Every New York City Ballet performance at its summer home is cheered on by a large contingent of teens. They are ballet students, who come each summer to study at various summer ballet intensives in Saratoga Springs. And they attend every performance, vocalizing their pleasure from the back rows of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
But in the years to come, the number of screaming teens might diminish. Those who administer the ballet programs in the city fear that their schools might be less attractive to the students, because New York City Ballet’s annual residency at SPAC has been cut from three to two weeks, starting next summer.
Not only will that reduce the students’ extracurricular activity, but it might also affect who will be teaching. The two intensives — the New York State Summer School for the Arts’ School of Ballet and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive — feature guest teachers from the expert ranks of New York City Ballet.
“[It] will undoubtably affect us,” said Jenifer Ringer, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet and the artistic director of the New York State Summer School for the Arts’ School of Ballet. “We work so closely with City Ballet. Most of our instructors are from City Ballet, and the students go to every performance.”
Cheryl Giattini, administrator of the Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive, agrees that the school might have to shift its program schedule.
“In the short term, the change won’t affect us. We will still have the same core faculty and the same guest faculty,” said Giattini. “But there might be a change in demand in future summers because of fewer performances.”
The state’s School of Ballet runs from June 28 to July 25. The Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive will run from June 22 to July 25. New York City Ballet will dance from July 7 to July 18. Together, the programs serve about 175 students.
Despite the change, Giattini said the guest dancers, including Ashley Bouder, Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulbricht, are still committed to teaching this July.
Ringer, who works with the school’s associate director, Ulbricht, says the same is true for the state program.
“The dancers who are teaching promised to come early or stay later to make sure the program is just as good as it was,” said Ringer, who is currently working on a proposal that she will submit to the state Education Department. It’s too early to say what will be included, but she said she feels it is important to include alternative activities for the students.
“I want to maximize their time there,” said Ringer. “Maybe we can play with the schedule. But honestly, we haven’t made any decisions. We do have to come up with creative ways to make up for the loss of the week. We have to make the other week just as interesting, but in other ways.”
Ringer is considering more rehearsals for the final student performance. “Maybe we can do more coaching. The final performance is usually rushed. So we’ll help them fine-tune their dancing. We have a lot of students that come back year-to-year. I’d like to talk to some of the parents.”
Mary Anne Fantauzzi, who sponsors workshops with City Ballet dancers each year at her studio Total Body Trifecta Studio, said she doesn’t expect the change in the SPAC schedule to affect her series of four classes. “I’ll do some creative scheduling,” said Fantauzzi, who hosts classes led by such dancers as Jonathan Stafford and Philip Neal.
However, Fantauzzi, who volunteers as a docent at the National Museum of Dance, believes that attendance at the museum will suffer. The three weeks that New York City Ballet is in residence at SPAC are the museum’s busiest.
“That’s when we have the most foot traffic at the museum,” she said.
Of course, the shorter season is the result of declining attendance at SPAC. And with the loss of the Briansky Summer Ballet School, which folded this past fall, there will be even fewer young dancers at each show. The school, which took up residence at Skidmore College for three weeks every July for 43 years, purchased about 100 tickets for six to nine shows each season.
“We supported SPAC,” said Oleg Briansky, founder and director of the school. “Our contribution to SPAC will be no longer.”
SPAC has promised to book the third week with other dance ensembles — probably modern dance. Plans for that third week have yet to be finalized.