For the second year in a row, a gift from the Brown-Forman Corporation will allow the Louisville Ballet to dance to live music in this year’s production of “The Brown-Forman Nutcracker.”
A decade ago, the Louisville Orchestra accompanied all of the Ballet’s performances. It would cost the Ballet about $380,000 a year to do that now (not even including conductors). That’s 11 percent of the Ballet’s annual budget, so these days, the ballet dances to recorded music.
Artistic director Bruce Simpson says he would love to have the orchestra in the pit for every ballet performance, but in this tight financial landscape, finding the funding is still a challenge.
“At the Louisville Ballet, like any organization, we have to be fiscally responsible enough that the product on stage is first and foremost. It’s about the ballet,” says Simpson. “So it’s about the dancers, the designers, the choreographers, and the audience’s experience with the product on the stage.”
The orchestra will not accompany school matinee performances this December. It costs about $130,000 to have the orchestra play 13 performances (11 public, two private Brown-Forman events), which the Louisville-based corporation’s gift will underwrite. The ballet has contracted Tara Simoncic to conduct. Simoncic was one of two conductors who worked with the ballet and orchestra during last year’s live-music performances, which Brown-Forman also underwrote for the first two weeks of the show’s run.
So yes, it’s expensive, considering that the Ballet supports a resident, salaried company with a $3.2 million annual budget in a funding landscape that increasingly demands creative approaches to supporting nonprofit arts organizations.
“Trying to find funding is eternally a challenge, and that’s the nature of the industry. But also, the purchasing price of a dollar for us has significantly, like for everybody, deteriorated over the last twelve years,” says Simpson.
This is the new normal, according to Simpson.
“Every day is a challenge to find funding and you have to be very careful about where you’re spending your dollars,” he says. “If you try to measure the survival of the organization against having an orchestra, our challenge is to find additional funding to our budget.”
And so dancing with recorded music is a solid compromise for a production element that Simpson says doesn’t really impact ticket sales. (“There’s no way we’re going to recoup $130,000 in ticket sales just because the orchestra’s in the pit [for Nutcracker].”)
But as an artist, he also knows that live music adds “a luster” that both audience and dancers appreciate.
“The great thing about having the orchestra is that instruments have sound waves that actually bounce into your chest, and actually affect you, and that goes for dancers and audience, as opposed to something coming out of a speaker,” Simpson says.
“And as much as we have different dancers interpreting the roles every single night, the orchestra under a conductor is going to interpret the tempo, the rhythm of a piece, the color of a piece. And therefore every single night a dancer walks out on stage, they are having a very special living communication with the music,” he adds.
The Louisville Ballet has been performing “The Nutcracker” since the 1960s. Their current production, featuring choreography by Val Caniparoli, debuted in 2009. “The Brown-Forman Nutcracker” runs December 7-22 in the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall.