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Will they return in 2006? The New York City Ballet.

Dancing As Fast As They Can

Followers of this spring’s ballet rollercoaster recall that the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s management and board of directors attempted to ax the New York City Ballet after the 2004 season, but yielded to a forceful public outcry and have now guaranteed the 2005 season—which will be NYCB’s 40th summer at SPAC.

However, New York City Ballet management has stated that they must know by early January what their outlook is for July 2006. Absent a 2006 contract with SPAC, the ballet will begin negotiating with other venues that are hot to take them away from Saratoga, according to Rhona Koretzky, a fervent ballet fan who’s been talking with NYCB staff in New York City.

So, Pat Friesen, Mary Huber, and Koretzky—three self-declared “every nighters” at the ballet—organized a conference, Beyond Toe Shoes and Tights: NYCB’s Economic Impact on Saratoga and the Capital Region, to spread the word that, yes, we love the dancing, but we also need the big bucks tourists and dancers spend every July on croissants and crab cakes, motels and massages.

Dee Sarno of the Saratoga County Arts Council noted that “the multiplier effect from arts tourism equals $5 spent on goods and services for every $1 spent on tickets, according to a 91-city survey by Americans for the Arts.” Also, she said, “Every member of NYCB and their orchestra gets a stipend of $160 per day. That’s $630,000 over the three weeks of the ballet season.”

About 50 balletomanes showed up at the Saratoga Springs Public Library on Sunday, Sept. 26, to hear nuts-and-bolts data from Sarno and half-dozen downtown business owners, plus big-picture statements by high-tech mavens Paul Bray, founder of the Albany Roundtable Civic Lunch; and Robert Millis, publisher of the Tech Valley Times.

Political support for the continuing presence of the ballet was guaranteed by Mayor Michael Lenz and state assemblyman James Tedisco (R-Schenectady), who said, “SPAC will never not be the home of the New York City Ballet.”

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, whose office continues to keep an eye on SPAC, sent his press secretary, Marcia C. White.

Millis and Bray laid out the macroeconomic view, according to the gospel of economist/urban planner Richard Florida. Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, shows that high-tech workers flock to communities that support the arts and shun towns that don’t have the full complement of music, theater, and ballet.

In other words, if you want smart workers for Albany’s new nanotech industries, you’d better keep the dancers spinning. Otherwise, the Capital Region loses to Austin, Boston, the Research Triangle in North Carolina or California’s Silicon Valley, Millis said. “We’re in the information economy, so industrial development should be based on attracting these workers. They want to live in cities, not suburbs, and they want an infrastructure that includes world class leisure time offerings.”

Bray, who has faulted SPAC’s narrow vision in his freelance columns for the Albany Times Union, said, “I wasn’t surprised at SPAC pulling the plug on the ballet. I was surprised at who stepped up [to save it] and who didn’t. Not Ken Green (of the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation); not First Albany. Many people didn’t and don’t get it.”

Millis said these corporation-hunters are following outdated political strategies. “They still want to make this a cheap place to do business (through tax breaks and other gimmicks). We need to help these folks get on board with information economy strategies that provide a quality of life to the people who will work in these companies.”

Looking at the issue from the microeconomic level, a panel of business people credited the presence of NYCB with making July a black-ink month for them. A few examples:

Wendy London, co-owner of Mrs. London’s Bakeshop: “Our business increases about 70 percent in July from dancers, ballet orchestra members, and families who come in before or after a matinee. Saratoga can’t afford to lose the ballet.”

Michael Steele, owner of Ballet Regent School: “I started a summer institute connected with NYCB. We took our kids to 14 shows. We spent more than $5,000 on tickets and I estimate the kids spent more than $10,000 on T-shirts and concessions at SPAC.”

Mary Anne Fantauzzi, owner of Total Body Trifecta fitness studio: “The fitness business is usually lousy in summer, but starting in 1999, when (NYCB dancer) Jenifer Ringer began teaching the official ballet workout, my classes have grown. Eighty-seven percent of my students are from out of town. I can pay my July and August rent off the money I make from those three weeks.”

Conference participants decried the absence of those who most need to get the economic message. Invited, but missing: Representatives of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association, the Tourism Board, Saratoga Economic Development Corporation, SPAC management, NYCB management, the National Museum of Dance, and the SPAC Board.

“We invited all 23 members of the board by personal letter,” Koretzky said. “I got polite replies from only six, and all were regrets.” However, the group plans to send a summary of the conference, including marketing suggestions, to the board before their October meeting. It’s expected that the ballet’s 2006 contract will be on that meeting’s agenda, according to Save the Ballet founder Jennifer Leidig.

Participants asked, “How can we get through to the SPAC board?” Marcia A. White, Bruno’s press secretary, told worried ballet fans, “We’ve recommended to the SPAC board more open meetings. If the board doesn’t hear you, we hear you, and so you’re well represented.”

—Mae G. Banner


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