|The Canadian School of Ballet and Ballet Kelowna perform during a dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker at Kelowna Community Theatre in this 2008 file photo.|
Someone else is welcome to take over Ballet Kelowna, but the current board will close the curtain this spring, says its outgoing president.
A combination of a $635,000 annual budget, increasing deficits and too few bums in seats has forced the 10-year-old company to take its final bow, said Jamie Maw, who chairs the board that finances the professional troupe.
Contrary to what many think, the decision was a long time coming, Maw said in an interview Thursday. Laying off eight dancers who tour the province on behalf of the city is "dreadful, horrible," he said.
"We did have a death in the family and it's absolutely heart-rending for the entire board. This is a Sophie's Choice decision and it went over Christmas right through to today . . . What we really regret is some of the bullying tactics taking place."
Critics have written scathing letters to the editor and complained bitterly about the company's
Maw admits the Feb. 1 announcement caught everyone by surprise, but says the board had to make the call when it appeared the financial bleeding would worsen.
The company spends $45,000 to $60,000 a month and wasn't meeting its budget targets.
The Christmas season, which usually provided decent fundraising revenues, was "flatter than a pancake," Maw said.
"Ballet was not a priority on people's lists in 2012. And you know darn well that when Crossroads can't make it, we're well down the list."
Poor attendance worsened the outlook. The company sold 343 full-price tickets for its Double Variations performance last fall - 21 per cent of the 1,600 seats available over two shows. In contrast, the National Ballet of Cuba sold out both performances.
People can take the home team for granted, Maw said. Still, he sees potential for Ballet Kelowna to rise again once the board winds up the company's $71,000 debt with its granters. The dancers would have to perform more accessible works to reach a broader audience, he said.
"If some other group or a combination of this board and some new players want to take it forward, perhaps in a more contemporary manner, they can. And they'll have a clean financial slate to start with."
The shortfall would have been worse if the company continued for another season, he said. A conflict with the Canadian Culinary Championships forced the board to postpone Pirouette, its major fundraising event, from its usual time in February to April.
Given the compounding deficit and the fact directors are liable, the board cancelled the event knowing the end was nigh, Maw said.
"It's very hard to ask big donors to put up auction items knowing that the doors would be closing . . . Without the benefit of Pirhouette, (the deficit) would be $180,000. We knew the board had to take immediate action."
Some complain the board failed to inform its audience the outlook was dire so members could have made donations while there was time. Maw and the board had been putting out distress calls at every performance for nine months, he said. The news was especially grim at the annual general meeting in December.
"We were pretty loud about the financial issues, culminating at the AGM . . . You always have your hand out. And yet we had pared expenses back to the bone."
Critics point to the hiring of two more dancers a year ago as an unnecessary expenses. The company secured enough grants to cover 94 per cent of its apprenticeship program but fell short.
"It seemed like a reasonable expectation a year ago that we'd be able to raise more money and fill more seats with a bigger troupe," Maw said. "It was really on the corporate and individual giving that (we) fell so badly short."
The flat economy hasn't helped. Without hitting its budget targets, the board decided to pay its dancers and cover its bills so it didn't have to go cap in hand to taxpayers, he said.
"Unlike the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, which went half a million into the hole, and Snowfest and Regatta, we weren't coming back to the taxpayer and saying you should bail us out.
"We were approaching our members, our corporate givers, individuals, but the well ran dry."
Recent donations have allowed Ballet Kelowna to fulfil its season to the end of April. Dancers perform for free at Orchard Park mall on Saturday, and appear at Kelowna Community Theatre on March 15.
Tickets are at Kelowna Actors Studio's box office or through balletkelowna.ca.