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Soaring cost of hosting New York City Ballet has SPAC considering options

Wednesday, May 9, 2012
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The New York City Ballet opened with the performance "Fearful Symmetries" at SPAC in Saratoga Springs NY on July 5, 2011.
The New York City Ballet opened with the performance "Fearful Symmetries" at SPAC in Saratoga Springs NY on July 5, 2011.

— As the cost of hosting a two-week New York City Ballet season approaches the 2008 price of a three-week season, Saratoga Performing Arts Center's outgoing chairman this morning hinted that the organization may need to turn to other ballet companies to fill next year's season.

The ballet raised the fee it charges SPAC by about $100,000 this year and is proposing another $200,000 hike next year, said William Dake, who spoke at SPAC's annual members meeting this morning at the Hall of Springs. Today was his last board meeting after seven years as chairman.

SPAC officials considered dropping next year's ballet season from two weeks to one, but the ballet company said that would lower the cost by only one-quarter. So officials decided to stick with a two-week season, which will “hopefully ... be the New York City Ballet."

“We're still in the process of negotiating with them," Dake said.

Officials have not begun any talks with any other ballet companies yet, said SPAC marketing and development director Shane Williams-Ness.

This year's two-week season with the New York City Ballet is already set.

Last year SPAC paid the ballet $1.57 million in fees, compared to $1.43 million in 2010. The 2009 fees were $1.54 million, the first year that the ballet switched to a two-week season at SPAC from a three-week season.

The last year of its three-week season, in 2008, SPAC paid the ballet $1.84 million.

The cost to bring the ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra to SPAC has grown so much that, where SPAC officials have traditionally said that ticket prices covered half the cost and members and corporate sponsors picked up the other half, now ticket-holders pay only one-third of the cost, if overhead is factored in, Dake said.

"I think we have gotten to the point where we have to recognize that's a significant issue."

The performing arts center has taken in between $900,000 and $1 million from ballet ticket sales since it switched to the two-week format.

Besides the company fees, SPAC pays more than $400,000 in support costs for the ballet, in addition to its regular overhead for administrative employee salaries.

The orchestra also raised its fee this year, by $100,000. But that's the first time it has done so in the last three or four years, despite the fact that the orchestra is in bankruptcy and faces its own financial difficulties, Dake said.

“I think that's quite reasonable."

Company fees for the orchestra have been about $1.7 million a year for the last several years.

At his last meeting today, Dake was lauded for his hard work and dedication to SPAC, which has run in the black since he and Marcia White, SPAC's president and executive director, came on during a major reorganization in 2005.

 
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