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Boston Ballet Box Office Woes


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 November 2002 - 04:41 AM

I'm going to split off citibob's list of "what's wrong with ballet in general" and put it up on Subtexts and Contexts under Aesthetic Issues for discussion.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 09 November 2002 - 05:40 PM

I've moved this into the Boston Ballet forum, and hope that other Bostonians will comment. Box office woes are a general problem, but this one seems case specific. (Of course, non-bostonians are welcome to chime in :cool: )

#3 bijoux

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Posted 09 November 2002 - 10:17 PM

Perhaps boston Ballet needs to pay more attention to the people of Boston.By that I mean the company needs to do more to draw the audiences in.I suppose it is a job for the development department as well as the artistic staff.Bostonians like to feel like they are part of something.I would venture to say like a special club.They all want to be a member before their neighbor does.I don't think the company has really done much in the way of making people belive they are the hot ticket.There are so many exciting things that happen every day in Boston and Boston Ballet misses out.The company also needs to represent all of its members consistently.(Even dancers who have been in the company for a while.)Audience members like to see certain people and if they are still in the company,but don't get used,the select audience members may stop coming.(I mention this because something like it was mentioned in a review during Onegin)Maybe the company needs to do something exciting that only shows a bit of dancing to whet someones appetite so they'll buy tickets for the real thing,Maybe they should collaborate with someone on a big production.The posssibilities are endless....

#4 SusanB

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Posted 09 November 2002 - 01:48 PM

I have no idea what the problem is, but I do know that this represents a substantial and scary change at Boston Ballet.

I do know that under Anna Marie Holmes' artistic direction that Boston Ballet was constantly sold out -- and often added weekday matinee shows -- when they performed full length ballets. Rep programs always sold less.

In my opinion Boston Ballet has terribly mistreated members of the organization, both artistic and administrative. Reading Bruce Marks' recent interview he pointed out that the company fired or lost every administrative and artistic staff member from his watch save one -- conductor Jonathan McFee. He sounded upset and I think he said something like it takes a lot of effort to do that to a company.

I suspect that the Boston Ballet Board has been attempting to restructure the AD position to one whose artistic vision is subordinate to the Board's, and to find someone who will be a figure head and not a strong artistic advocate. Both Bruce Marks and Anna Marie Holmes seemed to have clear artistic vision and stong wills. Anna Marie Holmes was pushed out and I wonder why Bruce Marks left a company that he built into a magnificent organization.

I believe, and I have no evidence at all to back this up, that Maina Gielgud left abruptly before even beginning her first year because her vision of the AD position was different than the Board's. I don't believe she fired all of those dancers, merely carried out the mandate of the BB Board.

#5 Watermill

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Posted 09 November 2002 - 11:39 AM

From Christine Temin's review in the Boston Globe...

"And developing dance makers are what the ballet world needs - globally, but particularly in Boston, which lacks a loyal public for dance. Boston Ballet is in dire need of an audience. The company recently danced ''Onegin,'' the finest story ballet it has ever presented, in the Wang Theatre. Ticket sales were pitiful, only 7,000 seats in all. At the Wang, that's less than the equivalent of two full houses, spread across 12 performances. "

Is this true? If it is, BB has it's work cut out in the next year. A company that size cannot survive such terrible Box Office. Good grief: that's selling approx 17% of avail seating!

What happened? Did the public lose interest during all the controversies in leadership? Did BB get out of touch with their audience? Have they failed to build audience over the last few years?

Is the huge Wang Center (and its huge rent) a mistake?

Is anyone else as shocked as I am? This is supposed to be a top ten company; it has a new & exciting Artistic Director; received very strong critical praise for its first three programs...???

Would someone from Boston (my home town) please illuminate the situation?

Thanks,

Watermill

#6 citibob

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Posted 09 November 2002 - 07:21 PM

I dance for the other ballet company in Boston, Jose Mateo's Ballet Theatre. It exists to produce the work of its own artistic director/choreographer, and for the past several years has received excellent reviews from the very same Christine Temin and other dance critics. The company has no problem selling seats and is not running into budgetary "surprises" due to lack of ticket sales at the moment (although admittedly, it has much fewer seats to sell).

Mr. Mateo has his own ideas of what's wrong with BB. Most of these problems are things he thinks is wrong with most of the way ballet is done, not Boston Ballet specifically. At the risk of sounding critical of an organization I know little about (BB), I will repeat, these are things wrong IN GENERAL with ballet, not with any specific organization:
* Outdated acting style (acting has changed in the past 100 years in other theater arts, except for ballet)
* Outdated narrative style.
* Full-length ballets are too long for a modern audience.
* Too much performance of works by dead choreographers. (Ballet is a living art, and seems to work best when the choreographer is alive and can be right there working with the company).
* Lack of choreographic consistency in Nutcrackers (most are done by many choreographers)
* Movement style that reads as "unnatural" and "aloof" to an audience (modern audiences respond better to the "personal connection" more common in modern dance).
* Lack of integration between training of dancers and the choreography danced by those dancers (Balanchine had this, but many large ballet organizations do not).

BB could very well be a top ten company. That means it has a good budget and is able to hire great dancers with it. John Cranko was no slouch of a choreographer either; Onegin is considered a real masterpiece. All that could be true. But if the Boston audience isn't "there" with the company, it just won't come. Boston audience is notoriously difficult for dance, so please give BB some credit for its efforts.

