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Neil Hess Edit
dies at 85 June 9 2016 Edit
"Neil Hess, formative figure of dance in the Texas Panhandle, died Wednesday, family members said. He was 85. “He’s a giant in the arts in Amarillo,” said Robert Hansen, longtime colleague and arts professor at West Texas A&M University. Hess began his stint with the outdoor musical drama “Texas” in its first year as choreographer, later becoming the production’s director for its 1985 season until his departure in 2001. In 1976, Hess founded Lone Star Ballet. Hansen said Hess’ work ethic and his high expectations of students elevated the ballet to national prominence. Hansen also credited Hess with pushing “Texas” to become the best attended outdoor musical drama in the U.S. “It’s his vision that got it there,” Hansen said, “because he understood what outdoor musical drama means.” “Texas” Executive Director Kris Miller said Hess’ impact on the production still resonates today, with key figures including Choreographer Crystal Bertrand, one of Hess’ most prominent students, taking cues from her old instructor. The “Texas” cast and crew would dedicate Thursday night’s performance to Hess, Miller said, and Lone Star Ballet Executive Director Craig Henderson announced on Friday the establishment of the Neil Hess Memorial Scholarship Fund. “The world has lost another great artist,” Henderson said in an email. In 2001, Hess premiered “Lone Star Rising,” a musical celebrating the cowboy, Mexican-American and Native American cultures of Texas. Presented at the Lake Meredith amphitheater, the show ran through the early 2000s. “That was his vision,” said Corey Coon, a “Texas” alumnnus and student of Hess’. “The music, the show, the dances. That was really all his.” Coon, 45, a “Texas” cast member from 1993 to 2000, said he has many fond memories of Hess. He recalled Hess adding more live animals to the production throughout the years Coon played prospector Tucker Yelldell. The animals, including geese and ducks, seemed to know Yelldell’s cues as well as he did. “There were many times, I mean many times … that they would be louder than me,” Coon said of the fowl, “and Mr. Hess would just smile and tell me later on in my notes, ‘Don’t let those ducks upstage you.’” Hess’ legacy is not without controversy. In 2001, Hess and “Texas” parted ways after 35 years when he claimed he was forced out of the production. In 2003, he was accused of misusing school property in his capacity as a dance instructor at WT. A Randall County grand jury chose not to bring charges against him, but by that time, he had been dismissed both WT and Lone Star Ballet. Amid the probe, supporters rallied around Hess, with Amarillo Globe-News files showing a group of 75 demonstrating in May 2003 at City Hall, urging the ballet to keep him. “I think it was a great loss to Amarillo,” Hansen said of that period. “I’ve known Neil to have been an ethical man, great integrity, amazing artistry, wonderful talent and a very loving, caring and kind human being.” Hess and his wife Camille retired to South Carolina about 10 years ago, daughter Lisa Jones said. In that time Hess worked with independent dance companies around the U.S., was a prolific painter, and wrote music, plays and children’s stories. “He didn’t stop much,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t call it retirement. He just continued to produce amazing things.” Hess’ survivors also include two other daughters, Jillana Webb and Alexia Sheehan. Each of his daughters has carried on successful careers in dance. “He had many gifts, but he did love to teach,” Jones said of her father. “He really did love his students.”" --admin, 06/12/16
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