City Beat

Sacramento Ballet halts season, lays off dancers for final three weeks of season

More than 20 dancers with the Sacramento Ballet rehearsed Tuesday in a donated studio space in Elk Grove, trying to maneuver across a dance floor a lot slicker than the surface they’re used to. They had all been laid off last week in a cost-cutting move and were cramming for a performance they had organized on their own in just a matter of days.

Such is the state of the performing arts in Sacramento.

The ballet said Tuesday it had laid off all of its dancers for the remainder of the 2014-15 season and canceled its popular Beer and Ballet series of performances, slated to run later this month. Nancy Garton, chairwoman of the Sacramento Ballet’s board of directors, said the organization did not have enough money to cover the last three weeks of salaries for the company’s dancers and staff. She said the shortfall was about $80,000.

“It wasn’t going to fit financially,” she said. “It was very difficult, it’s very sad.”

To fill the void, the ballet’s performers quickly organized a concert scheduled for May 30 at the Crest Theatre. “Behind the Barre” will feature most of the performances that would have been shown at Beer and Ballet – an eclectic mix of dances to indie rock, jazz and classical music, choreographed by the performers themselves, said dancer Alexandra Cunningham. Local visual artists Raphael Delgado and Jose Di Gregorio will have their work featured at the event, and sponsor New Helvetia Brewing Co. will provide the beverages.

“This will be a very social event,” Cunningham said. “It will be casual and approachable. You won’t come out of it thinking you didn’t get it.”

Cunningham said her fellow performers were surprised the ballet ended its season early and laid off its dancers. The organization had a strong season, with performances such as “Swan Lake” and “The Great Gatsby” that earned positive receptions. The ballet also signed on as an anchor tenant in the planned Studios for the Performing Arts, a rehearsal and performance space planned for the former Fremont School for Adults in midtown Sacramento. The Sacramento City Council in March voted to dedicate $5 million in public money to the facility.

The ballet’s sudden closure for the season is another sign of the challenges facing arts groups in the Sacramento region, where a lack of large corporations leaves those organizations relying on individual donors and ticket sales for survival. Faced with its own budget woes, the Sacramento Philharmonic went dark and will perform next month for the first time in more than a year. And the B Street Theatre has been raising money for a new $25 million complex in midtown for a decade, but remains $3 million short.

“The corporations and donors we have are fantastic, but we need to have more,” said Bill Blake, B Street’s managing director. “As the economy starts to lift, it’s my hope that we do see more corporations and companies that have significant operations here make community investments at a higher level than they have in the past.”

Sacramento has also lagged other regions its size in individual donations. Shirlee Tully, chief marketing and development officer for the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, said a 2010 study showed the region was behind the national average in the percentage of households that donated to charitable and arts organizations. That could be changing, she said, as more than $5.6 million was donated to local nonprofits during the annual Big Day of Giving fundraising drive earlier this month.

“We wish we had more corporations,” Tully said. “It’s made us focus more on personal philanthropy.”

Garton said the ballet layoffs were “a matter of timing.” Subscription revenue for next season has not come in yet, and money raised by the Big Day of Giving won’t arrive at the ballet until June. The ballet raised $51,626 during the fundraising event.

A letter posted on the ballet’s website expressed apologies and offers three options for Beer and Ballet ticket holders: obtain a refund, treat the ticket purchase as a donation or apply the ticket toward another scheduled Beer and Ballet series in February.

Garton said the ballet will be back for the 2015-16 season, and its first performance is scheduled for October. She said the organization is also raising money to make $250,000 worth of tenant improvements at the Studios for the Performing Arts and that the ballet will have the money it needs to pay rent and serve as an anchor tenant in the Studios. “We are financially sound,” she said.

Corporate sponsorships have fallen short for the organization. Besides Western Health Advantage and Raley’s, most of the ballet’s sponsorships came from individuals, including one person who covered half the costs for the “Swan Lake” and “Great Gatsby” productions, Garton said.

“We need more Raley’s and Western Health Advantages to step up,” she said. “We need to have more than the Kings in this town, unless we’re going to be a one-trick pony.”

To help ease the blow of the layoffs, members of the ballet are planning their own event.

Cunningham said she and others organized a new company called the Capital Dance Project and put together the Crest performance in less than a week. New Helvetia, local promoter Clay Nutting, Bellissima European Dance Academy and the Conservatory of Dance and Performing Arts are sponsoring the event.

The ballet normally does not perform during the summer, and Cunningham said her fellow dancers had long discussed forming a company for those months. The ballet’s early season closure was the nudge they needed, she said.

“It’s about keeping us inspired,” she said. “Sometimes things happen and you have to make the best of it.”

“Behind the Barre,” presented by Capital Dance Project

When: May 30, 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento

Tickets: Cost $25. Available at www.capitaldanceproject.org, Crest Theatre box office, New Helvetia’s tasting room on Broadway and at LowBrau, Shady Lady, Goldfield Trading Post and Tank House BBQ & Bar.

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