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US Ballet Companies and Touring


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#1 Helene

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 01:46 PM

On the Birmingham Royal Ballet sub-forum an interesting discussion started as Becca_King described the touring policy of BRB, and asked about US touring policy.

http://ballettalk.in...65

bart responded, in part,

Seems to me that cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Phoenix, Miami, etc., -- all homes to important regional companies -- have a mixed bag of subscription series by the home companies (which also tour in what appears to be a scattered and not very consistent way), and visiting companies. Money seems to be a big problem.

I wonder, for instance, if any American regionals have tried the BRB's 10-pound a ticket policy, at least for some performances, to get younger and "new" bodies into the seats.


Becca_King responded with questions of her own:

I'd be very interested to hear more from anyone about the situation in America. You guys seem to have so many excellent regional companies. I mean, there are companies such as Boston and San Francisco whih seem to be just brilliant - I've seen Sarah Lamb dance with the RB, and I've seen the San Fran company at the Edinburgh Festival and in London - as well as good, steady companies such as Ballet West, which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival last year (I apologise for trying to judge these companies after only one or two viewings). I have often wondered whether most people have fairly easy access to ballet in the US - my definition of that in this instance would be a resident company or a good, fairly regular visiting company within 100 miles or so. Also, to what extent do NCYB and ABT tour in the US? This topic fascinates me as in England we are so small and it's easy not to see the bigger picture. And what sort of reputation do the regional companies have? In England people can be scathing of regional companies, even though they're the ones that are keeping dance in - well, the regions- going, seeing as the Royal Ballet doesn't tour in the UK. Is it the same in the US, or do some regional companies have as much respect as the Royal Ballet here? Since joining this site it has seemed to me that some of you in the US and other countries have more respect for the British regional companies than a lot of people in Britain do, and I wondered if this was because in the US, in many areas people are not so focused on NYCB and ABT.


These are great questions that warrant their own topic!

#2 Amy Reusch

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 07:45 PM

I have often wondered whether most people have fairly easy access to ballet in the US - my definition of that in this instance would be a resident company or a good, fairly regular visiting company within 100 miles or so. Also, to what extent do NCYB and ABT tour in the US?


I think there's a dirth of ballet touring in the United States... most of the ballet that tours, I think... would be the one night stand college venue tours that seem to book mostly Russian companies... It's very unfortunate. I live near Hartford, a small city in Connecticut which at one time was the richest city in America. Our local company failed around the millenium. We only get "stars of" type ballet tours in Hartford and small Russian companies at the University.

ABT is touring to: Columbus, OH; Cleveland, OH; Kansas City, MO; Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; and JAPAN

NYCB - I'm not clear on where outside New York State one can see NYCB in performance in 2005.

I wish the ABT Studio company would do the college tour... or the Joffrey. Modern dance companies tour quite a lot (at much less cost). Some of the ballet companies don't want to perform to canned music, but I think ballet to canned music in smaller venues is better than no ballet at all in the smaller venues.

any American regionals have tried the BRB's 10-pound a ticket policy,

Wasn't that subsidized by the Princess Diana memorial funds? Last year there was some sort of cheap seat dance festival at City Center in NYC that did very very well. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have caught on as a management concept... though the 4th Ring Society at NYCB perhaps fills the bill: NYCB Fourth Ring Society

New York City Ballet invites you to join the Fourth Ring Society and enjoy all the beauty and excitement of live ballet performances as often as you want for the incredibly low price of just $15 a ticket! 



#3 Helene

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 09:48 PM

One of the problems the regional ballet companies have with touring is that if they have an orchestra, it is very expensive, and often cost-prohibitive to travel with them. Michael Kaiser of the Kennedy Center helped to broker a deal with the orchestra so that NYCB could do an annual visit there; one year the Kennedy Center orchestra would play, and the next year the NYCB orchestra would play.

Before I moved to Seattle, NYCB visited Seattle for a two-week season before Pacific Northwest Ballet opened, and their performances were treated as an extra subscription performance, and added to the annual subscription fee. (This was repeated for the Australian Ballet at the beginning of the 1994 season.)

Some regional companies tour within their state, like Ballet Arizona, and others give performances in parks, like San Francisco Ballet has, or in other outdoor venues, like PNB did at an outdoor stage at Chateau St. Michele, a winery in Redmond, Washington.

