Cracking the nut a challenge for nonprofit ballet school
YOU can't throw a Christmas ham this time of year without hitting a production of "The Nutcracker," on stage, on TV, on DVD, and perhaps even on the radio.
Putting on the show, with the main course and all its Anne Namba costuming and other frilly trimmings is no inexpensive venture.
Ballet Hawaii's two-night run of "The Nutcracker" on Maui last month cost $70,000 to produce. The box office for the 29-year-old nonprofit organization came in at $42,000.
They lost money?
"We did," said Executive Director Steve Knox, "but that's why we do fundraising."
It will again stage "The Nutcracker" Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Blaisdell Concert Hall as it has every year since "1981 or 82," Knox said. Maybe just maybe it'll break even, or make some extra to throw back into the organization.
Ballet Hawaii is not about making a profit. Rather, its mission is to present, promote and develop dance in Hawaii, according to its Web site.
Presenting the fine art to the community and exposing Hawaii's student ballerinas to high-caliber professional dancers, not just on Oahu but on neighbor islands, is important, Knox said. The nonprofit would like to take productions to Kauai and the Big Island.
But that's a chunk of money to lose on a production.
"We don't know if we can do it again," Knox said.
Box office sales are supposed to make up about 60 percent of Ballet Hawaii's funding; fundraising is less than 20 percent, and student tuition pays the rest of the annual budget, which is "approaching $1 million," Knox said.
It is a lean operation with three full-time paid staff and five part-timers that teach classes. One of its teachers, Daphne Hargrove, a former principal dancer with the Carolina Ballet, will be a featured dancer in the upcoming show.
Staging a production brings costs at full expense, such as hiring the Honolulu Symphony and unionized crew for sound and lighting.
Featured dancers from the mainland usually come "at far less than their normal guesting fees ... that's one nice thing about being in Hawaii in December," Knox said.
Students don't get paid for being in the show -- not with money, anyway.
"We've been fortunate over the years to attract some of the top dancers in the world. The students are fortunate to be able to work with that level of dancer. In all cases, they've been wonderful role models and are very accepting of the younger students," said Knox.
The key guest artist is Michael Vernon. He will play Drosselmeyer in the show for which he also does some of the choreography and helps with the final rehearsals, Knox said. Vernon is a graduate of the Royal Ballet School in England and is an instructor at New York's Steps Studio on Broadway.
Featured performers will also include Megan Fairchild (no relation to Morgan, as far as Knox knows), and Joaquin de Luz, both from the New York City Ballet; Maria Riccetto from the American Ballet Theater in New York City; and Timour Bourtasenkov, currently with the Carolina Ballet, who originally danced with the Bolshoi.
John Selya joins "The Nutcracker" cast this year after closing a three-and-a-half-year run in Billy Joel's "Movin' Out" on Broadway this week.
Ballet Hawaii is no stranger to depending on the kindness of others.
OK it's not an exact quote from "A Streetcar Named Desire" but the ballet company relies heavily on corporate sponsorships and in-kind donations from businesses such as Hilton Hawaiian Village and Hilton Grand Vacations.
"It makes a big difference in being able to host guest artists and some of the (traveling) companies," Knox said.
"Coppelia," staged in August, would not have happened without round-trip tickets from Hawaiian Airlines. Horizon Lines ships costumes and sets at a deep discount.
The corporate sponsorships don't all necessarily come from companies' charitable foundations, but often from marketing budgets, Knox said.
"It's a good business marriage, aligning with something they believe in that will reflect what they want to be associated with," he said.
Tickets for "The Nutcracker" are $25 to $60 at the Blaisdell Box office and Ticketmaster outlets.
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Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org