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What happens when a ballet company’s classic Christmas tradition is unwrapped, discarded, and replaced with a glitzy and glamorous moneymaking expenditure? Many dance enthusiasts are left with this lingering question as The Boston Ballet struggles with a recent announcement from the Wang Theatre, its lifelong performance home, that next year’s production of the Nutcracker is being replaced by a touring show of the infamous Radio City Rockettes.
"Im pretty certain this decision was driven by money, which draws the question in everyone’s minds: Which is more important, tradition or money?” said Andrew Kaminski.
Kaminski is a Boston Ballet II member and performs in the corp de ballet with the company. He joined this apprentice position in August of 2003 and thinks Mikko Nissinen, the Boston Ballet’s new artistic director, is doing great things for the company.
" I really like the direction we are headed in but unfortunately Mikko has been dealt some unfair dealings. I am just grateful the company has been so open with us about everything,” Kaminski said.
According to Kaminski, the company was informed of what was happening with the Wang Theatre at the end of October. During this time, a company meeting was held and a Boston Ballet Memo was distributed to the dancers from Valerie Wilder, the Executive Director of the Boston Ballet.
“Basically the Wang informed us they had signed a note of intent with Radio City. We were immediately notified after this. We were told the Wang wanted to bring in the Rockettes for monetary reasons. Touring companies are more profitable. The Wang can charge them more plus the tickets are more expensive,” Kaminski said.
The memo to the company included general facts about the Nutcracker’s current situation and its history. It also had a section titled, “Further Talking Points,” which expressed the company’s opinions on the situation.
“In choosing to align itself with a touring production, the Wang Center is undermining a 35- year-old tradition and the work of a resident ensemble with year- round presence in the community. The Wang has thus placed commercial interests over cultural purpose, which is inconsistent with its mission as a not-for-profit,” the memo stated.
The Boston Ballet Company is a non-profit organization, which hosts a dance school that trains young children through adults and a renowned ballet company that has artistically entertained the city since 1965. On their IRS form 990 filing, the company stated their objectives for the fiscal year beginning November 1, 2003.
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“The Boston Ballet seeks to continue to contribute to enrich lives through dance and education,” said the IRS report.
The Boston Ballet’s accomplishments for its last fiscal year showed the company had over 100 performances and were seen by an audience of over 220,000 people. The fiscal year ended on October 31, 2003.
"The Nutcracker is the company’s largest money-making show and how much money it brings in affects the other performances we have during the season. If the Nutcracker fails economically it inhibits us from doing other new performances and we are limited with what we can do,” said Kaminski.
The Boston Ballets spokeswoman Ellen Ames told The Boston Herald that 10,800 tickets have currently been sold since the public has been informed of the Wang’s decision to crack the Nutcrackers tradition.
“It’s a dramatic increase from the 2,400 tickets sold the week prior to the announcement,” said Ames according to The Boston Herald.
However, Ames also told The Boston Herald that the total tickets sales this year don’t differ much from last year’s total sales at this time. So this means ticket sales remained low even before the terrible news arrived.
According to Radio City, each year the Rockettes “Christmas Spectacular” touring show sells between 800,000 and 1 million tickets nationwide. Compared to the figures for Nutcracker fans, the news is disheartening.
John Munger, a research director for the Washington, DC based Dance/USA organization reported in The Boston Globe on November 2nd 2003 saying, “Paid attendance to Nutcracker’s has dropped by 10 percent since 2000. Last year attendance for Boston Ballets production dropped 1 percent. The Nutcracker accounts for almost 30 percent of the organizations $20 million operating budget.”
The Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker has been a Christmas time tradition at the Wang Theatre for over 30 years. The Wang Theatre, then known as The Music Hall, first starting hosting this adored ballet in 1968. According to a Boston Ballet press release written by Tiffany Kehayoglou, each year the Nutcracker is seen by over 120,000 people in New England and Boston. Kehayoglou, the Public Relations Manager for the Boston Ballet Company said this is the largest audience for any production of The Nutcracker in the country.
“Over 400 Boston Ballet School children from the communities and around the city are cast in the Nutcracker, where they experience the magic of performing in an ensemble that includes over 50 professional dancers and 50 orchestra members, along with stage crew, costumers, and a score of others behind the scenes,” she stated.
Susie Goodson is the parent of a student at the Boston Ballet School. Her daughter Olivia has been performing in the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker for the past three years. She first heard of the relocation of next years Nutcracker from the newspapers and was later officially informed about it at a parents meeting.
“They kept stressing to the parents and children that the show will continue and not to worry. They wanted us to keep reiterating to the children that no matter what anyone says, there will be a Nutcracker next year,” Goodson said.
She said that some of the children were really upset when they first heard about the news because they were fearful this would be their last year performing. Goodson explained that many of these young dancers return each year and develop lasting friendships behind the scenes and in between their rigorous rehearsal and performance schedules.
“From October to January the Nutcracker is their whole life. They have rehearsals 4 hours a week, on top of their normal ballet classes at the studio. Then the week before Thanksgiving they have extra rehearsals with the company. This can be a lot for little kids,” Goodson said.
