Orlando's loss was Tampa Bay's gain. Peter Stark, 45, was the acclaimed head of the Orlando Ballet School when he was hired two years ago to be chair of the dance department at the Straz Center's Patel Conservatory. His partner, Greg Ruffer, 47, was director of choral activities and applied voice at the College of Central Florida and music director/founder of the Orlando Chorale when he followed Peter to the Straz to become head of the Patel's Music Department. Fortunately for HR, the two do not supervise one another, but they do bring insight to each other's respective disciplines.
Greg's background in education — he has a Masters and is studying for a Ph.D. — has helped Peter reach out to students "in new and innovative ways," Peter says. He's learned to ask questions like, "'Stop right where you are. Does that feel right?'"
Greg in turn says that Peter's strong visual orientation has helped him to "see" music: "I'm a much better musician for all the dance that I've seen."
Like other creative couples, they understand the demands placed on the life of a partner in the arts. And "we don't shut if off when we get home," says Peter. No wonder. They're not only department chairs; Peter also heads the highly competitive Next Generation Ballet, which he founded, and both work for Opera Tampa as choreographer and chorus master, respectively.
Next Generation is a phenomenon. The Straz-based youth company selects 40 students from 600 applicants nationwide, attracting dancers who have turned down scholarships from the likes of American Ballet Theatre to study at the Straz. Alums have gone on to win international competitions and spots in prestigious dance companies (not to mention gigs with So You Think You Can Dance and Billy Elliott).
According to Greg, Straz CEO Judy Lisi says "dance had never been successful at the Straz till Peter." Greg sees similar potential in music. "I have a vision that the Straz Center is where America goes to sing."
Though they complement one another in their work, their tastes are so different in other areas — like how to furnish a home — that if they're shopping and they both like something, "we buy it immediately," says Peter, because such an agreement is so rare.
But they're in agreement about the bright future of arts training at the Patel Conservatory and the Straz. "I don't see a ceiling in it," says Peter.
Together 17 years, the pair met, aptly enough, in an elevator. They've been going up ever since.