It is a very big deal when regional companies tour to NYC or to Europe or Asia. When asked about touring in a post-performance Q&A, Ballet Arizona principal Paola Hartley spoke excitedly about the opportunity a group of dancers had in performing at the Gugenheim during the Balanchine series.

In Seattle, there are two organizations that sponsor visiting dance companies: the University of Washington and Seattle Theater Group, both of which sponsor world dance programs. The theater at UW is a small theater with a smallish stage; STG has two theaters, the Paramount Theater with a full-sized stage, and the Moore Theater with a smaller one, and the performers are matched with the theater. Both organizations are dedicated to world dance in all senses of the word: all kinds of dance from all over the world. STG tends to book the international ballet companies: ABT, Bolshoi, and National Ballet of Cuba among the large classical companies, and other companies of the contemporary bent, like Lyons Ballet Theatre. UW has booked the Eifman Ballet, Julio Bocca's visiting troupe, and Lines Ballet in recent years, as well as a number of companies with "Ballet" in the titles, but used to mean stylized folk or folk-based dance.

Next season, STG is bringing Alvin Ailey, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Spectrum Dance Theater. UW is bringing no ballet companies. It's a fallow year for touring ballet companies here.

#4 Becca_King

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 11:48 PM

Helene, you say

It is a very big deal when regional companies tour to NYC

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Of course it's a big deal for the regional company, but is it a big deal in NYC? Or do a lot of people in NYC just say 'that's nice' and carry on watching the NYC-based companies? Do you think brief exchanges between companies would be a good idea? Of course they would have to be companies of roughly the same size and reputation, but simplisticly wouldn't it be cheaper for companies if they had the use of another company's orchestra and theatre on tour, and more or less only had to pay to lug their equpiment between theatres? Do you think that would also encourgage less 'overlapping', ie. one regional company spending time in NYC and therefore leaving its region without a company for a while, while both ABT and NYCB were also performing in NYC at the time, so the regional company didn't get the audience it deservered anyway?

Also, what about 'splinter groups'? In England, next season the Royal Ballet will have 99 dancers, but there will probably be some times when only half of them are needed to perform the programme in London. Therefore, in my dreams it would be lovely if twenty or so dancers broke off for a week at a time to do a bit of touring in the UK and abroad, not of big three-acters but of triple bills made up of one-acters in the current RB season, or even of one one-acter and some solos and pas de deux. Could that happen/does that happen in the US?

Similarly, some of the UK companies do small- scale touring when money allows. This involves a company splitting in two and touring two seperate mixed bills to lucky smaller theatres (which wouldn't normally see the full company) around the UK. For example, in under two weeks this spring BRB covered 8 more venues than it normally would by splitting in two, with each half doing a few nights at a time in four smaller venues. Does this happen?

#5 Helene

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 12:46 AM

Helene, you say

It is a very big deal when regional companies tour to NYC

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Of course it's a big deal for the regional company, but is it a big deal in NYC? Or do a lot of people in NYC just say 'that's nice' and carry on watching the NYC-based companies?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I should start by saying that I'm not sure much of anything has been a big deal for New Yorkers since Fonteyn and Nureyev tours with the Royal Ballet, some widely-anticipated performances by the Kirov and Bolshoi, and the occasional NY debut of a featured dancer, like Sylvie Guillem. (Perhaps the one-time performance of Theme and Variations with Kirkland and Baryshnikov?) I lived in New York City for many years before moving to the West Coast, and still my answer may not be typical, but there are several factors that have to do with what will grab a New Yorker's attention, which is quite different than being a big deal.

When a Company comes to town makes a difference, and also whether it's part of a special occasion, and even more, if the Company can be used as an example to bludgeon reigning companies. Is it part of the year when balletomanes are suffering from withdrawal, especially the six months between NYCB spring and winter seasons, for those who don't attend ABT in the fall? That fix might attract some people. Is it part of a festival, like last year's Ashton Festival, or a special group from a Company that performed in the Gugenheim series as part of the Balanchine Centennial? What rep is the Company bringing? Is is the only chance to see Balanchine's Bouree Fantasque, which isn't performed by NYCB, or The Three Pigeons? Is there stylistic or textual integrity that the Company brings, and can NYCB or the Royal Ballet, for example, be criticized implicitly by praise of that Company? Is the Company performing at the Met or State Theater, or does it require a trip to Brooklyn or Newark, where Suzanne Farrell ballet performed during the last tour, or Long Island?

