CARS HOMES JOBS

New groups fail to match NYC Ballet’s SPAC appeal

Thursday, July 25, 2013
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Spectators watch from the lawn Wednesday night as the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Spectators watch from the lawn Wednesday night as the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

— Two lesser-known ballet companies drew smaller crowds than the New York City Ballet as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center hosted other companies for the first time, attendees observed.

The New York City Ballet appeared to draw good crowds in its shortest season ever at SPAC, said Louise Goldstein, of Saratoga Springs, who is involved with Save the NYC Ballet, a group looking to restore the company’s past two-week run at SPAC.

“It looked to me like attendance was quite good for every performance,” she said of seven performances over five days earlier this month.

But another attendee thought the showing on opening day July 9 seemed “very light.”

“Even for an opening night, it was not a large group,” said Carolyn Steuhl, of Delmar, who used to work as a SPAC usher and attended as a member of the public this year.

SPAC scaled down its New York City Ballet season this year from two weeks to five days because the price to host the ballet rose to $1 million for the shorter season. SPAC plans to hold a one-week season again in 2014, but hopes to restore a longer residency in 2015.

After the New York City Ballet’s five days in the spotlight ended, the secondary companies that performed last week and this week appeared to have smaller audiences. National Ballet of Canada had “very poor turnout” on its closing night, July 18, Steuhl observed.

“It’s very sad that people don’t have an appreciation for the ballet,” she said, noting the company’s performance of “Giselle” was strong.

“I think when they have ballets that tell a story, [people] relate better to that than when it’s just the very formal pieces.”

But Goldstein said the dance quality of the National Ballet of Canada clearly did not rise to the level of the powerhouse New York City Ballet.

Hot, humid weather last week may have hindered the four performances over three days by the National Ballet of Canada, and mosquitoes pounced on anyone on the lawn who wasn’t wearing enough bug spray.

But while Wednesday’s weather was cool and clear and the bugs mostly stayed away, attendance at the first of three Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performances seemed sparse, with ample space throughout the lawn and swaths of empty seats in the amphitheater despite SPAC’s attempt to sell more tickets by offering discounts to certain customers.

SPAC offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal for amphitheater seats for people who had bought dance tickets earlier in the season and for SPAC members.

“We’re really trying to introduce someone new to the ballet,” said Shane Williams-Ness, director of marketing and development for SPAC. That strategy may have paid off Thursday, though, as the final show appeared to draw a larger crowd.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center does not release attendance figures until after the classical season.

Linda Higgins, of Queensbury, has attended the ballet about once a summer for the past 35 years and usually chooses a story ballet. But she was looking forward to seeing the more modern Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on Thursday, she said as she waited outside the venue with her daughter, Faith Halnon, of Castleton, Vt.

She viewed the addition of the other companies as positive and believes other local ballet fans will warm to the idea in time.

“They’ll just kind of do it cautiously,” Higgins said. “I’m open to change.”

Steuhl said this year’s smaller crowds are probably not a direct result of SPAC replacing the New York City Ballet’s second week with two lesser-known companies. Rather, it’s a continuing trend she observed during six years as an usher.

“Through the years, it seems to have become less and less people attending,” she said. “It’s really very sad.”

Thursday marked the end of the ballet season, though Momix Botanica will bring a modern dance show to SPAC on Aug. 1. The Philadelphia Orchestra starts its three-week residency Aug. 7.

The quality of the SPAC lawn is still a sore spot for ballet fans, as the grass was trampled to dirt in many places after three performances by popular jam band Phish packed the amphitheater July 5-7. Two days later, the New York City Ballet opened.

“The whole park gets trashed night after night,” Goldstein said of the Live Nation-hosted rock concerts, which continued with Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi last weekend.

The grass still had not recovered by Thursday.

 
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