All in all, a good year

The Pennsylvania Ballet in a number from "The Nutcracker." The company's 2011 performances of the holiday staple,which accounts for 50 percent of all ticket sales for the season, brought in about as much as they did the previous year.
The Pennsylvania Ballet in a number from "The Nutcracker." The company's 2011 performances of the holiday staple,which accounts for 50 percent of all ticket sales for the season, brought in about as much as they did the previous year. (ALEXANDER IZILIAEV)

With increased competition, the Pa. Ballet has to stay on its toes. It did.

Posted: January 22, 2012

In the early aughts, nervous dance companies were looking over their shoulders at the gathering holiday-time competition. As inhabitants of that lucrative calendar slot, productions of The Nutcracker had long been cash cows. But with Disneys on Ice and Christmas-theme theater productions multiplying, it looked as if Nutcracker revenue might take a hit.

It hasn't turned out that way, at least locally. Pennsylvania Ballet's production of the Tchaikovsky/Balanchine ballet closed Dec. 31, earning about as much as it did last year.

The Nutcracker might not represent artistic growth for dancers or the pit orchestra, but a great performance at the box office is critical. The show accounts for 50 percent of all ticket sales for the season.

Twenty-two iterations of the "Waltz of the Flowers" and other dances produced $2.175 million for Pennsylvania Ballet this season. That's a little shy of the goal of $2.25 million, but about the same revenue as in the winter of 2010.

Audiences filled the Academy of Music to 87 percent of capacity (though the ballet figures its capacity rate not on the Academy's full 2,900 seats, but against a potential selling of 2,137 seats, since the amphitheater is open for only some shows, and obstructed-view seats are eliminated from consideration).

"It was a good year," said executive director Michael Scolamiero. "While we didn't quite make our revenue goal, we did earn about what we did last year, with fewer performances. Expenses were down marginally."

The ballet also took The Nutcracker to Ottawa for seven performances, and although the run-outs didn't enhance the bottom line - the run merely broke even after expenses - Pennsylvania Ballet did gather up some critical luster on its Canadian jaunt.

". . . a near perfect vision of famed choreographer George Balanchine's Nutcracker," the Ottawa Citizen declared. "The company's dancing proved why even spoiled New York ballet patrons will make the trek down to Philly.

"The regal Arantxa Ochoa was a splendid Sugar Plum Fairy, showing incredible strength and control. Amy Aldridge, as the lead Dewdrop in the Flower Waltz section, is the epitome of the Balanchine ballerina: fresh, quick, athletic, with legs up to her eyeballs."

Philadelphians this season saw dancers' legs and eyeballs - in close-up shots on the large-format video screens in the lobby of the Comcast Center. Moves by a dozen Pennsylvania Ballet members were writ large in quick excerpts from The Nutcracker in Comcast's annual video show.

Ballet officials can't draw a direct line from the Comcast appearance to ticket sales. But, worried about ticket sales in a poor economy and the fact that the current production is now five years old, they did put in place a number of special promotions - including a 30 percent-off summer sale, e-mail blasts, and partnerships with local children's attractions.

"We had everything working in concert this year a lot more efficiently," said marketing director Anna Bedic.

Well, almost everything. As audiences for the last two performances know, the ballet company miscalculated the number of programs it would need, and didn't print enough for the entire run of performances.

There's always next year. Especially for a show that reliably delivers a princely sum.


Contact music critic Peter

Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.

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