CLEVELAND BALLET was formed in 1972 by Dennis Nahat and IAN HORVATH. Beginning with a small dance school, School of Cleveland Ballet, they recruited a professional company that by 1975 was giving lecture-demonstrations and preview performances around the city. Cleveland Ballet gave its first public performances at the HANNA THEATER on November 16, 1976. Within a few seasons, taped music was replaced by the OHIO CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, and in 1981 the company presented its first full-length story ballet, The Nutcracker, which quickly became an annual Cleveland holiday tradition. Full-length productions of Coppelia, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake were added to the repertory. The company became known for its eclectic style, performing these standards of the classical literature alongside many modern works. In 1984 Horvath resigned as co-artistic director, leaving Nahat solely responsible for the company as well as for the direction of the School of Cleveland Ballet. The same year, Cleveland Ballet moved to a permanent home in the STATE THEATER in PLAYHOUSE SQUARE.
In 1986 it established a co-venture with a second base in San Jose, California, where the company is known as San Jose Cleveland Ballet. Its greatest triumph came as a featured ballet company during the 1990 Edinburgh Festival performing The Overcoat with the late Rudolf Nureyev. Despite generous support from institutions and individuals, financial problems forced the company to seek innovative methods of survival. Following a successful campaign in 1992 to retire $4 million of debt, Nahat arranged a partnership with Atlanta Ballet and Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas in which the two companies would share productions and dancers. The Ballet continued to struggle financially throughout the 1990s. Its various co-ventures and aggressive fundraising did not succeed in providing the company with the level of annual support required for its ambitious artistic vision, and it had not, since its beginning, developed endowment resources or a strong enough administrative structure to help it weather the shifts in the economic climate that challenged the arts during this period. After a failed tour of the costly 1999 production of a new evening length ballet, Blue Suede Shoes, and subsequent financial crises, the organization's board of trustees made the decision to cease operations in September 2000, just prior to the organization's 25th anniversary. Artistic director Dennis Nahat and several other members of the company moved to San Jose where, in 2004, they continued to perform as San Jose Ballet.