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How's the ballet box-office doing nowadays?


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45 replies to this topic

#1 bart

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 06:30 AM

Re-reading Joseph Mazo's book about of the NYCB spring season in 1973, I was surprised by the following. Even though Balanbchine and Robbins were still actively producing new ballets. Despite a top ticket price of $8.95 for regular performances, " ... attendance has been falling off since 1963. For much of the spring season, the company played to half-filled houses." Half-full in the barn of the New York State Theater wass pretty grim indeed. I remember.

A numer of reasons were suggested: expanded competition from visiting troupes and alternate dance styles, a larger number of dance venues, suburban sprawl, the audience's desire for new companies, new experiences.

Whatever the sources of funding for a ballet company, the old measure of "bums in seats" still seems to be very important.

What's the recent box-office situation for classical ballet in your area? How does this compare with recent years or even decades? Any thoughts about the reasons for the ups and/or downs?

I'm thinking about all the places with a resident professional classical ballet company -- and with a Ballet Talk member in the audience! Europe, the U.S. -- anywhere you live and attend. It can be just your impression -- or based on published information, if such is available.

Ballet Talkers are everywhere. Your imput will help us put together a world picture of ballet attendance today.

#2 carbro

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 07:12 AM

After a very well sold debut City Center season, Morphoses second season is not selling well. I don't know how it looks from the Orchestra; Grand Tier and Front Mezzanine seem to have sold well, but Rear Mezz, on the two nights I attended, seemed less than 1/3 occupied.

#3 bart

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 01:57 PM

Thanks, carbro. Did people "move down" to the better seats at intermission the way they used to when NYCB danced there long ago.

My impression of Miami City Ballet (in their West Palm Beach appearances anyway) is that they area actually selling better than a few years ago. A couple of smashing programs, better publicity locally, and national attention seem to have had a good effect. The company is currently "hot," and potential audiences seem to know it.

Higher priced sections seem to be more full than lower-prized sections higher up.

I did NOT notice a huge increase in interest during the weekend of the much-publicized new Tharp/Elvis Costello piece last season. Perhaps this worked better in the trendier Miami market. But Swan Lake Act II (Balanchine's) this fall will almost certainly be a big seller in West Palm. Balanchine's work is well-known and loved by the many winter people and retirees from New York City.

Edward Villella, who introduces every performance, has a big following going back to the 60s and early 70s. He, personally, seems to be a factor in the company's success in this market. Additionally, the "Villella" brand is taken as a guarantee of high aspirations and quality. Correctly, I think.

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 07:30 PM

I'm thinking about all the places with a resident professional classical ballet company -- and with a Ballet Talk member in the audience! Europe, the U.S. -- anywhere you live and attend. It can be just your impression -- or based on published information, if such is available.

Ballet Talkers are everywhere. Your imput will help us put together a world picture of ballet attendance today.

Well, bart...i would like to make an exception here to refer, again, to my pre-exile ballet-related experience, instead of my current one, which i think would be more or less a common denominator to all of US-based BT's. Ballet in Havana. Empty houses...? NEVER-(far from that, ALWAYS extremely hard to get a hold on a ticket, so i shamelessly confess to have achieved the 80% of my years of attendance by sneaking in, along with my friends... :lightbulb: )...Box Office..? a totally nonexistent, unimportant and completely unknown/uninteresting term over there. End of the story..as simple as that.

#5 Jack Reed

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 11:22 AM

cubanmiamiboy, will you explain that a little? No box office? So, when you weren't sneaking in, how did you go? Did you buy a ticket in advance or at the door? Were prices nominal, because of state subsidy? Or free? First come, first served? We had a little festival like that here in Chicago a couple of months ago: 1500 free tickets for one performance. But that's unusual. Did you show up the week before and draw lots?

P.S. The Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet sold the main floor of the Auditorium Theatrer here pretty well last week, at $125 a seat! People were happy, Vishneva showed up and wowed us! (My remarks are somewhere below.)

#6 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 06 October 2008 - 12:42 PM

No box office?

Only nominal. It doesn't make any profits.

So, when you weren't sneaking in, how did you go?

If i was lucky enough to get me hoocked up with a ticket via some friends inside the Company. The other option would be making horrible lines that would go on all night long before the "box office" would open in the morning...(and no...i never did that)

Did you buy a ticket in advance or at the door?

There are NEVER tickets left the day of the performance at the door

Were prices nominal, because of state subsidy? Or free?

Totally nominal...sometimes free for students.

#7 carbro

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 10:32 AM

No box office?

Only nominal. It doesn't make any profits.

