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Booking conflict troubles ballet

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  • | 4:00 a.m. April 4, 2013
  • Sarasota
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A scheduling conflict between the Van Wezel, the city’s only performing-arts hall, and the Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota’s only professional ballet company, forced the ballet to pass on putting on a first-time local performance of the ballet “La Sylphide.”

Mary Anne Servian, managing director of the Sarasota Ballet, had secured permission from famed Danish choreographer Johan Kobborg to put on a performance of “La Sylphide.” But, in January, when she tried secure dates at the Van Wezel for April 2014, she discovered the Sarasota Orchestra had already booked two of the four requested days.

The Van Wezel is the only local venue large enough to put on the ballet performance.

“The scale of (‘La Sylphide’) is big — it’s a full-length ballet, just like ‘The Nutcracker,’” Servian said.  

The scheduling conflict worried Servian because she felt it represented the difficulty of trying to reserve a couple of days at the hall, which is city-run and hosts a mix of Broadway shows and national performers, along with local performances. Servian wants Van Wezel organizers and schedulers to try harder to accommodate local performances.

“It has been difficult, especially during season,” Servian said.

Mary Bensel, executive director of the Van Wezel, said the issue was simple: The ballet wanted to reserve the hall for days that were already taken.

“I have a long history with the ballet,” Bensel said. “It’s not like we decided we wouldn’t rent to the ballet. This is something that happens every day. We get people who call for dates, and we don’t have them.”

Servian met with City Manager Tom Barwin March 5 to discuss what she perceived as more than an isolated scheduling conflict. Servian thinks it has become increasingly difficult to set aside future dates because the Van Wezel prioritizes scheduling Broadway shows and other larger performances.

Barwin suggested that advanced planning may offer a solution to scheduling woes.

“We’re encouraging each of these magnificent organizations to continue to collaborate as much as possible,” Barwin said.

Barwin said, ideally, the ballet and the Van Wezel will schedule as early as five years in advance.
Bensel, however, said it would be impossible for a performing-arts hall that schedules up to 150 shows a year to accomplish such advanced planning.

For the 2010-2011 budget year, commissioners ended a city general-fund subsidy that kept the hall operating.

Bensel must maintain a balance, booking big performances and Broadway shows that bring in the revenue to keep the hall in the black. But Bensel said she also strives to leave open dates for local users, such as the ballet and orchestra and the Ringling College Library Association for its Town Hall lecture series.

During peak winter season, for instance, the Van Wezel sets aside 50% of all weekends for local renters, Bensel said.

“That is news to me, that they set aside half of the weekends for local art organizations,” Servian said.

Barwin said he understands the complexity of keeping the hall in the black.

“The City Commission made the pretty clear requirement that the hall be run in a self-sufficient manner in which it is not subsidized,” Barwin said.

Barwin said he wants to see the hall bring in large-scale shows, such as “the Phantom of the Opera,” which, according to Bensel, run several weeks and pack the house.

Bensel agreed to remain flexible in booking local organizations, when she could.

“We have to keep working at it,” Servian said. “It requires more conversation and a sit-down.”


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