Stephen Mills' Grimm Tales, which premiered last month, is the first ballet funded by the Butler New Choreography Endowment. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Ballet Austin
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
Ballet Austin's corps in Snow Scene. Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood, courtesy Ballet Austin.
Few people who are busier during the holidays than corps members of American ballet companies. December is officially Nutcracker season—a company's chance to earn a huge chunk of their revenue for the year, and a dancer's chance to go a little, ahem, nuts, waltzing and swallowing fake snow night after night for weeks on end.
But Nutcracker can also be an opportunity like no other, and for some corps members, it's the highlight of their year. Five dancers told us what helps them get through it all.
One of the toughest moments in the ballet world is watching a life-changing performance—and then looking around to see that only half the seats were filled to witness it. The discussion about how ballet can stay relevant and build new audiences has been going on for decades. However, these debates often end in speculation about the relevance of the product, rather than placing the onus on the marketing and sales crew.
But recently, a few U.S. ballet companies have done the latter, leading to full houses on weeknights and proving that revenue growth is possible: In 2016, Boston Ballet saw record-breaking ticket revenue and had the highest attendance in more than a decade. Colorado Ballet has exceeded revenue goals the last four seasons, with the 2016–17 season being the most successful to date.
Alison Roper, Paul DeStrooper, and Damian Drake of Oregon Ballet Theatre in Kudelka’s Almost Mozart. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy Kennedy Center.
In the five years since the Kennedy Center launched its Ballet Across America celebration, the focus has shifted from larger companies to those smaller in size, but large in impact. In this year’s edition, six of the nine companies have fewer than 30 dancers on their rosters.
The larger companies have chosen masterworks that take advantage of their size: Boston Ballet performs Balanchine’s modernist Symphony in Three Movements, Pennsylvania Ballet his iconic The Four Temperaments, and Sarasota Ballet Ashton’s delightful Les Patineurs. But the smaller companies’ offerings show that there is plenty of new work being made across the nation.
Along with Sarasota, new to the festival are Ballet Austin, the revamped Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Richmond Ballet, making its Kennedy Center debut. The choreography ranges from that by company directors (Stephen Mills at BA), associate directors (Sasha Janes for North Carolina Dance Theatre) and resident choreographers (Robert Garland at DTH) to dancemakers with ties to other small companies, expanding the festival’s reach further. Ma Cong, who recently retired from Tulsa Ballet to focus on choreography (see “Transitions,” p. 90), made Ershter Vals, Richmond’s offering; and Wunderland by Edwaard Liang, recently tapped to lead BalletMet Columbus, will be danced by The Washington Ballet. Oregon Ballet Theatre performs Almost Mozart by James Kudelka, who has been leading BalletMet as an artistic consultant in the interim. Having so many smaller troupes showcased is something to applaud.