Board president Jamie Maw is calling Ballet Kelowna’s decision to close up shop a protracted one that was made with months of forethought and consideration given to both its members and also the City of Kelowna.
The dance company announced earlier this month they would be folding in March due to lack of financing and dwindling audiences. Once the news broke, impassioned fans of art and culture – including Mayor Walter Gray – rallied together to throw support behind the company but it was too little too late.
“The really disappointing thing the mayor pointed out at council is that we can’t get the bums in the seats at Kelowna Community Theatre,” explained Maw, who estimates they only sell between 20-25 per cent of the seats at the Kelowna Community Theatre on a given night.
During their fall performance of Double Variations, Ballet Kelowna only sold 343 full price tickets when there were 1,600 potential seats available. This was a slight increase over the preceding fall schedule, but still discouraging when the company sold over 460 seats to Affairs of the Heart five years before.
“People were complaining and there was a backlash to our inability to carry forward, but that’s the honest truth – that if people don’t come out and support us, it’s pretty hard to make a living and pay those dancers.”
Ballet Kelowna’s annual budget has slowly crept up to $635,000 and for the past 10 years they’ve managed to stay afloat. Last year was their first spent in the red, but their future direction was clear.
“Last year we created a small deficit and then you get into what is called a waterfall effect, even though you’ve pared expenses back to the bone… we reluctantly approved another deficit budget last June for our fiscal year at the board level.”
Maw believes the economy has played a factor in many peoples decisions to forgo the theatre and points out ticket sales for the Kelowna Rockets have also fallen recently. Another contributing factor is the Canadian Culinary Championships decision to showcase their final events on the same weekend that Ballet Kelowna typically holds their most successful annual fundraiser, Pirouette. Last year they were forced to move the event to April and have chosen to not continue this year, with Maw lamenting, “it’s hard to sell tickets to a wake.”
“A lot of us have been working on the bigger picture; to try and identify and brand Kelowna as a center for the arts, but to subtract one major component is a huge set back and is bloody disappointing,” he says.
“This is one hard working board, you have to work like dogs to raise six-hundred and thirty five thousand dollars per year – pure and simple.”
He made a point to say the group didn’t want to end up like the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, which found itself nearly half a million dollars in the hole at one point.
“Our responsibility ethically to our dancers, to our staff, and to our funders is to be able to pay our bills and pay the dancers because so many arts groups get so far out on the branch that it snaps.”
“We felt the best thing we could do is pay our bills and suspend operations.”