by Gwenyth Thornton
As the Nutcracker Ballet season is approaching, empty theater seats are raising the question, is the art of ballet dying? Pink satin pointe shoes, tutus, and the familiar Nutcracker tunes of every Christmas are what the average person thinks of at the mention of ballet. But some believe the lack of education about the art of ballet may be leading to its demise.
Ticket sales are a large part of what support ballet companies, thus strengthening the art. New York City Ballet has started closing tiers in the New York State Theater because there aren’t enough audience members to fill the seats. The only ballet still filling seats in theaters worldwide is the Christmas classic “The Nutcracker”. But even that show is taking a hit. The Maine State Ballet is only performing two weekends of the classic Christmas ballet this year, as opposed to last year’s three weekends of shows.
“If people are not buying tickets to ballets and supporting them, then the companies have less of an income for their productions and to pay their dancers,” said Jane Howard, a former dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet and Portland Ballet. “That results in ballet companies being smaller, and that makes the job opportunities more competitive.”
She says there is now a shift in the business. With less money coming in from shows, companies are now accepting more students to cover their costs.
“I think there is a lack of awareness of this happening when you’re in a pre-professional training program,” Howard said. “I might be mistaken, but I think ballet schools affiliated with ballet companies use money revenue from students to support the company. I think that is also a reason why ballet schools will accept a lot of pre-professional students and mislead them to think they can get a job in their company when really, the chances are slim.”
While things are changing at the professional level, the youth continue to be engaged with dance and ballet.
“I think that it is losing wind a little bit in the professional level,” said Elizabeth Drucker, a former New York City Ballet dancer and owner of Elizabeth Drucker’s Ballet School. “I think that its glory days have passed. Although, I do think that training in schools is still thriving.”
According to Drucker, ballet training is still booming, with young students all over Maine eager to learn how to dance. Drucker’s school is bursting with young dancers daily practicing the art form in class. She says that education about the art of ballet is important – even if students don’t end up pursuing it professionally.
“For most kids, if you put them in a ballet class, they might be surprised by what it entails,” Drucker said. “I think that having exposure to a ballet class, even if it’s something that they’re doing in their classroom, will help them discover that ballet isn’t just tutus, and it can be more athletic and challenging or more artistic and creative.”
For the Maine State Ballet, there is a focus on filling seats and bringing attention to the art of ballet. Sixteen year old Sally Minton is a recently appointed apprentice with the ballet, and says getting young people engaged will be crucial for the future.
“Honestly, I don’t think many teenagers, especially in this day and age and with this technology, are particularly interested in going to see a ballet,” said Minton. “I think we could involve more of them through spreading pictures or videos on social media platforms that teenagers use daily.”
Fellow apprentice, Hannah Bergeron agrees.
“I think we could involve and reach out by talking about dance and what it really is, and trying to shut down rumors that go around of how dance isn’t ‘cool,’ Bergeron said. “I think that if people knew what dance really involves, there would be more of an interest in it all around, and more people would be more supportive of it and become more involved.”
The Christmas tradition of the Nutcracker continues at the Maine State Ballet this year for two weekends starting on November 29th. Reserved seating starts at $20.