The Saratoga Performing Arts Center will cut back the season of the NYC Ballet, seen here performing in July, from three weeks down to two next year due to economic pressures. The Saratogian/File photo
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The New York City Ballet will be spending only two weeks at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center next July, instead of the usual three.
The decision, announced Monday at a SPAC board meeting, followed a great deal of soul searching, said Ken Tabachnick, the NYC Ballet general manager.
"It is necessary for us to be realistic," Tabachnick said.
The reality is in good years the New York City Ballet and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center each lose about $1 million a year to bring the ballet to Saratoga Springs for three weeks each summer. So, while he said the ballet remains firmly committed to its residency in Saratoga Springs, the decision was in the ballet's best economic interest.
The reduction helps cut SPAC losses, too.
"Overall we are optimistic that this change will be a net positive for both SPAC and the NYCB. We believe that a shorter season will not only reduce expenses, but encourage higher attendance at each performance, which is a goal that we both support," said William Dake, the SPAC board chairman.
SPAC has seen a decrease in attendance for the ballet in the past few years, a statistic on par with national figures.
Dake said he sees the shortened NYC Ballet season - from July 7 to 18 - as an opportunity to broaden the SPAC programs with some other form of dance for the third week, likely a group of national prominence. SPAC President and Executive Director Marcia J. White declined to offer suggestions to the board as to what might replace the ballet's third week. She said ideas are being discussed and SPAC is open to ideas from the public, but directed the conversation about a possible replacement to occur at another meeting.
Monday's announcement came as a surprise to local officials. "This is precisely why our community fought so hard to get a city representative on the SPAC board," said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen when called for comment. "Whenever decisions have significant affect on our local economy it is important to work closely with the host city."
A few years ago, a bombshell announcement by the SPAC board that it would be dropping the NYC Ballet caused an uproar, which contributed to a turnover of SPAC management and an almost entirely new board.
This time, a reduction of the residency is not likely to cause such a stir.
"It is certainly unfortunate that the season will be cut back, but it's a sign of our tough economic times," said Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson. "If people want a three-week ballet season, they need to support the ballet more when it's here. Attendance has been down. Whenever you have tough economic times, the arts are the first to suffer."
White called SPAC a cultural icon and a cultural hub, which the state considers at budget time.
"We are an economic engine bringing in $30 million to the immediate community," she said.
The board of directors received a brief overview of the organization's financial situation at the meeting, which took place in Albany. SPAC is projected to end the year "slightly in the black," but the organization's investments are down 16 percent.
The 2009 budget is still being worked on, with a draft form expected at the end of November. Board members will likely have the draft to review the first week of December and the matter introduced at the scheduled Dec. 12 board meeting.
White said ticket prices and membership prices will remain the same as this year. Although state money has been earmarked for the rehabilitation for the exterior of the SPAC amphitheater, some of those funds have not yet been received. The $2.5 million project will remove the exterior siding and replace it with a new façade - the look has been a subject of controversy and is being redesigned - as well as putting in new railing, lighting and sound systems.
While Dake said the organization seems to be in a "stable position," he reminded the board that most not-for-profits depend on half of their revenue coming from contributions and support. The 2009 season will be the last season for a number of endowments created after a state audit in 2004 resulted in a complete overhaul of the board of directors as well as the firing of the previous SPAC president.
"I don't want to be as dependent as we have been," Dake said of the endowments. He suggested some of the benefactors may opt to continue their gifts.
In addition to the ballet, SPAC's summer season also features the Philadelphia Orchestra. When asked whether the orchestra will also be looking to reduce its time in Saratoga Springs, Dake said, "As far as we know it is not on the table at this point."
"People are more amenable to making changes in these tough economic times," Dake said. "This may be an opportunity to create a greater interest in some areas."