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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Saving the Ballet: Annual Event's Future Up in the Air

By | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – In 2009, the New York City Ballet’s residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) was cut from three weeks down to two. This year, SPAC and the NYC Ballet are discussing the possibility of limiting the season to only one week because of rising costs. And in just a few years’ time, maybe less, the NYC Ballet may disappear from SPAC’s lineup altogether.


“This is our legacy and this is our heritage,” said Marcia J. White, SPAC’s president and executive director, regarding the long-standing partnership between SPAC and the NYC Ballet. “But at some point there’s a tipping point. And I think that we’re there. It’s getting to be a real financial challenge.”

The ballet has become a staple in Saratoga Springs and a mainstay at SPAC since it first opened in 1966, but with rising costs and decreasing returns, the long-term fate of the ballet is in jeopardy. This year SPAC will spend approximately $1.7 million to fund the ballet’s two-week residency – an increase in cost that began with a $100,000 jump in 2011 and another $220,000 jump for this season.

Currently, the NYC Ballet accounts for roughly 40 percent of SPAC’s yearly budget. An average cost to host one night of the ballet costs SPAC $180,000.

“If we charged the appropriate cost of a ticket to cover that evening, the tickets would have to be $100. Our average ticket price is $35,” explained White.

But despite the relatively low ticket prices, the ballet accounts for only 10 percent of SPAC’s yearly attendance.

After cutting the NYC Ballet season from three to two weeks in 2009, SPAC was able to cut their costs by about one third. However, savings generated from the cut have all but evaporated.

“We’re losing more money in two weeks now than we did when the season was three weeks,” said White.

SPAC has also recently lost some of their major sponsors, including HSBC Bank.

“And that’s the economy,” said White. “I think it’s the challenge that’s facing the arts industry in general. I think that what happens is in an economy like this, the last entity to get any support and for people to consider philanthropy, in my opinion, is the arts.”

Currently, SPAC and the NYC Ballet are engaged in conversations as both organizations look to limit the rising costs of the ballet and look for ways to plug the financial gap.

“We want to make sure that the NYC Ballet stays here,” said White. “But we’re giving them an additional $220,000. What do we do next year? Do we do another $200,000? It’s not possible.”

With no meaningful state, federal or city aid received by SPAC, the organization is dependent on the support of corporate sponsors and individual patrons of the arts.

“We’re fortunate because we have about 74 corporate sponsors this year. We need additional sponsorships, and we need companies to support SPAC,” said White.

Individuals too can do their part to save the ballet, White indicated. Perhaps the easiest way to support SPAC and the arts is to become a member at SPAC.

“A membership at SPAC has tremendous benefits,” said White, pointing to early access to tickets, discounts, parking options and an opportunity to visit the new Patron’s Terrace, “and it supports us as well.”

Currently SPAC has set a challenge for itself to reach 3,000 new members. Currently the organization is at 2,500.

“That’s a way anybody can help SPAC,” said White. “It’s really all about coming and supporting the venue.”

One event White is hoping will generate a lot of interest this season is the Ballet Gala July 1, featuring a world premiere performance by choreographer Justin Peck. It’s the first world premiere event of its kind at SPAC, something not usually seen outside of a major metropolitan like New York City.

“We want people to come and enjoy this summer; we’d love for them to become members and to bring friends and support the ballet,” said White. “First and foremost, we want to do everything we can to keep the New York City Ballet here at SPAC.”

For more information or to become a SPAC member, visit their website at www.SPAC.org.

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