Part 1 of Capital Public Radio's 3-part series "The Show
Must Go On"
In recent years, the Sacramento Ballet has been on a
roll. Among other things, they announced plans for a new
studio and offices, and they made their first international tour to
(excerpt from Shanghai performance)
Last fall, the Ballet's co-artistic directors Ron Cunningham
and his wife Carinne Binda were gearing up for another successful
year. But, when ticket sales for the season opener "Alice in
Wonderland" came up short, they were concerned.
And then as we went into Nutcracker which is traditionally our
bread and butter, there was a lack of people in the
theatre. That's what really set off the alarms.
Local media including TV news jumped on the story.
[News 10 report]
The Sacramento Ballet's production of the Nutcracker has become
a holiday tradition. But for the first time in 40 years, the
Ballet is concerned the tradition may not continue. Just days
before the opening performance advance ticket sales are alarmingly
To stimulate sales, the Ballet offered thousands of low price
tickets with help from a corporate sponsor. They sold out fast… but
it wasn't nearly enough. Cunningham says the ballet faced a
potential 600-thousand dollar deficit by the end of their season if
they didn't do something drastic. So he and Carinne asked
Do we simply shut the doors, refund our subscribers and wait
for better times. We've know companies over the years that
have done that and I've never known a company to bounce back,
that's it, it's the final curtain call for them.
The Cunninghams were determined to keep their company alive,
and with backing from their board, they sketched out a
plan. It would rely heavily on their 24 dancers.
We called a meeting with the dancers and the staff you
know we're one big team and said this is what the reality is, and
this is what's going to happen if we don't do something radical,
and we can do this if we all work together and not lose
It was scarey, it was definitely a scarey time
First year Sacramento Ballet dancer Rick Porter had just moved
from Australia to join the company. That meeting is still
fresh in his mind.
The thing I can remember the most is just the sheer look of
worry and they were so sad to have to break this news to us that
things weren't going that well.
They were just really heartbroken
Dancer Alexandra Cunningham says she was concerned not just
for her future, but for parents.
Just thinking about the company potentially folding because
it's their life. It was hard to see them going through
something like that.
You know, that speech was difficult to give. But on the
other hand we kind of already knew going into it what the response
would be, it's like ya, let's fight for it.
The Ballet cut three staff positions, immediately stopped
advertising , and most dramatically, cancelled the remainder of its
season in the huge and expensive Community Center Theatre. Then
Cunningham did something really radical, he added performances…
dozens of smaller ones at the Mondavi Center, McClatchy high, in
art galleries and mostly in the Ballet's home studios. The revamped
season was a gamble. For the dancers, it was grueling.
I think at one point I had at least ten different pieces of
choreography in my head cause we were basically performing every
Ya, it was strenuous not only on the body but on the brain as
well. but everyone kind of pulled together and you know just
tried to do it, we had to do it really, and it paid off.
Rick Porter says audiences really related to the
up-close-and-personal shows in the studio.
When we're on stage it looks so glossy and you can't really see
the hard work going on, but when you're sitting three feet from us
you can see the sweat pouring off everyone, you can see the muscles
burning and how red everybody gets and just how intricate
While ticket prices for the news shows were inexpensive,
Cunningham says audiences were generous.
And people who've never been donors before, who don't have deep
pockets, started contributing to the company. Small amounts,
because that's what they could afford, but all of that added
So did the dollars raised by the dancers themselves. They
set up their own website for donations, held a silent auction, and
lobbied local businesses and media for support. In the end, the
re-configured season and all of the fundraising efforts
worked. The company not only survived the season, it ended
with a surplus.
In June, Ron Cunningham shared the Sacramento Ballet's story with
colleagues at a national conference dance companies. They gave
him a standing O.
We get standing ovations from the stage but I think it's
the first time we've ever gotten a standing ovation for our
management style. And that was very rewarding. And we did
it. We wound up in the black and that's a tribute to everybody
who works in this organization and to all the people in the
community who came out to support us.