Elizabeth Sobol doesn’t seem to slow down.
And now, neither does the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Since stepping into the role of director and president, Sobol has expanded SPAC’s educational programming, reaching out to 23,000 students in the Capital Region, and extended SPAC’s entertainment to all year.
But she spent the first few months on the job listening and connecting with a community that she said was more than willing to get to know her.
“This community just loves hanging out together. It’s a really generous community ... and that blew me away,” Sobol said. She also quickly realized just how much SPAC meant to the locals.
“What a profound presence SPAC has in the community ... everyone has a SPAC memory,” Sobol said.
This year, Sobol aimed to build on those memories, weaving in the classical programs that the community has grown to love and cultivating new partnerships with Saratoga’s Caffe Lena and other performing arts partners. She also brought live music into the Jazz Bar in a series called “Live at the Jazz Bar,” which continued into the fall. It’s free to enter and dancing was encouraged. In November, SPAC offered a swing jazz night at the bar, with a swing dance lesson to start off the evening. It was more popular than Sobol expected and it highlighted SPAC’s importance to the community, even during the fall and winter months.
“During the New York City Ballet, we brought back the galaxy curtain. It was a really emotional moment on opening night,” Sobol said. The curtain, created by Japanese artist Yasuhide Kobashi, had been a popular feature of the ballet since it was installed in 1981, but over the past few years hadn’t been part of the season.
Bringing it back honored life-long fans of the ballet.
Unfortunately, the two-week stint of the NYC ballet lost more than $1 million, an amount that Sobol said was expected, but not sustainable. Attendance also became an issue during the second week, which left thousands of seats empty.
“Eighty percent of people only go to one night ... we’re cannibalizing ticket sales,” Sobol said. The low attendance during the second week also undercut the experience of the performance, said Sobol. After all, people don’t go to a rock concert just to hear the band. They go for the atmosphere and the energy of the crowd too. Thus, SPAC recently announced that the ballet would be cut down to a one week term for the 2018 season.
“It’s not an irrevocable decision, it’s a decision for 2018,” Sobol said.
By curating a more compact NYC ballet season, which includes four different programs, Sobol hopes to give people a better ballet experience.
However, SPAC saw a major expansion in their educational programming this year.
“We went from serving 5,000 kids to serving 23,000 kids,” Sobol said, “That’s our future.”
Some of the programs included a PlayIN event with Yo-Yo Ma, The Performance Project: Youth in Motion and Classical Kids, among others. The outreach has made
SPAC more visible in communities outside of Saratoga Springs.
But there are some less flashy projects that Sobol said SPAC will be focusing on in the years ahead.
“We have an urgent need to renovate the infrastructure,” Sobol said. The facilities are over 50 years old and are in need general repairs, Sobol added.
“We’ve been dreaming of new ways to make SPAC an arts park,” Sobol said, “We’re just beginning.”
Asking Sobol to pick a favorite performance of the 2017 summer season would be akin to asking a parent to pick their favorite child. So the Gazette asked her instead to pick out a few of the best performances:
- Darlingside: This was one of the first major joint performances organized by Sarah Craig of Caffe Lena and SPAC. The folk-pop band represents more of the genre-bending bands that have been taking off in the past few years.
- “The Times Are Racing” by Justin Peck, an NYCB resident choreographer, and soloist. The piece blew audiences away, along with Sobol. The piece, which premiered earlier in 2017, opened the NYCB stint at SPAC.
- “Odessa” by Alexei Ratmansky, the NYCB resident choreographer. It’s a dark work based on a Russian film adaptation of Isaac Babel’s stories of murderous gangsters.
- Conrad Tao: The young pianist was accompanied by the venerable Philadelphia Orchestra with Scarlatti’s Sonata in A Major, K. 208. That same night, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, perhaps his most famous, was performed. As a pianist, it was one of Sobol’s favorite performances.
- “I’d be hard-pressed to pick the best SPAC on Stage [performance],” Sobol said. These included performances by Hot Sardine, Time for Three, Tiempo Libre and others.
- “E.T” Under the Stars: The Philadelphia Orchestra helped bring this classic Steven Spielberg film to life, with music composed by John Williams. “It’s such a great film and unity and coming together,” Sobol said. It’s a timely message, she added.
- “Mozart in Havana”: Pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the Havana Lyceum Orchestra performed at Skidmore’s Arthur Zankel Music Center in June, in partnership with SPAC. It was the first time the Cuban band was able to tour the United States, since the revolution.