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How's the ballet box-office doing nowadays?

46 posts in this topic

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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I was at the Suzanne Farrell Ballet rehearsal from 230pm to ending around 520pm for $12 and sat next to the Presidential box. I am estimating that they only released 150 tickets . It was general admission and everyone sat in the box tier and rear orchestra sections. Suzanne Farrell ran the rehearsal with her narration before each Pas De Deux and two 15 min orchestra intermissions. The only other pauses were for missed stage cues and orchestra instruction. The rehearsal was for the Balanchine Couple performance at 8pm that night. Got to watch Suzanne Farrell coach Natalia Magnicaballi in Diamonds pdd. Miss Farrell performed the steps and port de bra with Momchil Mladenov and Natalia followed the instruction. Just seeing Miss Farrell do that bit of choreography herself was the best $12 spent. She is still beautiful. The ushers were clearing the theatre and I had to leave then.

I mostly go the the rehearsals and studio performances since I spend my dance budget on ballet class. Some of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancers are my teachers. Kristen Gallagher, Runqiao Du and Erin Mahoney Du teach in the Wash DC Richmond area. I will be at the San Francisco Ballet, ABT, Bolshoi and Royal Ballet rehearsals.

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What a marvellous opportunity, cantdance. I'll bet I'm not the only one to be envious! As one who saw Diamonds in the first year ('67), I'm really thrilled that Farrell can still demonstrate it to her dancers over 40 years later.

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I attend 2-3 times a week to the met /nyc during abt's spring seasson.

Friday and Saturdays usually sell very very well. Many times you have a sold out house (about 4000 seats)

Monday-thursday, depends on the performance, but in general they sell very well too (80-90%)

People in nyc know very well who they want to see. You will find, for example, Ananiashvili's performances sold out

very fast (especially after her come back). Especial performances, like a farewell, are usually sold out before the seasson begins. wed and sat matinee are usually pretty full as well.

I attended to San Francisco ballet at City Center. It was pretty bad, friday night the rear mezzanine was pretty much empty. Same thing with morphoses. Its actually the 1st time that I ve seen the city center that empty during a ballet performance (i have been here for 5 yrs now). Kirov sold very well last year and abt usually sells pretty well too. The young america grand prix gala is always sold out 1-2 months before the show.

I will be attending to abt tonight and during these 2 weeks, w'll see how it goes.

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I too would be most curious to see some statistics regarding bart's query. In the meantime, there are always 990's to cross-reference. Below, are my most recent experiences...

1) BOSTON

The first thing I noticed in Boston some years ago, was that BB did not make balcony tickets available for any performances at the Wang Center, only the front Mezz (same top price as front Orchestra). So a major reduction in seats available, and probably because of a lack of attendance? However, finally this past May, I was able to sit upstairs in the balcony section again, with ample opportunity to move forward if I wanted to into the front balcony. (The Mezz section was full, and at least the first 10+ rows of front balcony.) Whether BB anticipated better attendance and opened up the balcony section or saw early subscription returns and did it, I'm not sure. Or maybe it was a better rep.? I know they did a big push for Cranko's R&J, but not living in Boston now, I don't see any other media/p.r. so can't determine its impact on the b.o. The fall Gala night usually does well, as I suppose the spring Ball does too?

But despite the above, BB is leaving the Wang Center after this coming season to go to a smaller venue. They are putting a happy face on it, but it is still a demotion. Of course, two years ago (or is it more now?) the Wang Center had supplanted BB's Nutcracker, (despite it supposedly being the largest/best attended one in the USA--take that NYCB), with those NY interlopers: The Rockettes Xmas Show. Nothing new about that: A similar fate befalling other companies across the USA.

Actually, I do wonder how BB is doing financially? Their AD's previous position received accolades for rep, but also groans for excessive expense and leaving a large deficit. BB has always had a great rep, (though I could do with less Elo), and I've seen more smiles than before, so maybe they are ok. But with the state of the present economy, and MA's rather precarious finances, it may not be all smiles this year.

2) NY:

I've attended ABT regularly each summer, and 2-4 times (though this year 1-2) at City Center, and have observed the same things other BT'ers have posted.

3) EUROPE:

London (2007)- for ABT (Feb.) and Morphoses (Sept.) - I was up in the balcony for both companies, and it seemed to be quite full. The one time I was able to attend the RB at the ROH, it too was very full (I had to get a very expensive orch.ticket, which was all they had left.)

Spain (2008): At all times (Barcelona, Madrid, elsewhere on tour) the performances were either sold out or very nearly sold out. Also, there was no such thing as a "cheap" ticket; prices were DOUBLE what they are in NYC, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles (all of which I visited in 2007-08).

4)THE GOOD OL' DAYS:

I remember ABT filling Shrine Auditorium in L.A. at least 3/4 full (almost 5600 seats) for three weeks at a time in the late 70's - mid 80's. (sigh).

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The economic woes have definitely hit The Washington Ballet. Their shows used to fill to capacity on all nights. At last night's initial performance of their Genius2 program, the usually-packed balcony was about one-half full at the start of the evening and emptied to about one-third full by the second intermission, presumably because a lot of folks could easily move to either Box Seats or Orchestra? I was shocked by the change. I've been a Wednesday night subscriber for years -- the preview openers, usually lower priced -- and the theters were always packed in previous years. Something is definitely going on. Sad.

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I can only attest to Oregon Ballet Theatre's attendance and it was a full house the night I attended in early October. They were doing "Swan Lake" and they seem to be consistent with selling out with this ballet. They have really reasonable subscription prices, which my tickets were, which makes me feel privileged to see this ballet and to hear their resident orchestra for the pittance that I pay.

Support live theatre!

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This is technically :) but I think it's pertinent. The New York Times reports today that the Metropolitan Opera's board will

subsidize the cost of about 16,000 prime seats for weekend evening performances for the rest of the current season. Starting on Monday, about 16,000 seats in its orchestra and grand tier sections, which normally sell for between $140 and $295, will be sold for $25 through weekly online drawings at metopera.org.

Presumably if the Met feels the need to take an extraordinary measure to boost ticket sales, its fellow Lincoln Center constituent at the State Theater is suffering some too, although maybe not yet since it's Nutcracker season.

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The San Francisco ballet rehearsal tickets were sold out which I did attend. The Kennedy Center did send me an email offering discounted orchestra seats for their Giselle performance. Right now the Washington Ballet has some Nutcracker tickets at 50% off.

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The good news is that San Francisco Ballet has added one performance of the full-length Jewels and two of its new Swan Lake for the upcoming 2009 season. On the down side, if you look at the available seats chart for the mixed rep programs, many look no more than half sold.

I have two ballet-loving co-workers who both gave up their season tickets this year (it should be pointed out that we work for a bank :sweatingbullets: ). I renewed my subscription this year, but next year is iffy.

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Just updating...SF Ballet has had a 50% Nutcracker offer on its website for subscribers...it might also be out to its email list.

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