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Dance for a City

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The title for this thread is stolen from the exhibition in '99 of the NYCB at the New York Historical Society (but maybe I should have called it "SimBallet") and the inspiration comes from the provicial/international thread. Let's look at it from a different viewpoint enitrely!

Let's pretend:

Say you're a city planner, in a city with a rising population (it just broke two million in the city and environs) and economy. You're no philistine, but you're not really a ballet connoiseur (for argument's sake, your favorite art happens to be music and the city already has an excellent symphony). Everytime you've seen the ballet, you've enjoyed it, but it's just not your big passion.

The city already has a symphony. You believe in the arts, and in their place in a city. As far as you and the city council are concerned, a dance company would both benefit the city and increase its prestige and desirability as a cultural destination. There are fledging choices within the city and more famous ones that could be imported.

What do you do next? What are the factors you look at making your choice? Remember one thing: You like ballet as much as any other art, and it's not your area of expertise.

Go build a company!

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Well, of course, the City Council would jump to its feet, do a triple pirouette (in perfect unison) while saying "Oh, goody goody! A ballet company!!!! That's just what we need!" They'd vote the money instantly and then....and then.....


I don't see a happy ending here. They'll hire a search firm (the way things are done these days) who'll hire the artistic director with the snazziest resume, undoubtedly a "He turned ballet on its ear!!!!" type who will charm the council out of millions of dollars for a wonderful, big new studio/theater, put on several Festivals of New Ballet, and then....and then.....

There will be a board revolution, because all the other guys wanted (at the prodding of their wives) a Pretty in Pink ballet company. So Director Number 1 gets the gate, and we instruct the search firm to hire someone who will have our 24-member company in swan tutus by next season. Since we're not quite in the $250K-plus salary range, we don't get, perhaps, the very best tutu-man on the block, but someone with a long, l-o-n-g track record who puts on budget productions of the Tchaikovsky classics as well as a dozen or so of his own creations.

Nice thing about Sim City is you can just go in, wipe the slate clean, and start all over again.

I'd call up Uncle Lincoln and suggest a grand tour. We'd go around the world, in search of a great choreographer who'd just lost his job because his boss died and was working in a cabaret. I'll send you a postcard.

[ December 10, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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I'd suggest, then, you add another toggle: that "I" know something about ballet. Call me a pessimist smile.gif but I don't see another way to do it. {That is not to suggest that others may smile.gif )

It is an interesting question. What would you do? Build or buy? What model would you use? ABT or City Ballet (or something else). To really play "let's pretend" you could be the meddling sort and suggest repertory.

[ December 10, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Find a deep pocket private donor, a retiring dancer who has vision and guts or an an up-and-coming choregrapher with some managerial talent, create a small, actively engaged board of business-minded people (art is not their issue, money is) and try it that way.

Toby Ansin did exactly this for Miami Beach back in the barbaric 1980s when we had music and ABT tours were selling well (thanks to another impressaria). Ansin seeded this with big bucks of her own, pulled together a private board and went after the prickly, aggressive Villella who was then embroiled in some bruhaha ( maybe Oklahoma?). Villella burned through at least one early board, several presidents, a ballet mistress (and more recently his choreographer) while building a first rate company. He regularly trashes the people of Miami who buy his tickets -- speaking ill of Miami from the Kennedy Center stage so maybe he'll want to decamp to your Sim City. Of course all this ignores the Balanchine "first, a school" maxim which I always thought spoke to audience-building and local connection as well. Wonder how Southern Ballet Theatre did this? Did Bujones launch his respected school before, during or after his company launch?

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Leigh and list--

Here is why this is not a good time to even consider a ballet company in your growing, medium sized city:


The world has changed and not for the better. The fact that bonuses are down on Wall Street may not cause many of us to shed a tear, but consider the amount of support for the ABT and NYCB in New York that comes from financial institutions and their employees.

And it isn't as if the money saved by the investment banks will be used for something else, like underwriting an Ashton season at the New York State Theater. It just isn't there anymore.

The hinterlands, including Sim City, would face the same problems as New York just not in such stark relief. No matter who are the big employers in town, they have been laying people off, cutting back operations and losing money. And will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

If companies are dismissing employees, cutting dividends and closing operations (which they are) arts funding will be cut also. It will be difficult to justify keeping a company's name on the local Nutcracker production while laying off the parents of the the kids on stage.

The same situation applies to Sim City itself, as well as the county and state in which it is located--tax revenues are down, demands on services are up (income support type expenditures are skyrocketing) so it would be hard to come up with the money for ballet funding.

I think this will be a very tough time for any meaningful new funding for ballet or other arts.

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A native of our burgeoning city has made a fortune selling widgets to the masses. In fact, he's totally cornered the market in widgets, necessary items of everyday life, and can give Bill Gates a run for his money in the wealth department. He, personally, is not interested in the arts, but he has a son, BA and MBA Columbia, who was bitten by the dance bug while living in New York. Junior has dutifully returned to his native city to learn the widget business and misses the cultural scene in New York. Junior has recently made a big hit on the stock market (he had friends in high places at Enron and sold his stock before the crash) and is motivated to use this windfall to benefit his city. Furthermore, Junior is married to the daughter of wealthy New York arts patrons who is equally determined to become a famous arts patroness in her husband's home town. After all, as a child she was dandled on the knee of every famous choreographer/ballet company director in New York and abroad.

One of the ballet teachers in town is an ex-major company soloist who is not only a talented teacher but has a flair for choreography which shows off her students talents. There are enough talented students to form a small company. Jr's wife arranges to fund an expansion of the school and helps to attract well-known teachers and soloists to perform with the fledgling company. She also funds choreographers who are becoming well-known to come and do pieces for the company. And, lucky for her, there happens to be a young dancer, a native of SimCity in a major US company who is becoming known for his choreographic talents. What could be better than home-grown talent?

After a few years, our widget manufacturer goes to meet his maker, and Jr., now one of the richest men in America, is in a position to build a new theater for dance in SimCity - named after Daddy, of course - complete with an abstract widget sculpture in the foyer.

By this time the company has begun to make quite a name for itself and has begun touring nationally and has even been invited to the Edinburgh Festival. The local society are all falling over themselves to be on the Board and to donate money to fund seats in the new theater. Alberto Vilar, too, is impressed and donates money to fund a grand staircase - named after him, of course. smile.gif

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Meanwhile, down in our nation's capitol, our newly elected Independent Party President and family are taking an active interest in the arts.

Madame President's First (and only) Husband, known in his professional career as the Ultimate Partner or UP, has seen to it that the N.E.A. has been totally overhauled and is ready to fund the arts in our nation's public schools by creating a kind of public works program for retired, former ballet dancers,as well as musicians, actors and other creative artists.

However, UP's special love has always remained the ballet. While performing in New York, UP had the pleasure of getting to know Jumior through his affiliation with the Friends of...Center. The two became fast friends, taking class together when possible, attending each other's weddings and the bar mitsvahs of their sons and, generally, had managed to stay in touch over the years.

UP is determined to see Junior get the funding his ballet company needs - as well as the recognition.

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My solution, somewhat dictatorial and somewhat heretical. There is no city council approval required. . . I'm not mayor, I'm empress. Then I would see if I couldn't find a nifty company in a city that can't quite support it and offer to 'share' (sort of like Cincinatti San Jose I think?).

Of course in my fantasies (this being my city) I'd invite NDT or the Stuttgart. This being reality. . .

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