Natile Gargiulo, a volunteer association member with the Boston Ballet also first learned of the Wang’s decision from the newspapers. She was taken aback when working a performance during the Boston Ballet’s Stars and Stripes run October 23rd through October 26th, when an executive member of the company approached her and gave specific directions on how to respond to public questions about the Nutcracker.
“He said to tell people we were working on things and that it’s a true shame that this problem has occurred, but everything will work out in the end. He told me not to say anything that would cause an uproar and it seemed like he didn’t want the public knowing anything specific,” she said.
Gargiulo said she would love to see things work themselves out, but the reality of the situation isn’t looking too bright.
“I feel like it’s a big conspiracy, no one wants to say anything for fear of being the first to let anything out. The Wang is at fault here. There has to be a way the situation can be fixed. Tradition should be more important than money,” she said.
Kaminski feels that one positive thing that is coming out of this devastating realty shock, is the unprecedented support of the Boston Ballet by the people of the city.
“There have been great deals of unanticipated coverage of this issue and I don’t think the Wang saw the support of the Nutcracker tradition by the public coming,” he said.
Great support of the company has also been demonstrated by attendance and reviews of the Nutcracker’s season debut November 28th. The Nutcracker term runs through December 30th. The first weekend of performances was well received and attended. The dancers proved that they would not let the recent negative news affect their production.
“Christmas is a time of anticipation, and in the spirit of the season, this revamped Boston “Nutcracker,” gathers momentum every step of the way,” said Christin Temin in a review for the Boston Globe on December 5th 2003.
The Boston Globe also featured an article written by Geoff Edgers, on November 23rd that mainly supported the Boston Ballet’s tradition of the Nutcracker at the Wang Theatre.
“No one would put up with the Boston Pops’ getting thrown off the Esplanade on July 4. They shouldn’t put up with the Boston Ballet’s getting thrown out of the Wang,” said Bruce Marks to the Boston Globe. Marks was the company’s artistic director from 1985 to 1997.
The Wang Theatre recently housed a production of the racy and showy Chicago Musical on November 4th through the 9th, and some feel, especially with the invitation of the Rockettes, that the ballet world is becoming drowned by the competition of high heels and short skirts.
“What are the little kids in ballet classes supposed to look up to? I really hope it isn’t the glitz and glamour of today’s obsession with more showy type of performances,” said Gargiulo.
Goodson feels that the Wang Theatre contributes the final magical touch for all children involved in the Nutcracker, whether they are actually onstage dancing or watching in the audience.
“The little children get to dress up all fancy and walk into a fantastic theatre filled with gold. Their small necks are craned looking up and as parents we know all they are seeing is the beauty of the moment,” she said.
She also said that the “caves of the Wang,” are where her daughter and the other children involved in the ballet have spent much of their time playing games, getting ready, and waiting for their few precious moments of fame onstage.
The unexpected decision by the Wang has uprooted all of these customs and left those involved pressed for time to find a new and efficient theater.
“The Wang Center’s decision is both extraordinary and unprecedented, Boston Ballet has already begun conversations with a number of alternative venues in the city, and expects to identify a new site in the next few weeks,” the Boston Ballet Memo stated.
Parents of the Boston Ballet students have heard buzz that the company is looking at the Opera House, The Hynes Convention Center, and the new convention center that is supposed to be used for the Democratic National Convention, as possible Nutcracker host homes.
“All I have heard is talk but I believe it would be difficult to hold it at the Opera House because of the renovations it may be making for The Lion King. I also think that this show will do well and possibly run into the winter season. I think the problem with the convention centers is that they don’t have the magic of the Wang. They are just plain buildings,” Goodson said.
Goodson learned from the parents meeting at the Boston Ballet that the company would inform the public of its new venue as soon as they confirm a site. She also thinks that that the executives of the Boston Ballet may try and negotiate with the Wang for one more year of the Nutcracker so they don’t have to scramble for a new location so hastily.
For those passionate about dance, a new location for the Nutcracker would be a difficult transition to make.
Ten-year-old Olivia Goodson has played a lamb, cherub, and this year, is a party child in the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker.
“I guess this whole thing is kinda weird and I really don’t like it. The Wang is like a second home and we were kinda shocked when we first heard. If we have to dance somewhere else it will be really different. It won’t feel right,” she said.
According to the Boston Ballet Memo, the Nutcracker has been a family tradition for decades and is essential for Bostonians interested in maintaining tradition.
The Boston Ballet’s website states, “ The magic of the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker transcends age, religion, and race. Its rich themes of familial love, the joy of childhood, and the power of dreams touch all.”
Of course people will go to see the Rockettes but according to Kaminski, the Nutcracker will remain a tradition in the hearts of those who believe in it, even if it isn’t housed at its original birthplace.
“The Rockettes have their place in New York City and the Nutcracker has its place in Boston at the Wang. This is something no one should mess with,” said Gargiulo.