New York seasons are crucial to regional companies, because most companies with ambition don't want to be known as regional companies; they aspire to being national and international companies, however tied their mission statement is to the city and region in which they are located. When New York critics laud a regional Company and find the performances on par with New York companies, that works toward that goal; it can put the Company on the map in the first place. When the London critics go mad over San Francisco Ballet, for example, that raises SFB's profile.

To answer your question about leaving the home town high and dry, touring outside the region is an expensive rarity to begin with for most regional companies, and for all Companies, including NYCB and ABT, there is a limited time frame whether there is available theater space. ABT has two seasons, a fall season at City Center, which is booked for much of the year, and a spring/summer season at the Metropolitan Opera House, which is booked by the Met itself from September-April. NYCB shares the New York State Theater with New York City Opera. (They also perform for several weeks in Saratoga Springs in upstate NY during the summer.) Pacific Northwest Ballet shares McCaw Hall with the Seattle Opera; they alternate months. Same with San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera. Ballet Arizona shares Symphony Hall with the Symphony and the Opera, and when asked by an audience member why there aren't more performances each year, Artistic Director Ib Andersen said that SH was booked seven years in advance, and there were no more free dates.

There is also a limit to the number of subscriptions that can be sold and houses that can be filled. All ballet companies perform each performance at a loss.

From a financial perspective, I'm sure Companies would love it if they didn't have to take their own orchestra, but union contracts make that very difficult.

#6 Becca_King

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 01:06 AM

Do you have to buy a subscription, or can people just buy individual tickets? And in the US is the loss covered by individual sponsors, seeing as there are no state subsidies? Did there used to be state subsidies, and if so did they help towards touring?

In London last October we saw Danses Concertantes, with members of NYCB, which I think was during their autumn break. Do dancers organise things like this within the US when they're on holiday?

Edited by Becca_King, 22 June 2005 - 01:09 AM.


#7 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 05:59 AM

No. A New York season is a huge financial risk for companies. Both City Center and the Joyce are money pits. Touring subsidies would be almost always used here to decentralize dance, not to centralize it. You can get public money to bring dance to somewhere underserved, but it would be far harder to get money to go to NYC, except from your own board. And there have been companies who had real financial crises from the visits.

Pickup groups like Danses Concertantes happen often.

Certain visiting companies here create a buzz, others do not at all. It depends a lot on venue and competing schedules. There were a few regional companies that came to the Joyce last season, but there's no way to know before booking that far in advance how crammed the season is. After all that expense (and it's huge) they barely got reviewed.

As someone who has produced in NYC I'd say a lot of the rank and file audience is not linked to specific companies, but to the venue. The analogy would be people who go to Sadlers Wells because they trust the theater to present an array of things familiar and unknown that would interest them, not specifically to see any given company. So venue is crucial here.

#8 bart

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 07:54 AM

An appearance at the Joyce (small though it is, at least it's in Manhattan) can be parleyed into dollars and publicity back home, especially if there are reviews in the Times and (often) Newsday. Ballet Florida has gotten great mileage from their one (honorably reviewed) week a few years ago.

Helene, we share the Manhattan-centered view of people who left "the City" 10 or more years ago. But isn't BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) now consisdered a major destination for both touring companies (especially European) and for dance audiences in New York as well? Pina Bausch, etc.

Becca_King, subscribers here are rather like patrons in additdion to being ticket-buyers. We pay full price many months in advance of the opening of the season -- and often even before the production schedule is firm. Many of us are motivated by guilt or enthusiasm to send additional contributions. Names are printed in the programs at each level of giving. Opera companies have to do the same.

Most ballet performances have (sadly) a lot of unsold tickets right up to the curtain, and some offer discounts at the last minute, for those who don't want to commit early on. This is random and inconsistent, probably put into effect when things aren't selling well. This encourages the one-time attender, but does not provide for followup and return. That's why I think that more companies would benefit from a 10-pound a seat policy (for some performances at least) or something like the Fourth Ring Society.

Ballet companies tend to have "Boards" which raise the money to pay the deficits, and these organizations can be quite social -- not to mention quite Machiavellian in their in-fighting.

I like the idea of smaller spin-off or study companies touring. Surely a way could be found for them to perform with taped music -- which, as Amy says, is a LOT better for those of us in the provinces than nothing at all. Peter Boal came to West Palm Beach last season, but much more common are the Philoboli, Hubbard Streets, and Momixes of the dance world, which are great, but leave potential audiences unexposed to an awful lot of wonderful work being done in ballet.