People I know who saw Onegin were pleased with it.

The Wang Center might be a mistake. However, getting an "appropriately sized" theater in Boston is really hard. Maybe the Emerson Majestic, at just under 1000 seats, would be more appropriate for Boston Ballet's rep performances. I do not know whether they have investigated options other than the Wang.

#7 Tessa

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 06:56 AM

I'm not from Boston, but am throwing in my two cents based on what I've seen in Philadelphia. A 3,500 seat theater is HUGE (similar to the Academy of Music in Philly) and the only time I've seen the Academy totally full is for Nutcracker. Other performances get quite full, but that is based on a limited run (6-8 peformances.) 12 performances seems awfully ambitious.

And, let's face it, Onegin is not a household name. Not even close. In the general public, two ballet names are well known: Nutcracker and Swan Lake (if the people have ever had any contact with the art form, we can add Giselle, Coppelia, and Sleeping Beauty to that list.) The only other story ballets that seem to have a huge turn-out in Philadelphia are based on popular stories like Cinderella and Dracula.

Onegin also suffers from having a difficult-to-pronounce name, a fairly adult storyline, and a choreographer who is not a household name either. I hate to be pessimistic, especially since the reviews of the production were so wonderful, but I think that Onegin is not the type of full-length ballet that people are flocking to see.

Bostonians, feel free to prove me wrong. I know that Onegin, Le Corsaire, La Bayadere, etc., sell out in NYC, but do they sell well in your city?

#8 SusanB

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 07:48 AM

Hi Tessa,

In the past, just about every full length ballet nearly has sold out -- or at least sold extremely well -- in Boston. Boston audiences sold out 3 full weeks of Sleeping Beauty a few years ago, and weekday matinee performances were added. Similarly, all the full lengths of the past few years -- La Bayadere, Cleopatra, Don Quixote, Giselle, Dracula, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Madame Butterfly -- sold very well.

Rep programs have always sold less, but the theater seldom seemed that empty, except for occasional triple bills. The kind of attendance that would result in 7000 total tickets sold over 12 performaces is not quite 600 people per performance. The Wang has a 3800 seat capacity.

My question is does a Board do anything in the middle of a season when the first two runs sell this poorly? Does a company with a budget like BB's have some cushion or would this put them in some sort of budget crisis? Does anyone know what happens when a company suddenly loses that much in attendance?

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 08:13 AM

If a board is both smart AND lucky, they've been able to build a sort of "rainy day fund" into the budget, but how often do we see those qualities in combination?:)

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 08:23 AM

I'm still digesting "3500 seats." That's almost the Met!

The Kennedy Center Opera House is only about 2200, and is not always sold out, even for big name companies, like the Royal.

If the attendance has fallen off that much, it is an interesting question. Boston Ballet has been doing a lot of press -- we get a press release a week from them, it seems, often on new classes they're starting for this group or that, and very detailed releases about the programs, etc.

One difference that's very notable here is how much of a difference subscribers make. When a company comes for two weeks, and one week is on subscription and one is not, the difference in attendance is noticeable (the nonsubscription week has the empty seats).

I wonder -- and this is pure speculation! -- if the drop off has been in subscriptions? When a company has a bad year or two -- or there's a perception of instability -- sometimes people want to hold off on subscribing. Also, of course, change -- any change -- means it takes a few years for the audience to adjust.

#11 balletmama

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 10:44 AM

Just wondering...how is the economy affecting ballet companies in general? I can see where if half your college fund has been lost in the stock market, a subscription might change to one or two carefully chosen performances.

Re Boston in particular, given the management had dismissed at least one of their most popular dancers before reinstating her, could that tend to leave the audience feeling a bit like chumps?

#12 dirac

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 11:03 AM

I have been reading articles that indicate that subscriptions in general are dropping as a result of the economy. People are more reluctant to plunk down a substantial sum of money in advance.

#13 Calliope

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 11:05 AM

I'm going to take my New Yorker hat off here and toss it the ring, so I don't get beat up on.

Seeing as NY isn't that far from Boston, I can barely say I ever see anything on them, publicity wise. I don't think I've ever seen an ad in the NY Times (other regional companies do take out ads).
I don't know if they bring in guest stars, sometimes that seems to jolt audiences (look at both ABT and NYCB in NY doing it)
and I think they need to find a rep that's consistent.
I don't even see Onegin, I'm not even sure of it's correct pronunciation. I can't imagine new people would want to go to see a ballet for the first time, in a piece they've never heard of.
Back to the basic storybooks, Swan Lake, R&J, Sleeping Beauty.

#14 Watermill

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 12:06 PM

Ah, but we're not absorbing what SusanB wrote earlier:

"In the past, just about every full length ballet nearly has sold out -- or at least sold extremely well -- in Boston. Boston audiences sold out 3 full weeks of Sleeping Beauty a few years ago, and weekday matinee performances were added. Similarly, all the full lengths of the past few years -- La Bayadere, Cleopatra, Don Quixote, Giselle, Dracula, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Madame Butterfly -- sold very well. "

Taking consideration of the difficulties mentioned I would expect Onegin to perhaps sell 60% ....BUT NOT 17%!!!

I am suggesting that the bottom has fallen out and unless the Curse of the Bambino has climbed into tights and a tutu I still await a reason for it...

Watermill...rounding third...

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 12:17 PM

I thought we'd absorbed it :) Susan B was noting a change in attendance patterns, and we're trying to guess why :)


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