Originally created 05/26/05

'Nutcracker' can put strain on ballet company

Beware the battling Nutcrackers.

Two productions of the holiday classic are slated to be staged in the Augusta area this year. The first will be a touring production presented by a company called the Moscow Ballet at Bell Auditorium in late November. The Augusta Ballet's annual production is scheduled a week later.

Though some might see two Nutcracker productions as an embarrassment of riches, the question that crops up is how much Nutcracker can Augusta support? Does booking a touring production, as financially rewarding as it might be, represent a certain level of civic irresponsibility?

Here's the unfortunate truth: The Moscow Ballet production could deal a crippling blow to the already struggling Augusta Ballet. Like most dance companies, the Augusta Ballet depends on the revenues earned by The Nutcracker to fund its season. Over the course of a weekend, the company will try to sell out the 900-seat Imperial Theatre three times, ensuring another season of economic solvency.

As popular as The Nutcracker continues to be, that's a difficult proposition. When another company has rolled through a week before with eyes on selling 2,700 seats at Bell, it's nearly impossible.

The business of the arts is a terrifying proposition. As intimidating as performing in front of an audience can be, real stage fright happens behind the scenes.

The true risk-takers in any production are not the actors, dancers or musicians, but the often-unseen faces who book the acts, sign the checks and put reputation and fiscal well-being on the line.

Evidently, the civic center sees the Moscow Ballet's Nutcracker production as a reasonably safe bet. After all, the company carries a Russian name, despite being based out of Pennsylvania. As important as that potential bottom line might be, however, there's a certain level of responsibility that also must come into play.

Here's a hypothetical, and not unlikely, situation. Let's say the Moscow Ballet comes, sells well and leaves Nutcracker fans satiated and uninspired to dance with the sugar plums a week later. What are the revenues that the civic center gleans worth? Are they worth the possible dissolution of one of Augusta's oldest arts organizations? Are they worth dealing a blow to a group that has provided quality dance performances?

That would have to be quite a show.

Now, I'm not going to tell the folks at the civic center not to book the Moscow Ballet, nor am I going to suggest to Augusta audiences that one production should be avoided and the other attended. What I am going to ask is that those with authority, with the ability to make a difference, to consider what Augusta has, needs and can support, and to react and respond responsibly.

It's a decision that, ultimately, comes down to what makes sense - not dollars.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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