Ballet companies in the US are incorporated as not-for-profit ventures, and historically speaking, they run at a deficit. Ticket sales and government support alone are not enough to sustain them. Does BNdeC receive support from private individuals and foundations? Do foundations even exist in societies driven by the notion that the government can meet all of society's needs?

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 12:26 PM

No box office?

Only nominal. It doesn't make any profits.

Ballet companies in the US are incorporated as not-for-profit ventures, and historically speaking, they run at a deficit. Ticket sales and government support alone are not enough to sustain them. Does BNdeC receive support from private individuals and foundations? Do foundations even exist in societies driven by the notion that the government can meet all of society's needs?

No, no private foundations. Actually no private NOTHING. Centralization has been the word there since 1959, and that includes the Educational System, which the National School of Ballet is part of.

#9 bart

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 12:30 PM

There are obviously very different forms of funding for ballet -- and other classical performance arts -- in different countries and economic systems.

Cristian mentions the full-houses in Havana. I assume that much of this has to do with very low (subsidized) ticket prices, a relative lack of comparably high-level classical performances in other arts, and enormous local pride in the quality -- and the international recognition -- of Alicia Alonso's company.

My original idea about the matter of "box office," however, had more to do with just how many people are actually attending ballet performances -- regardless of their reasons, which will of course vary from place to place.

For example, during the early 70s, at a time when the NYCB was highly subsidized by City Center (even though dancing at the NY State Theater) and ticket prices were relatively low ($8.95 top?), it wasn't uncommon to find yourself in a vast theater that was only half full, and sometimes even less. And this was a time when Balanchine and Robbins were still creating for the company! Things got better in the 80s and 90s -- but there were still evenings and programs that simply didn't bring out the audiences.

I'm not talking about galas or special performances, or the favored subscription nights, when turn-out was much bigger. But evenings when whole sections of seats were almost empty did occur on a regular basis. I can't imagine how discouraging this must be for dancers, not to mention the company money people.

The ballet performances I've attended recently (both in my own region and in several European cities) have been given to much fuller houses, despite high ticket prices. (Prices are lower, of course, due to subsidies -- overwhelmingly private in the U.S. with a bigger government input in Europe.)

I still don't know, however, what the "size of the house" is like in other places. We have regular posters from:
New York (especially NYCB and ABT),
Seattle,
Washington,
Toronto,
Boston,
Philadelphia,
San Francisco,
Phoenix,
Portland
and other companies here in North America.

We have regular posters familiar with:
Paris,
London,
Copenhagen,
St. Petersburg,
Moscow,
Madrid,
Milan,
and a number of other cities in Europe.

Are ballet audiences turning up in great and consistent numbers in each of these?

#10 SandyMcKean

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 04:03 PM

I don't have broad experience, but I'd say things are in decent shape here in Seattle.

I have a few pieces of evidence for this:

1. By chance one evening last season I sat next to PNB's board President. I asked her about this question. She said that revenues including overall ticket sales were just fine. The one thing she wished for (besides for the moon) was increased numbers of full subscriptions. We didn't get into it, but I assume such a circumstance would provide more stability in terms of knowing a certain number of seats will have butts in them, and thereby reduce risk in their planning.

2. Essentially all our performance days are subscription days, so that provides a base. However, during festivals or other special performances, attendence still seems good. There have been a couple of times during a festival when I've seen a 40% full house (we seat about 2500 I think).

3. We had 1700 attend the Tharp Demo/Lecture the other nite which Peter Boal said he was thrilled at such a turnout (this is not a financial measure tho since tickets were free for subscribers, but it does show tremendous interest).

4. One of the Board's and Boal's goals is to grow the younger end of the audience. I believe I've noticed definite evidence that this is happening as I glance around at intermission.

5. PNB went from 46 dancers to 51 dancers this year (I think those numbers are correct; if not, they are close).

6. The after performances Q&A sessions are often near "standing room only" -- even at matinees. I'd say that the Q&A room holds 200-300 people, so that's probably something like 15% of the attendees.

7. I often buy single tickets to attend extra performances. I am often amazed how tough it is to get my favorite seats in whatever section a few days before performance.

If I had to guess I'd say that a typical night at PNB is 70% sold with most of the remaining 30% being seats in the nose bleed areas. Of course that's probably 50% for more adventurous programs, and 80-90% for a Swan Lake. I think we even sell out occasionally.

#11 miliosr

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 05:14 PM

So, how is ballet box-office in Chicago these days? I can't account for the Joffrey but ABT's spring visits always sell well. As much as I roll my eyes about the unadventurousness of the repertory ABT brings to Chicago (Swan Lake, Giselle, Le Corsaire, Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty), it does put rear ends in seats. (Whether they will sell quite as well this Spring in light of everything that is going on in the financial markets -- I cannot say.)

