By STEVE BARNES
As the Saratoga Performing Arts Center looks toward welcoming two new dance companies next summer and returning the New York City Ballet to a two-week season in 2014, the organization reported essentially flat attendance and modest income gains for classical programming during its 2012 season.
The City Ballet and its longtime resident sibling at SPAC, the Philadelphia Orchestra, over the summer each drew audiences about 4 percent smaller than in 2011. Their attendance was approximately 35,000 and 34,000, respectively, according to figures released by SPAC at Thursday’s meeting of the SPAC board of directors.
The ballet company’s ticket income for its two-week July residency was about $991,000, an increase of 6 percent, while the orchestra generated approximately 7 percent more ticket revenue, about $970,000 over three weeks in August, the board learned at the meeting, held at the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce office.
The income boost was driven in part by a 4 percent increase in ticket prices, the first since 2008, Marcia White, SPAC’s president and executive director, told the board.
Overall, SPAC’s attendance for its classical and jazz programs was 1 percent higher, and its ticket income 14 percent more, than in 2011, with ballet and orchestra attendance losses offset by crowds totaling nearly 12,000 for Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. The event’s attendance figure was 28 percent higher than the prior year’s, and jazz fest income was up by 34 percent, to approximately $671,000, the board learned.
Despite grim projections in the spring of ending the year with a deficit of $200,000 to $400,000, the venue will likely break even on its operating budget for 2012 thanks in part to a $100,000 gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Rick Geary, SPAC’s chief financial officer, said. Also, the venue received $1.1 million in fees from concert promoter Live Nation, which presents rock concerts at SPAC. White said attendance at Live Nation’s 23 shows this past summer was the highest in the promoter’s 13 summers at SPAC, but she declined to reveal the figure.
White told the board some details of the two new companies that will complement City Ballet for SPAC’s 2013 dance programming: the National Ballet of Canada and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, both making their debuts in Saratoga. The National Ballet of Canada will offer four performances, from July 16 to 18, including one of its signature works, the classic 19th-century story ballet “Giselle,” which has never been performed at SPAC. The following week, on July 24 and 25, there will be three performances by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Speaking of the latter ensemble, board Chairwoman Susan Phillips Read said, “They’re the hot new company on the block, so we’re very excited about their sojourn in Saratoga next summer.”
SPAC chose the companies to fill out its dance offerings next summer after announcing earlier this year that City Ballet would reduce its residency to one week in 2013. The dance company’s annual stay at SPAC started at four weeks when the amphitheater opened, in 1966, ran for three weeks for many years and two weeks from 2009 until this summer. The reduction was necessary, White said, because SPAC lost $1.1 million on the two-week residency this year; ticket income covers only a third of the cost of presenting the company, with the remainder made up by fundraising.
Recent discussions between SPAC and City Ballet focused on returning the troupe to a two-week residency after next year, said Read, who took over as chairwoman of the board in May.
“We both have the same goal, which is to restore two weeks by 2014,” she told the board.
Lisa Mehigan, a City Ballet fan who has been critical of SPAC’s reduction of the company’s residency since the ballet’s Saratoga tenure was first threatened, in 2005, said Thursday, “There are dance companies, and there are dance companies. Santa Fe and National Ballet of Canada are fine ballet companies in their own right. There is only one New York City Ballet. … We have been given a gift and we should do everything possible to keep it.”
Mehigan, who previously organized a group called Save the Ballet, said she believes SPAC management and board members have not been sufficiently creative and industrious in their fundraising efforts.
Saying that her offer to donate her time to help SPAC with City Ballet was ignored, Mehigan has registered a new nonprofit called A Midsummer Night’s Dream Inc., which has a small online presence at http://www.facebook.com/MSNDream. All funds it raises will be donated to SPAC to support hosting City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, she said.