1984 to 1993. Marketing was one of the talents he brought to the job. Midway through his tenure, he created the position of public relations manager, hiring Barbara MacRobie to fill it. She's still there. She smiled at the memory of working with Mr. Pinsker, whom she said could have come straight out of Hollywood central casting for the role of a New York impresario.

"He was inspirational and dramatic. He was extraordinarily passionate about dance and other art forms. He was an endless font of knowledge," MacRobie said. "And he was very New York. He brought 'big city' to St. Louis, but he was very down to earth. No pretentiousness."

More importantly, MacRobie said, Mr. Pinsker brought astounding dance companies to the Kiel Opera House and the Fox Theatre: the Joffrey Ballet, the American Ballet, which performed Swan Lake, and Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Working with the Kansas City Ballet, he created the Nutcracker tradition at the Fox.

"He was," MacRobie said, "just incredible. He got a lot of people excited about dance."

Mutual Admiration Society

All the while, Mr. Pinsker worked to increase the organization's audience, which he called "wonderful, open and honest." Part of that effort was through a weekly radio promo about the arts which aired on St. Louis public radio station KWMU. There he expounded upon dance history and dance philosophy.

He said dance is sort of like baseball, noting that you don't have to know anything about the game to be affected by the live drama.

Many inside and outside the dance community were affected by Adam Pinsker, who told the Post-Dispatch as he prepared to leave St. Louis: "I know I'll miss St. Louis."

"We moved to St. Louis because it was a very nice place to raise children," Judith Pinsker said from their home in Manhattan. "It was a very enjoyable time for us. Adam loved St. Louis and took a lot of pride in the work he did there."

The feeling was mutual.

"I wouldn't be here if not for him," said Michael Uthoff, the current head of Dance St. Louis. "He stabilized Dance St. Louis. He established it as a beacon where performers want to come. We are sorry he is gone, and we are very appreciative of what he did."

Mr. Pinsker, who recently served as secretary of the board of the Martha Graham Dance Company, was preceded in death by his parents, Dewey and Amanda Pinsker, and his sister, Polly Chill.

In addition to his wife Judith, a retired writer for several soap operas, including ABC's "Ryan's Hope" and "General Hospital", Mr. Pinsker is survived by a son, Joel L. (Elizabeth) Pinsker of Boston.

A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 4, at Friends Meetinghouse, 15 Rutherford Place, New York, NY.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Martha Graham Center, Pancan.org, which fights pancreatic cancer, or American Friends Service Committee.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.