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SPAC to reduce ballet season

2013 campaign by NYCB to be just one week

Friday, July 6, 2012
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Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in New York City Ballet's production of "Romeo + Juliet"
Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in New York City Ballet's production of "Romeo + Juliet"

— New York City Ballet fans’ fears were confirmed Thursday when officials announced the ballet’s season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center will be shortened next year from two weeks to one.

Financial reasons led to the decision, said Marcia White, president and executive director of SPAC, which has been the ballet’s summer home since 1966, when co-founder George Balanchine was still at the helm of the ballet.

“We’re really at a point where we had to make a decision where we couldn’t absorb the ballet’s losses,” White said.

The fee the New York City Ballet charges SPAC has grown over the last several years as the ballet faces financial difficulties of its own. SPAC paid the ballet $1.5 million in 2011 to put on two weeks’ worth of shows and footed the bill for an additional $430,000 in support costs.

Ticket sales totaled $964,000, and SPAC made up the difference — a deficit of $1.03 million — through fundraising.

This year, SPAC expects to face an operating loss of about $1,098,000 from the ballet, about the same that it lost in 2008, when the ballet took the stage for three weeks. SPAC would have to charge $100 a ticket to break even on the ballet now, White said.

“We’ve just reached a point where, how much more money are you able to raise? How great will be the fee increase that we are able to absorb?” White said.

Still, White said she hopes to work something out so the ballet can come back for two weeks in 2014.

“We just have to find a financial structure that can be sustained,” she said. For example, the ballet could use SPAC as a “beta site” to test out new programs, rather than hosting more expensive shows that are staged now.

New York City Ballet officials plan to work toward the same goal of making the ballet more affordable.

“New York City Ballet is tremendously proud of its SPAC heritage, and we are very grateful to the loyal audiences who have attended our performances in Saratoga for the past 47 years,” said Katherine E. Brown, the ballet’s executive director. “We look forward to returning to SPAC in 2013 and hope that a new financial model can be put in place to ensure the residency continues for many years to come.”

In the meantime, SPAC officials are negotiating with two other ballet companies to come in during the extra week next year. White is in talks with the National Ballet of Canada and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for short-term engagements. They are discussing having the National Ballet of Canada come in for four performances and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for three.

“We feel the responsibility of providing ballet to our audience members, so that’s where our focus is,” White said.

This year’s New York City Ballet season, which kicks off Tuesday, will run for a full two weeks. Even that amount of time is disheartening to longtime fans.

The ballet’s season has been whittled down over the years from an original four weeks to three and then, in 2009, to two.

In 2005, it seemed SPAC might lose the ballet altogether, and a Save the Ballet group formed to raise money and lobby to keep the organization going. The 2005 season did happen, and new management was ushered in, with White at the helm.

Some people have expressed disappointment with White, whom they saw as the ballet’s savior in 2005 but who now seems unable to save the group from a similar fate.

“It’s like they’re killing it,” said George Neary of Saratoga Springs. “Balanchine would be turning over in his grave.”

Neary was involved with Save the Ballet and before Thursday’s announcement had scheduled a meeting for Monday at the Saratoga Springs Public Library to discuss community organizing efforts to save the ballet again. Now, he said, he’s going to need a bigger room.

The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

It’s still unclear how far-reaching the change will be for local businesses and Saratoga Springs.

Any reduction can have an adverse effect, said Mayor Scott Johnson, but he added he also understands the financial pressure.

“I’m also an economic realist, that there’s also a financial burden that the ballet can’t sustain any longer,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s a tough time for the arts these days.”

 
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