Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers

A History: How Ailey did it


Alexandra

Recommended Posts

Not a ballet company, but the article certainly raises some interesting issues about how to make it in the arts. Sarah Kaufman in the Washington Post.

 

The Ailey: Healthy, Wealthy and Prized

 

The Ailey: Healthy, Wealthy and Prized

 

By Sarah Kaufman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, January 25, 2004; Page N01

 

 

NEW YORK

 

The largest building in America devoted entirely to dance will open in midtown Manhattan in the fall, a steel and glass treasury of hard-to-come-by luxuries. Seventy-seven-thousand square feet. Eight floors housing 12 studios. Gobs of natural light, washing over custom-designed flooring. There will also be a black-box theater, costume shop and library. And plenty of hot showers.

 

 

 

 

The occupant? Not American Ballet Theatre (which rents space on lower Broadway). Not New York City Ballet (housed in smaller confines at Lincoln Center).

 

Stepping through the plate-glass doors at 55th Street and Ninth Avenue next November will be the 30 members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a company that will have purchased the privilege with a remarkably stable financial situation. A financial situation, in fact, that is the envy of the dance world.

 

Look at the numbers: At a time when everyone in the arts is bemoaning the decline of corporate funding, Ailey just signed up financial services giant Morgan Stanley for a $2 million sponsorship of its national tour. The first stop on that tour is the Kennedy Center Opera House, where on Tuesday Ailey opens a six-day engagement.

 

At a time when ticket sales since Sept. 11, 2001, have been dramatically in flux, year after year Ailey has busted box office records during its annual five-week season at the City Center here.

 

The company needed to raise $54 million for its new building, and it did. And then some. Millions more have poured in, allowing the troupe to seed an endowment. Its annual galas here typically bring in more than $2 million, after expenses.

 

As recently as a dozen years ago, such riches were unimaginable for this troupe. It struggled for existence while founder Alvin Ailey was alive, and was on the brink of bankruptcy at the time of his death in 1989. Now, with a $15 million budget, it is the world's largest and richest modern dance company. Ailey officials maintain that the organization tours more than any other performing arts entity on the planet, although it's not certain how they calculate this. Since Ailey dancers are on the road a total of 38 weeks a year, however, it's a difficult point to argue.

 

In a field with painfully short life cycles, Ailey is celebrating its 45th anniversary with enough financial muscle to suggest that it can keep its new building filled with dancers for some time to come.

 

How has it come this far?

 

The answer is threefold. First is the nature of the company's repertoire. Unlike most modern dance companies, which perform only the works of the choreographer who founded them, the Ailey company has always been a repertory ensemble.

 

But though the works are drawn from different sources, more and more they have come to share a few core characteristics: fast pacing, high energy and accessible music. The Washington programming attests to this. Among the classics, such as Ailey's "Night Creature" to music by Duke Ellington and a revival of Donald McKayle's "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," about life on a chain gang, on view will be three new works in a remarkably similar, punchy vein: Robert Battle's "Juba," Alonzo King's "Heart Song" and Dwight Rhoden's "Bounty Verses."

Link to post

Alexandra - this is a very interesting article. Thank you so much for the link to it!

 

It's chockfull of lots of information and it'd be awfully easy for me to quote the whole thing...

 

For anyone in the arts, this is an article that functions as a primer on how to make it in this economic climate. It's not all about fundraising - though the point made by Sharon Gersten Luckman about "diversifying" is certainly key. However, there is much more to this article than finance. Apparently Ailey is one of the few programs that brings both white and nonwhite together regularly in a venue where they're both "applauding the efforts of a largely black cast." Then there's the fact that unlike other modern companies they don't just perform their own choreographer's works -

But though the works are drawn from different sources, more and more they have come to share a few core characteristics: fast pacing, high energy and accessible music. The Washington programming attests to this. Among the classics, such as Ailey's "Night Creature" to music by Duke Ellington and a revival of Donald McKayle's "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," about life on a chain gang, on view will be three new works in a remarkably similar, punchy vein: Robert Battle's "Juba," Alonzo King's "Heart Song" and Dwight Rhoden's "Bounty Verses."

 

Ms. Kaufman's piece goes on to give some key reasons corporations are so interested in donating to this company - read the article and you'll find out what they are. But a hint is that it's linked to diversity, again. Perhaps this is an article that ballet companies might learn from?

 

Sounds to me as though Ms. Luckman should teach a course on arts administration. :)

 

P.S. I didn't realize that this forum was for professionals in "the field"... Although I am not currently paid for working in the arts, I have been. I hope I haven't overstepped my bounds here by posting. :wink:

Link to post
Guest Leigh Witchel

I'm glad Ailey has locked in their funding. I don't think there's any way for ABT to duplicate what they've done. DTH could. They're funding based on target audience and minority outreach.

 

None of what is said in this article surprises me, but I guess I'm of the "glass is half-empty" school on corporate funding. The funding doesn't have much at all to do with the product. I'm not enough of a populist to believe that's a good way to support dance. Top me, it's one of the most frustrating things about dance funding. There's precious little funding out there that's directly related to that mission; most funding requires that you expand to arts-in-education, at-risk youth, etc. All worthwhile endeavors, but all resource intensive with a real danger in smaller companies of sucking off resources from what should be the main mission - to make great dance.

Link to post

And. leave us not forget that the wife of one of the country's richest men is chair of their board.

 

Ailey's done some great things and having a strong plan is one of them. That's replicable - much else is not.

Link to post

liebs, I guess board members like that are always handy. They say it takes money to bring in more money.

Link to post
  • Momof3darlings changed the title to A History: How Ailey did it

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...