Oakland Ballet Company announced last Wednesday that its spring dance season will be postponed until spring 2013, citing a budget shortfall and Nutcracker ticket sales that fell short of projections. The company will spend the upcoming year raising funds and stabilizing its finances.
Interviewed by phone from London, Artistic Director Graham Lustig cited fiscal prudence rather than financial crisis. "I think this is the right thing to be doing, and it's preemptive," he said. The company runs on a very tight budget, and producing a spring show was simply too risky after a 10-percent drop in revenue. "Fundraising is a very steep uphill climb at the moment," Lustig said, noting that arts organizations at every level, and throughout the Bay Area, recorded similar shortfalls last year.
The board's development efforts are under way, and Oakland Ballet's other plans will move forward as scheduled. Foremost is the Spring Gala, set for Saturday, May 5, at the Kaiser Center Auditorium. Also, Saturday ballet classes for children and teens continue on the Mills College campus, and a two-week "Ballet Boot Camp" takes place in July.
Many companies rely on The Nutcracker for a large portion of their annual revenue, Oakland Ballet included. After the success of its 2010 premiere, the company increased the number of shows for 2011, but sales did not support the expansion. To further reduce financial risk, it will scale back to three or four performances this fall.
"We're not going to dig a deeper hole," Lustig said. "The two things that I wanted to do for the company was to reestablish its artistic identity, but do that in concert with strong fiscal responsibility." Lustig was hired in 2010 to help restore Oakland Ballet, which had recently endured several years of hardship. After folding in 2006, it was revived in 2007 by founder Ronn Guidi, only to go on hiatus after Guidi's abrupt resignation in 2009.
Founded in 1961 by Guidi, Oakland Ballet garnered popular and critical acclaim for restaging classical ballets and the groundbreaking dances of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The postponed spring season, Diaghilev Imagery, is planned as an homage to that heritage and a bridge to the company's artistic future: Val Caniparoli and Amy Seiwert, San Francisco-based choreographers with national recognition, are creating new works set to the original Ballets Russes scores, and Lustig will restage his version of Pulcinella.
Lustig said that Caniparoli and Seiwert are committed to returning. "It's a ghastly thing to have to do, but at the same time the dancers and artists have been incredibly generous and understanding," he said. "The ballet is just being prudent, being wise, and we have every intention of coming back stronger."