Ballet in Indy: Another nut to crack.

December 12, 2007
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For a town where dance lovers are still mourning the 2005 loss of Ballet Internationale, Indy seems to have an overabundance of sugar plum fairies this season, with Butler U.’s, Gregory Hancock’s, and the Indiana Ballet Co.’s   all going toe to toe to toe.

And that’s not all. This weekend, the Cincinnati Ballet brings to town its “Nutcracker”—a version some hope will soon become our version.

In a, well, nutshell, there’s talk of this becoming a regional company—a joint venture between Cincy and Indy. 

Which begs the question: No matter where the money comes from or who is working behind the scenes, can a company of dancers based across state lines still be “ours”? And does that matter if what they produce is strong and audiences are satisfied? Thoughts?

News Note from IBJ reporter Jennifer Whitson: The Indianapolis School of Ballet just announced what it hopes will be a leg up in the war of The Nutcrackers – the downtown-based school now has permission from the George Balanchine Trust to use Balanchines’ pas de deuz in its production. Trust representatives review a production before giving the OK for it to use the choreography. The Indianapolis School of Ballet’s "Nutcracker" is being produced at the Scottish Rite Cathedral with two performances – Dec. 21 at 7:00 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 3:00 p.m. It is the first production of a full ballet by the school that opened in August 2006.
  • It will be interesting to see if and when Cincy finally pulls the trigger on this. It's just been in talks for sooo long.
  • As someone who worked at Clowes Hall for years and witnessed the crowds (or lack there of) for Indianapolis Ballet Theater/Ballet Internationale AND the arrogance of Arkady who ran it into the ground, I question the need of a professional ballet troupe at all. Between Butler, Gregory Hancock, and the Indianapolis School of Ballet, why do we need ANOTHER production? I am an arts enthusiast, but I really do not think there is that much demand.

    I really do not think Indianapolis is missing much by not having the professional group. Between all of the above and definitely Dance Kaleidescope, we are hardly bereft of options.
  • I agree! Indianapolis is blessed to have a number of options for dance enthusiasts.

    But the total number of Nutcrackers performed this season was 9! Even though each troupe brings something special to their version of this amazing tale this seems a bit excessive.

    The Indiana Ballet Company’s answer to let the patrons decide – we will be taking a public poll.

    Beginning in January IBC will be taking suggestions for our 2008 Christmas production. This will coincide with the launch of our new website. Obviously, Alyona Yakovleva’s original version that IBC and RBAI have performed the last two years will be an option – but Ms. Yakovleva has offered to arrange and choreograph a new ballet based on what Indianapolis patrons would like to see performed.

    Right now a few options that have been offered up are The Gift of the Magi, The Little Match Stick Girl, and A Christmas Carol. In January we will be opening the poll at

    Hopefully, this may give our city the holiday options that they desire.

    Leah B. Oblak
    Marketing Director
    Indiana Ballet Company
    Russian Ballet Academy of Indiana
  • A new ballet based on what Indianapolis patrons would like to see performed?

    Now that's interesting....Hmmmm....are we reading for Slaughterhouse-5: The Ballet?
  • Given Indianapolis' lack of funds to support a first-class ballet company, I think the joint venture with Cincinnati is an excellent idea.
    We don't have to 'own' the company.
    The interest should be rooted in the presentation and enjoyment of the work.
  • Its pretty pathetic when Louisville outshines Indy in the arts.
  • Hey Bardstown, be more specific.
    Tell us what you think Louisville has that Indy doesn't.
  • As an experienced Nutcracker attendee, some of the most heartfelt and moving performances I've witnessed over the years have been those performed by talented students. On quite more than one occasion I've viewed 'noteworthy' professional companies and been thoroughly disappointed by uninspired and nonsensical choreography after dishing out $50 a performance. I think the number of dance schools performing Nutcracker says a great deal about our city; it represents Indy's strong and active role in arts education.

    I'm incredibly excited to see the Indianapolis School of Ballet perform Nutcracker later this month. I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of their dancers at the Penrod Festival this summer. They were by far the most polished and elegant young dancers I've ever seen perform there. Judging by the aforementioned Balanchine-choreographed Pas de Deux and their website’s press release, it sounds like the school’s production will exude fine taste. Kudos to them for accomplishing so much in such a short amount of time!
  • Another issue that surrounds the regional company idea that Cincy brings to the table is...

    Where are the profits going?

    Indianapolis patrons' hard earned money will not go to support Indy, it will travel back to Cincy.

    I, as a patron as well as an employee, am not okay with that. If our city comes out to support the arts then the money should go back into the local econemy, not the state next door.

    But this may not be a point of contention for others?

