Ballet B.C. considers performance hiatus

As Ballet B.C’s turbulent 2008–09 season comes to a close, the company has not yet overcome its financial woes. While the organization narrowly escaped bankruptcy in December, it is still struggling to pull together a 2009–10 season amid less-than-stellar ticket sales, disappointing fundraising results, and a global recession.

The most recent blow to Ballet B.C.’s next season came April 14, when the National Ballet of Canada announced it was cancelling its tour of The Sleeping Beauty to Calgary, Edmonton, Nanaimo, Victoria, and Vancouver between September 17 and October 3. The company has since announced a smaller-scale mixed program will visit only Victoria and Nanaimo in late September.

“We had hoped that that [The Sleeping Beauty] would be part of our early season, so we now need to find some more work,” said Graeme Barritt, president and chair of Ballet B.C., explaining that the plan had been to build the first half of the season around touring companies.

The company’s interim executive director, Andrew Wilhelm-Boyles, said the company wants to spend the first half of next season creating new work, but doing so raises questions about whether Ballet B.C. can expect continued financial support if it does not perform until 2010.

Barritt admitted that Ballet B.C. will likely fall short of its goal of raising $1 million in donations by June. “We’re sitting at about $450,000 right now, which is light of where we should be.” He said a $300,000 donation from a private foundation has fallen through, but insisted: “Where we’re at today isn’t terrible. It’s just not as much as we would have liked.”

In addition, ticket sales for the remount of artistic director John Alleyne’s Streetcar Named Desire, which closed the season April 16 to 18, were at 65 to 70 percent of projections, according to Barritt. “We never project sellouts at the Queen Elizabeth [Theatre],” he noted. “We generally work with target houses in the 1,000-to-1,200-seat range [out of about 2,800].”

Asked whether the company is considering moving its productions out of the QET, Wilhelm-Boyles said that remains an ongoing issue. “Obviously it’s too big,” he said of the theatre. “But what are the options? We’ve done the analysis, and the other options are either too expensive because they don’t come fully equipped, or they’re unsuitable in that there’s not enough wing space, or there’s not an adequate dance floor.”¦But at the same time we also recognize the need to get the company into a space that’s right for it, that gives everybody a good experience.”

Over the coming weeks, said Wilhelm-Boyles, the company will be conducting roundtable discussions with subscribers, former subscribers, sponsors, and members of the arts community. “We need to really engage with people who care about the company,” he said. “There’s certainly a perception—and perception in this case is reality—that Ballet B.C. has, over the years, not always done the best job of remaining in close touch with its audiences and with the other parts of the dance community and with the arts community in general.” As for whether audiences can expect a 2009–10 season from Ballet B.C. at all, Wilhelm-Boyles said: “At this point, we are intending to mount a season.”¦But the shape of it is not yet decided.”