The first night of the Chicago Dancing Festival, with three ballet companies and three modern companies, was also very well-attended. (Of course, it was free so that surely had something to do with it.)

#12 sandik

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 05:43 PM

I don't have broad experience, but I'd say things are in decent shape here in Seattle.

I have a few pieces of evidence for this:

1. By chance one evening last season I sat next to PNB's board President. I asked her about this question. She said that revenues including overall ticket sales were just fine. The one thing she wished for (besides for the moon) was increased numbers of full subscriptions. We didn't get into it, but I assume such a circumstance would provide more stability in terms of knowing a certain number of seats will have butts in them, and thereby reduce risk in their planning.


As recently as 10 years ago, Seattle audiences (arts overall, not specifically dance) trended towards subscriptions rather than single tickets. That has changed since then -- the last statistics I heard were that single tickets were up and that subscriptions were down, especially full season subscriptions. To be fair, many of the organizations that offer subscriptions have been increasing the number and variety of packages in the last few years, so a certain amount of shifting is expected, but the trend to single tickets in an interesting one.

2. Essentially all our performance days are subscription days, so that provides a base. However, during festivals or other special performances, attendence still seems good. There have been a couple of times during a festival when I've seen a 40% full house (we seat about 2500 I think).


Opening nights are generally good, other evenings more variable. Matinees are better in the winter than the early autumn or spring (competition with outdoor activities)

Meany Hall, which presents a modern/world dance lineup at a university-based theater, has been doing very well the last few years, with some sold-out houses (capacity around 2000)

6. The after performances Q&A sessions are often near "standing room only" -- even at matinees. I'd say that the Q&A room holds 200-300 people, so that's probably something like 15% of the attendees.


I don't think the capacity of the room is quite that large, but the sessions are very well attended and sometimes I learn things there that I don't find from any other source.

If I had to guess I'd say that a typical night at PNB is 70% sold with most of the remaining 30% being seats in the nose bleed areas. Of course that's probably 50% for more adventurous programs, and 80-90% for a Swan Lake. I think we even sell out occasionally.


Those numbers seem about right from where I sit too.

#13 cantdance

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Posted 08 October 2008 - 07:11 PM

On the Kennedy Center website you can click on ticket availability and it will breakdown by percentage tickets left and at what price. For the Suzanne Farrell Ballet this week only the rehearsal on Friday was sold out. Tickets were still available for all other performance times.

#14 ggobob

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 05:53 AM

Years ago, well maybe it was decades ago, I was very involved in bringing dance companies to Los Angeles. That involvement sparked my interest in estimating "houses" - i.e. the number of seats filled as a percentage of the seats available. I also like to reason out what the average price is - which means are there discounts, rush tickets, etc? It has become an unconscious habit with me.

Recent estimates are that ABT did well during its MET season, NYCB had seats to spare in June.

Out here in California, Mark Morris Dance Group averaged 1,500 patrons in a house of 2,000 / no rush, no special discounts / average price around $55. Four performances...suspect there had to be a donor subsidy as a full orchestra was used.

Kirov is due here next week. My premonition from the amount of last minute advertising is that the box office may be sucking air. Will know more on Tuesday at the opening of he triple bill. SF Lobby talk is about 401ks and the stock market rather than who is dancing. (One of the ushers where I was last night - not dance - was questioned by patron as to why with the economy in the tank he was smiling as he welcomed folks!)

The smaller dance companies (local and visiting) in the Bay Area are drawing houses of 50 - 60% (750 seat houses). Lots of comps to be found and lots of discounts.

One source among the bigger presenters mentioned to me that the largest concern is that the donors were cutting back and that annual pledges are dropping off.

If I had more time, I would start to check out on-line ticket availability. The better sites allow one to see what seats are available...that can lead to some constructive at these sites hold guesswork...remember these tend to hold back 5% of the better seats for last minute patrons or contracted tickets for the artists which if not claimed are released before the performance.

My hunch, and for many reasons I pray it is wrong, is that the next year will be a tough one for the arts in general and dance in particular.

If I was in NYC at the moment, I would be instinctively counting SF Ballet's empty seats and ABT's - I've received several email blasts for discounts to ABT.

#15 bart

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Posted 11 October 2008 - 01:06 PM

Thanks for all the responses so far.

Cantdance, any thoughts about why a Friday rehearsal would sell better than regular performances? Were tickets cheaper?

My hunch, and for many reasons I pray it is wrong, is that the next year will be a tough one for the arts in general and dance in particular.

A despressing thought, but one which seems to have held true in previous economic/financial slumps and bubble-bursts. I wonder if it will hold true for Europe and Asia as well?


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