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Editorial: Collaboration needed to keep ballet at SPAC

Sunday, July 8, 2012
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We in the Capital Region have long had the luxury of glorious summer nights at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, enjoying the dance of the New York City Ballet and music of the Philadelphia Orchestra. From SPAC’s very first season in 1966, those world-class companies have given an incomparable luster to our summers. They are part of SPAC’s heritage and, by association, part of our own.

News that the New York City Ballet’s summer stay will be shortened to just one week in 2013 is consequently disheartening. There was a time when the ballet graced the SPAC stage for four weeks. That kind of sustained presence did more than provide a wealth of performances: It established the prestigious ballet company as a part of the community.

To be certain, one week of the New York City Ballet is better than none at all. And we like the idea of welcoming different companies — the National Ballet of Canada and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet — to the SPAC stage to fill in next year’s gap.

We’re also glad to hear SPAC President Marcia White describe the one-week season as a short-term step to restoration of a two-week season in 2014. But without a clear agreement in place for 2014, it’s hard not to be concerned.

Katherine Brown, executive director of the New York City Ballet, said the company was looking forward to returning in 2013 and hoped “that a new financial model can be put in place to ensure the residency continues for many years to come.”

Money, of course, is the problem. Ticket sales alone aren’t enough to cover the cost of the summer ballet season, and both SPAC and the New York City Ballet have been supplementing the enterprise with fund raising. Last year, SPAC paid the company $1.5 million for two weeks of shows and spent another $430,000 on support costs. Tickets brought in just $964,000, leaving SPAC to come up another million through fund raising. White says annual fee increases from the ballet company puts more pressure on local donors, who have already made substantial contributions.

It’s been reassuring to see the bigger audiences that SPAC has been able to draw to the ballet in recent years, thanks in large part to special events such as “American Girls Night.” But while cultivating a new generation of ballet fans is always important, it’s clear that renewed attention needs to be paid both to bolstering fund raising and cutting costs.

That would begin with finding a local replacement for HSBC, which ended its season sponsorship after moving retail operations out of the area. We’d also like to see greater involvement from the business owners who benefit from the extended residency, as well as consideration of joint fund raising with the ballet company itself.

At a cost of $180,000, a night’s performance of the New York City Ballet is indeed expensive. For the sake of SPAC’s ballet heritage, it’s time to take a hard look at how the money is spent — at both the ballet company and SPAC.

 
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