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Profiting off sugarplums

Times Staff Writer

Revenue from “Nutcracker” performances accounts for a substantial amount of most U.S. ballet companies’ earned income. Indeed, at these companies, plans for the coming year are invariably tied to the relative success of the Christmas classic -- so when the Washington Ballet recently canceled 10 “Nutcracker” performances in a bitter labor dispute, its entire spring season was immediately jeopardized.

The longest “Nutcracker” runs can generate income in the millions: a projected $8.5 million for the 45 New York City Ballet performances ending today, for example. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago gave 34 “Nutcracker” performances in 2005: 18 in Chicago and 16 in Arkansas, Michigan and Minnesota. Tour figures aren’t yet available, but the company expects a healthy $2.1-million return on its home season.

In Southern California, nobody risks this kind of extensive, double-digit “Nutcracker” run, not even the most glittering imports, such as the Kiev Ballet (seven performances at the Orange County Performing Arts Center). But a survey of locally based companies reveals increased ticket sales for 2005, guaranteeing greater balletic productivity in the immediate future.

However, there’s a downside to the small number of performances: a postpartum depression that might be called sugarplum deprivation syndrome.

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The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have yet to classify the current outbreak as an epidemic, but Southland dancers and artistic directors are coping as best they can, feeling, in the words of Media City Ballet President Cindy Pease, “it’s been a half a year of work, and now we have to reinvent ourselves after Christmas.”

Media City Ballet held auditions in July and August and began rehearsing in October for its four “Nutcracker” performances this year (one more than in 2004). Pease says audiences grew. Still, she says, “There’s definitely a letdown afterward. We finished and still had a week to go before Christmas. It’s an anticlimax.”

Company corps dancer Kara Fioretti agrees. “It’s a little sad when it’s over, so people get together to reminisce,” she says. “It gets depressing when you have so much downtime.”

Over at Westside Ballet, founder and artistic director Yvonne Mounsey declares that she loves the “Nutcracker” season “mainly for the kids. It’s such a wonderful training experience for them.”

When it’s over, she says, “there may be a letdown for the dancers -- they all say they want to do it more -- but I’m 86 and I want to go home and rest.” Westside Ballet gave nine “Nutcracker” performances in two venues this year, and Mounsey says “we did very well, almost sold-out houses.”

So did City Ballet of San Diego, reports Managing Director Joanne Emery. “Ticket sales just snowballed,” she says, even though the company increased the number of public “Nutcracker” performances (as opposed to subsidized school engagements) to eight this year and raised prices as well.

Emery acknowledges that “the younger kids would like to do it forever” and that it “gets everyone in the performing mode.” But both the main company and the junior ensemble have so many other things to dance starting in January that any letdown doesn’t last long.

Besides eight public “Nutcracker” performances this year, Inland Pacific Ballet presented two showings of its “Nutty Nutcracker,” a version that Artistic Director Victoria Koenig describes as “sticking to the main story but with hilarious twists. For starters, Clara is a very annoying little girl.”

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“The Nutty Nutcracker” doubled its audience this year, Koenig says, and the standard edition did 30% to 40% better than in 2004. Koenig finds the holiday repertory “an incredible satisfaction, especially doing it for people who have never seen ballet before. I wouldn’t want to do it all year long, but while I’m in it, I’m really in it.”

Inland Pacific holds its auditions in September, and the company as a whole starts rehearsing in early November. Koenig, too, admits to some slight dejection now. “But that’s true of any production in any season.”

Happily, though, all those dancers, audience members and company directors who couldn’t get enough “Nutcracker” in 2005 can console themselves with the surety that there are, at the very most, only 318 days left until the 2006 season begins. Deck the halls.


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