#9 Becca_King

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 08:19 AM

Bart said

'Most ballet performances have (sadly) a lot of unsold tickets right up to the curtain, and some offer discounts at the last minute, for those who don't want to commit early on. This is random and inconsistent, probably put into effect when things aren't selling well. This encourages the one-time attender, but does not provide for followup and return. That's why I think that more companies would benefit from a 10-pound a seat policy (for some performances at least) or something like the Fourth Ring Society.'

Bart, I just want to pick up on this £10 seat policy before I run off to class, as I agree with you very much on this. The BRB £10 seat policy was only applicable in Sunderland, in the north-east of England (now it's £15 adults, £7.50 children) and is still applicable for programmes of all -new choreography in Birmingham. The thing about these tickets is that they can be booked in advance. A theatre in York also does a £3.50 policy for under 25s. For less popular programmes, all tickets are £3.50 for this age group, and for more popular programmes (like ballet), the first 50 under-25s to book get £3.50 tickets. This encourages people to book in advance, and to return eventually *without* the incentive of cheap tickets - it builds loyalty. The Royal Opera House (which doesn't do concessions for children, OAPs etc) has recently introduced two new forms of standby tickets at £10. However, as the word standby suggests, they are only released a day or so in advance and there is no indication of which performances will have them, so for people like me who live a couple of hundred miles away or more, they are no use - we would make the journey if we could plan it in advance around the £10 tickets, but the day before the performance train tickets will cost astronomical prices. Far better, IMHO, to have a certain number of guaranteed bargain tickets on a first-come-first served basis, particularly if it can be assumed in advance that a programme won't sell brilliantly - ie if it's a mixed bill rather than Swan Lake. As a child, I started watching ballet regularly on the BRB £10 scheme, and now I buy tickets for most performances of their northern England tours - ie up to five in a week when they're here, plus tickets for a companion- so it does pay off for companies, I think, particularly as when I'm away from Sunderland and watching BRB I'm more than happy to pay 'normal' prices (as happy as a student can be to hand over money! :D ) And if I get rich :blush: I can see myself donating large sums of money to the company, as well as attending more and more performances.

Edited by Becca_King, 22 June 2005 - 08:28 AM.


#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 08:35 AM

A $10 or £10 seat charge is a wonderful idea - as long as you're willing to subsidize it fully. The Fall for Dance festival at the Joyce (all seats $10 for a carousel of companies) was really successful in terms of getting bodies in the seats. I'll bet you an ice cream cone almost every (if not every) company that participated was not given a fee sufficient to cover their actual costs. Reduced ticket prices *don't* come from public subsidy here - another example is the "High Five" program which gives high school students tickets to performances for $5. Guess how much participating organizations get per ticket? $0. In the US, we expect ticket prices that do not cover expenses with no other method of covering the producing company's costs.

#11 Becca_King

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 08:48 AM

But in some cases, the seats would just stay empty anyway, so surely better to have someone in the seats and not get any money, than not have someone in the seats and not get any money?

#12 Helene

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 08:54 AM

Helene, we share the Manhattan-centered view of people who left "the City" 10 or more years ago.  But isn't BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) now consisdered a major destination for both touring companies (especially European) and for dance audiences in New York as well?  Pina Bausch, etc.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The last time I was at BAM was in 2001, when I saw performances of Mark Morris' beautiful L'Allegro and Compagnie DCA/Philippe Decouflé, a circus-based modern dance performer from France. The audiences at both were modern dance audiences. BAM's focus was more on contemporary dance of all kinds and mixed media than ballet; the man responsible for programming at the time, Lane Czaplinski, is now Artistic Director of On the Boards, an organization in Seattle that is dedicated to contemporary performance, sponsoring Bill T. Jones, Susan Marshall, Pat Graney, and Laurie Anderson, among the most notable. (We are very lucky to have him here.) BAM has taken the contemporary niche and run with it.

Among the ballet companies I'd seen at BAM in the period before that (80's) were Neumeier's company and one from Shanghai. From reading Arlene Croce's reviews in The New Yorker, it seems like it was the venue of choice at the time for first-time visiting regional companies. That is where PNB made its NYC debut, for example. But I don't think that's the case anymore. And companies like POB play at the Met, and Eifman Ballet at City Center. The European-based ballet companies and the choreography they bring are not the daily fare of the NYCB crowd in general, wherever the venue.

