Dance United: Ballet West dancers leap to the aid of Oregon ballet company
Updated: 06/10/2009 10:04:03 AM MDT
Christiana Bennett, principal dancer with Ballet West, has performed to benefit scores of causes over the course of her career, yet she’s never danced to save a ballet company from closing its doors.
Bennett and colleague Christopher Ruud will dance the White Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake” this week as part of a Dance United concert to save Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Portland, Ore., company. “‘Swan Lake’ is a very tragic ballet,” Bennett said. “And what the Oregon Ballet Theatre is going through right now is absolutely horrible.”
The Oregon company must fill a $750,000 hole in its operating budget by month’s end or risk closing. Coming together as a collaborative lifeline are a dozen dancers from some of the most esteemed ballet companies in the nation to perform June 12 in Portland’s Keller Auditorium. In addition to Bennett and Ruud, dancers from the San Francisco, Boston and New York City ballet companies will also perform.
If the collaborative performance pays off — and OBT company members and patrons have their collective toes and fingers crossed — fundraisers of this type may become a national trend, even after the economy stabilizes.
“Regardless of economic times, collaborations like this are a perfect way for the arts to come together throughout America,” said Adam Sklute, artistic director of Ballet West, which last month announced cuts of $1.2 million from the Salt Lake City company’s $7.5 million annual budget. “We’re all in this together.”
Sklute didn’t hesitate when OBT sent out an e-mail two weeks ago asking other ballet companies for fundraising help. Sklute said he counts Christopher Stowell, OBT’s artistic director, as a personal friend, as well as a professional colleague who has flown performers to Salt Lake City in the past when Ballet West’s own dancers had fallen ill.
Arts companies nationwide have found themselves in financial straits ever since the economic downturn. Yet OBT’s situation is particularly pressing, however, due to a precipitous fall in support from local foundations, coupled with snowstorms last December that resulted in $280,000 in lost revenue from its “Nutcracker” performances.
John Ulsh, OBT executive director, said the company cut its operating budget 28 percent from last year’s budget to remain sustainable. “To my knowledge we’re the first to do this [type of fund-raiser],” said Ulsh, who added that tickets for Dance United are selling well. “We think it might not be a bad model at all.”
George Thorn, West coast director of Arts Action Research, a national arts consulting firm, doesn’t necessarily see collaborative performances between arts organizations as a lasting trend, while he praised the collbarative event as a creative idea in the face of tough times.
“I don’t think arts organizations are going to return to normal once the economic crisis is past,” Thorn said. “We don’t know what the new normal will look like. No one has seen it this bad.”
Ballet West dancers Christiana Bennett and Christopher Ruud, who performed in “Cinderella” last year. (Tribune file photo)
Ballet West Ballerina Christiana Bennett as Odette, The Swan Queen.