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ABT Raises Funds for O.C. 'Nutcracker'

June 03, 1993|JANICE BERMAN | NEWSDAY

NEW YORK — In the past six months, American Ballet Theatre has raised $3 million toward reducing its $5.7 million deficit and taken $2 million of that to pay off its bank debt, executive director Gary Dunning announced Tuesday. The other $1 million, from special one-time gifts and pledges from trustees, patrons and new supporters, will go toward the company's new production of "The Nutcracker."

Staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie, with a libretto by playwright Wendy Wasserstein ("The Heidi Chronicles") and designs by William Ivey Long, it begins rehearsals in October and premieres in December at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

In April, the center announced it would present the premiere of the "Nutcracker," Dec 3-12. This comes two years after the premiere was originally announced for the Costa Mesa facility. It was postponed in 1991 because of ABT's shaky finances. Through last-minute negotiations, San Francisco Ballet brought its "Nutcracker" production to fill the ABT dates.

The center's financial commitment to ABT includes a guarantee to stage the new production plus "free extended rehearsal time," center president Thomas R. Kendrick said Wednesday. Kendrick would not disclose the amount of the guarantee but said that the center normally charges troupes for rehearsals.

Kendrick also refused to say whether the center had requested exclusivity for the "Nutcracker" but said it "hopes the ABT (will take it) to many venues" and that the center "would not expect any future return or financial investment arrangement" should the troupe stage the production elsewhere.

Dunning also announced the election of Peter T. Joseph, a financier and owner of an art-furniture gallery, as president of the Board of Governing Trustees. Joseph is heading a new fund-raising task force, the Partnership for ABT. Dancers as well as donors are on the task force, which has been formed with a one-year life expectancy. Its honorary chairs are Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, orchestra leader Peter Duchin and Wilbur Ross, who has been active in the effort to save the New York Historical Society.

In an interview Tuesday at the company's offices, Dunning and Joseph said the new funds, coupled with the contract concessions made by the dancers, have helped improve the company's financial stability. Dunning said the company, which has 26 weeks of work this year, also has 26 weeks already established for next year, with the possibility of six more weeks through a combination of added "Nutcracker" performances in California and foreign touring, perhaps to Australia.

Dunning said he expects the company will stay at its current size--72 dancers--and that it will return to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for six to eight weeks next spring. Attendance for the current season is about 2,500 a night, about 60 per cent of the 4,046 opera house seats, eight times a week for the six-week season.

"We're selling the same number of tickets as the City Ballet," Dunning said, but because the Met is bigger "it just looks emptier." As for fund raising, "The board is unified and motivated in a way that it hasn't been before," said Joseph. "Success attracts success."

Dunning said that repayment of the bank debt clears the way for the company to appeal to funders such as the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund.

"I'm so excited about this," he said. "I'm going to say, OK, now what's your excuse?"

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