BAM is not the easiest place to get to for commuters from New Jersey and Westchester, and it takes some incentive for the "dinner and a show" or the "ballet every other Thursday" crowds to hie it to Brooklyn, particularly the non-subway crowd. Not everyone even makes it to the Joyce, which is only about 40 blocks away from Lincoln Center.

Edited to add: On the Boards is priced to attract a younger, less flush audience. I don't remember an individual ticket being over $30, and I've seen them for as little as $18. The Main Stage is not a big theater, and the Studio is tiny. A 100% subscription costs $500, which would be the actual cost of one seat for the season. while a regular subscription costs $130 for 7 performances.

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 09:15 AM

But in some cases, the seats would just stay empty anyway, so surely better to have someone in the seats and not get any money, than not have someone in the seats and not get any money?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


If done correctly, which means tight controls on the number available and where they are. It won't work in a theater with general unassigned seating, for instance. A discounted seat has to be less valuable than a regular price ticket. Otherwise it only drives the price point down, and makes people expect to pay $10 for a seat that has an actual cost of $120. Or it pisses the people who paid full price off.

Also, are you sure the seats would go empty anyway, and that the discounts aren't going to committed ticket buyers? The last thing a producer wants to do is give a discount to people who would buy an undiscounted ticket. The cheapest priced seats for the Bolshoi this summer at the Met are double the cost of ABT. It will be interesting to see if they have any discount scheme, or if they have decided that the people who buy discounted tickets would actually buy a more expensive one as well if they knew the discount wasn't there?

I'm not saying it isn't a good idea, because reduced priced accessible tickets are a great thing. I'm saying that we expect that burden here to be covered by the performing arts company as a sort of advertising expense. And that reasoning doesn't cut it. They never get their money back out of it.

#14 Helene

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 09:33 AM

At the Saturday night performance of Arizona Ballet's closing triple-bill, which included a new Ib Andersen ballet, Agon, and Theme and Variations, Andersen announced during the post-performance Q&A that ticket buyers could turn in their ticket for a free ticket to the final, Sunday afternoon performance.

While I don't remember him saying so explicitly then, he has, in Q&A's, encouraged the audiences to see different casts in the ballets, which is a great way to educate an audience. (Seeing those three ballets in successive performances is a great way to educate anyone.) If the house is not going to be full, it's a chance to make a last-minute decision, particularly at a time when the audience is excited by what they just saw. Hopefully, they'd even bring a friend to the performance. (To anyone who paid full price for Sunday, the person holding the free ticket already paid full price to see the performance once.)

Principal dancer Paola Hartley, who danced the lead in all five performances of Theme and Variations, said in response to an audience question, that while she gets nervous before a performance, in Theme, because she can hear the spontaneous ooh/aah/gasp from the audience as the curtain goes up on a full stage of women in tutus and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, it put her at ease, and was so gratifying, that it made her want to give back to the audience the gift they've just given her. Many PNB dancers have said that they can feel if there is electricity in the air from the audience.

In the Saturday afternoon performance, some audience members were standing and clapping as soon as the ballerina jumps up onto the cavalier's shoulder, when she still has several bars of port de bras left! The evening audience was equally enthusiastic, even if they waited for the end of the ballet to stand. It's got to be demoralizing to end a season with a half-empty theater and not much noise. While the size of the audience is not necessarily correlated to enthusiasm, odds are better with a fuller house, as long as the audience isn't a gala audience.

#15 Becca_King

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 11:35 AM

'If done correctly, which means tight controls on the number available and where they are. It won't work in a theater with general unassigned seating, for instance. A discounted seat has to be less valuable than a regular price ticket. Otherwise it only drives the price point down, and makes people expect to pay $10 for a seat that has an actual cost of $120. Or it pisses the people who paid full price off.'

The Sadler's Wells in London offers a limited number of £8 seats for students for every performance. That sort of thing... I undertstand that it's different in America - that's why I'm asking. But I was really explaining what happens in England after Bart mentioned the BRB ticket pricing policy. Also, individual sponsors and legacies can cover the cost, like with the Paul Hamlyn matinees at the ROH, so it doens't have to come out of the company's main budget.

Edited by Becca_King, 22 June 2005 - 11:36 AM.



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