Thursday, September 20, 2007

New York City Ballet SAFE for 2008--needs long-term commitment from SPAC

NYC Ballet back in '08
By PAUL POST , The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Saratoga Performing Arts Center is expected to introduce a new marketing director, review financials and discuss upcoming marketing initiatives at Friday's 2 p.m. board meeting, slated for the Desmond-Americana in Colonie.SPAC President Marcia White said the New York City Ballet has made a firm commitment to return for the 2008 season, despite this year's 7 percent decline in average attendance.The ballet drew 45,034 patrons for its three-week summer residency, up from 43,178 in 2006, but this year's program had three more performances, meaning average attendance fell from 2,398 to 2,144, a difference of 254 per show."They will be back at Saratoga for another season, but people need to support the ballet," White said.The ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra have annual losses of about $1 million each in Saratoga. Donations, gifts and SPAC's endowment make up the difference from ticket sale shortfalls.Previously, White has said SPAC's financial future needs to become more stable and secure before long-term deals with NYCB can be worked out. Currently, SPAC continues to work with the ballet on a year-to-year basis."There's nothing bad about that," White said. "That's pretty much the way we have the orchestra as well. You're always looking at costs."In early 2004, SPAC announced it was dropping the ballet for financial reasons, resulting in a firestorm of protests that prompted a state audit of SPAC's business practices and the eventual departure of former President Herb Chesbrough. Despite community outcry and statements from state and local officials about the New York City Ballet's economic importance to the region, attendance continues to decline."There is so much competition in this area for events," White said. "There's just an awful lot of activity."Meanwhile, orchestra attendance rose 10 percent this year, and turnout for the Freihofer's Jazz Festival was at its highest level in five years, 12 percent more than 2006 figures. White said SPAC's recent Wine and Food Festival also had strong support.SPAC has hired a new marketing director, Shane Williams-Ness, to replace Vesna Gjaja who will be leaving at month's end. Williams-Ness comes to SPAC from Sawchuk Brown Associates, one of the Capital District's leading public relations firms.Visitors to SPAC enjoyed a variety of interior amphitheater improvements this year, highlighted by all-new padded seating. Work began last fall, continued throughout the winter and was completed this spring - the second phase of multi-year capital improvement plan.Phase three calls for $2.5 million worth of exterior improvements, such as painting the front facade, installing new lighting and renovating ramps leading to the balcony. Funding would come from the state, but it's unclear if money will be made available for work to be done prior to the 2008 summer season.

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©The Saratogian 2007

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