In an effort to cut costs, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center will shorten the New York City Ballet’s 2009 summer residency from three weeks to two.
SPAC’s board of directors and New York City Ballet’s General Manager Ken Tabachnick announced the mutual agreement Monday at the board meeting at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Colonie. The company, which has danced at SPAC every July since 1966, will dance there next summer from July 7 to 18 only.
“Difficult times require difficult decisions,” said Marcia White, president and executive director at SPAC. “We both agree that the changed economic circumstances our industry is facing have made this action necessary for the 2009 season. It’s the right decision for right now.”
White reassured that SPAC has no intention of severing ties with the ballet, adding “as long as I’m at SPAC, New York City Ballet will have a summer home here.”
It is unclear if the condensed season will be made permanent because the ballet renegotiates its contract with SPAC every fall. In 1978, when the ballet season was clipped from four to three weeks, the change did become permanent, raising some fears that the switch to a two-week season will also be permanent.
White says SPAC is considering its ballet options yearly. For 2009, White said SPAC will use the additional week to book other dance ensembles. However, no decisions have been finalized as to which companies will appear next summer at the landmark outdoor amphitheater.
She also said that the short ballet season will not affect SPAC’s other flagship company, the Philadelphia Orchestra. The orchestra will still play its usual three weeks in August.
For the past four years, attendance at the ballet has steadily declined. The biggest drop, 24 percent, came in 2006. That summer was also the season when SPAC cut back on perks for members, or season subscribers, but SPAC maintains there was no link between the cutbacks and the attendance drop.
Despite higher ticket prices, revenues deteriorated too. Last summer, SPAC and the ballet lost a combined $2.3 million. The move to a two-week program is expected to reduce the burgeoning ballet deficit by approximately $800,000. The board also hopes to bolster attendance by keeping ticket prices flat, at 2008 levels.
“I know everyone is going through difficult times,” said White. “I want them to know we are here for them and will give them a great summer.”
The shortening of the season comes four years after New York City Ballet and the grass-roots community group, Save the Ballet, fought to maintain the ballet’s residency at SPAC. At that time, then-President Herb Chesbrough said the ballet company’s stay was no longer financially viable. That decision ultimately cost Chesbrough his job and forced the resignation of the entire SPAC board.
Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen said the unexpected reduction in the ballet program is “precisely why our community fought so hard to get a city representative on the SPAC board.”
“Whenever decisions have significant effect on our local economy, it is important to work closely with the host city,” Yepsen said in a statement.
“Is this not similar to a ‘what-if” scenario that NYRA announced one day they were reducing the number of weeks for racing in Saratoga without input from their local officials and year-round citizens/business owners?” Yepsen asked.
John DeMarco, owner of the Lyrical Ballad Book Store on Phila Street and a longtime New York City Ballet supporter, said reducing performances by a week will hurt businesses in Saratoga Springs.
He said the performers, the ballet orchestra, and avid ballet fans provide a real economic benefit to hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the city.
“I’m sorry to see it happen,” DeMarco said. He said the Lyrical Ballad stocks many books about the ballet because of the influx of ballet fans during the summer months.
“We will feel something [from the loss of the week],” DeMarco said.
“Hopefully it will be a temporary thing,” DeMarco said about the ballet program reduction.