    And Lou, if Indianapolis actually votes for Slaughter House 5 in mass numbers, then who knows, right? :-)

    Leah B. Oblak
    Marketing Director
    Indiana Ballet Company
    Russian Ballet Academy of Indiana
  • I happen to be a HUGE fan of the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre Professional Group and absolutely love his All Student Modern Version of the Nutcracker. It never fails to amaze me and I have see it numerous times....with that said.........I used to live in Chicago and visit New York City on a regular basis. I love the arts. Especially fond of Broadway........To be fair, I love the sports and the Colts and there wasn't a bigger Bulls fan to be had. Would we even consider supporting a combination of .......hmmmmmmmmm...let's say.....the Bulls and the Pacers?? After all, the Pacers could use a boost.... WE NEED TO BACK INDIANAPOLIS AND OUR FINE, TALENTED ARTISTS OF ALL VENUES. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?????????
  • To me and so many others of us in the business of making it possible, the magic of ballet transcends the morass of distractions, detractions and background noise that seems to follow ballet wherever it goes. I know it as a tough, tough…some would say hopeless…business. When it works, however, when the lights are down and human form, story, stagecraft and music all work together, the thrill is indescribable. It’s a life altering experience. I can’t prove it. But if you’ve ever experienced it, I don’t have to. If you’ve never experienced it, you’ll know what I mean if you’re ever lucky enough to.

    As a nonprofit leadership consultant who at the behest of Cincinnati Ballet has worked for almost two years exploring the feasibility of reviving world-class ballet in Indianapolis, I’m very happy to see this public discussion taking place. And I commend Lou Harry for kicking it off.

    I live in Cincinnati and over the past eight years my contracts have brought me to Indianapolis steadily. I’ve been privileged to work with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Riley Area Development Corporation, Indiana Supreme Court Commission of Race and Gender, Ballet Internationale-Indianapolis, and others in the Indianapolis community.

    Earlier, I spent four years as the executive director of Cincinnati Ballet. Shortly after Ballet Internationale-Indianapolis collapsed, I was asked by Cincinnati Ballet’s board president to explore the feasibility of a regional partnership between the ballet supporters of Indianapolis and the ballet supporters of Cincinnati.

    In weekly trips to Indianapolis over about a year’s time, scores of people were personally interviewed. Ballet ticket buyers, arts supporters who had not supported ballet, ballet donors, community foundation leaders, leaders of other arts organizations, corporate leaders, dancers, dance educators, government officials, Ballet Internationale board members who had decided in favor of shutting down the company and former Ballet Internationale board members who were shocked and angry about the decision…all were consulted. Input also was gathered from other ballet companies around the country that had tried unsuccessfully to operate multi-city ballet seasons. The precarious condition of ballet as a quasi-institutionalized American art form has been the backdrop to our analysis.

    A first-of-its-kind regional ballet business model was formulated by Cincinnati Ballet and presented to many of the people interviewed in Indianapolis. This model reduces the cost of professional ballet to the Indianapolis community by over 50% and creates unique conditions for a leading-edge American ballet artistic product.

    A handful of consensus findings presented themselves. The people interviewed in Indianapolis generally agreed:
    1. The current audience for ballet in Indianapolis is small.
    2. Indianapolis should have a high-caliber ballet company.
    3. This new ballet company should have a more varied repertoire.
    4. The American midsized market, conventional ballet business model, the one utilized by Ballet Internationale, had been tried and failed, despite the diligent efforts of many capable people, and, if tried again, will fail again.
    5. Cincinnati’s proposed regional business model seemed viable.
    6. Effectively branding the regional company, to instill genuine Indianapolis ownership, would be essential to its success.
    7. Recruitment of recognized, respected, highly-resourceful Indianapolis board leadership would also be essential to success.

    Of course, there are many nuances to each of these points. Yet they were sufficient in this general form to frame a strategy for the return of world-class ballet to Indianapolis.

    To keep a long story from getting too much longer, I will cut to the sticking point: point number 7, above. We have been very pleased to develop a cadre of community leaders willing to serve as founding board members in this enterprise. The chair or two or three co-chairs of this founding board, however, are the final missing link. Until this piece of the puzzle falls into place, Cincinnati is in a “wait and see” position.

    Finally, just one minor point of clarification: blog response number 9 from Leah Oblak indicates that, “Indianapolis patrons’ hard earned money will not go to support Indy, it will travel back to Cincy.” This is incorrect. The business model developed by Cincinnati Ballet provides that all revenues generated in Indianapolis, earned and contributed, will be spent or re-invested in Indianapolis.
  • Thanks, John, and to others for your thoughtful comments. It's just the sort of dialogue I'd hope would happen here.
    Other comments are, of course, very welcome.
  • From a historical perspective, I can only point to Butler University's (and (Jordans's) outstanding dance program that has produced hundreds of professional dancers and choreographers through the years who have gone on to perform throughout the country and world. For those of us old enough (sigh ... but i can still jete across a puddle) to remember George Verdak, Dace Dindonis, Karl Kauffman, Peggy Dorsey, we must make a concerted effort to support this great Indianapolis tradition. Quite frankly, I believe Indianapolis spoke loudly when attendance dwindled at Ballet Internationale ... it became adequate and without passion ... and audiences (even those perceived Hoosier bumpkins) could tell. I believe Indianapolis audiences seek quality entertainment and will support those organizations they perceive as providing such.

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