Shorter season for NYC Ballet helps boost average attendance

The New York City Ballet danced fewer nights but drew bigger crowds this summer at the Saratoga Perf
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The New York City Ballet danced fewer nights but drew bigger crowds this summer at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Nearly 7,500 fewer people turned out to see the world-renowned ballet, which for more than 40 years has spent its July dancing for crowds at SPAC.

But while overall attendance was down, the average nightly attendance at the ballet increased by 24 percent over 2008.

The abbreviated two-week run, a week shy of the ballet’s usual three-week stay, saw 34,873 push through the turnstiles. In 2008, when 42,354 attended the ballet, the average nightly crowd was 2,017. This month, approximately 2,491 watched the ballet nightly.

Revenue from overall ticket sales was unavailable Wednesday but SPAC officials did release average single-night sales figures, which increased from an average of $56,040 per night for the 21-show schedule in 2008 to $66,786 per night for the 14-show schedule this year, a rise of 19 percent.

The crowds came in droves for “Coppélia,” which was celebrating its 35th anniversary. One of only two ballets that SPAC co-commissioned from the ballet’s founder, George Balanchine, “Coppélia” drew 4,220 patrons on its opening night on Wednesday, July 15, which coincided with American Girl Doll night, and 4,626 at its matinee on Saturday, July 18.

“We are pleased and grateful that dance audiences turned out so strongly for New York City Ballet’s SPAC season. Clearly, the ballet’s outstanding programming, led by its spectacular production of ‘Coppélia,’ was a major factor,” said Marcia White, president and executive director of SPAC, in a written statement.

Another draw was The Gala on July 11. On that evening, veteran ballerina Darci Kistler performed her last SPAC program. The last Balanchine ballerina still dancing with the company will retire in 2010.

“Other factors that we believe contributed to the increase include the reduction in the ballet’s program from 21 performances to 14, which helped build momentum earlier, and to the enthusiasm generated by our popular pre-performance promotions,” White added.

White hopes the enthusiasm will continue through the Philadelphia Orchestra season, set from Wednesday, Aug. 5, to Saturday, Aug. 22.

The Saratoga Springs Chamber of Commerce is predicting a 5 percent drop in tourism in August. But Joseph Dalton, the chamber president, said he doesn’t believe the ballet’s short season has affected the local economy.

“I haven’t heard,” said Dalton, “But I don’t think it has any effect.”

Cathy Hamiton, co-owner of Putnam Market, a favorite with the dancers, said she is not so sure that is true. This week, business was down. But, she added, it could have been the weather. On rainy days, fewer visitors stroll the streets of Saratoga Springs.

As for rentals, Sara Dunham, a rental agent with Roohan Realty, said she has seen a drop in rentals for racing. She rarely deals with the ballet because many of the dancers, musicians and staff, who return annually, have other ways of finding properties including, she said, Craigslist.

Each July, the New York City Ballet, its orchestra and its staff total about 200 people who stay for the duration of the SPAC season. They are often accompanied by their families.

SPAC replaced the week without the ballet with the Mark Morris Dance Group. The modern dance company performed three programs over two days earlier this week. New York City Ballet would have traditionally danced seven programs over five days.

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