There is no question that ballet companies at large have a hard time managing their financial situations… Because of this, it causes companies to fold or collapse, and it is happening more and more in the US. It is scary. Without state funding, ballet companies have to survive on local communities and their support teams… A big issue is that most of these ballet companies don’t have the proper means, funds or resources to have a proper development or fundraising team. With that being said, dancers are becoming empowered to create change and it is slowly working. When a dancer opens a company they are forced to learn quickly that money, management and fundraising is hard, not to mention PR, Marketing, Social Media, the costs of theaters, music licenses, and insurance policies… and the list goes on and on. Over 50 companies have written in looking for financial help and unfortunately, I can’t help all of them, but here is one company that I do see a lot of potential in: Ballet Theatre of Indiana. Ballet Theatre of Indiana is the first of 8 ballet companies I have partnered with for 2016 to help raise funds for their organizations. But, what I find super amazing about this company, is that every ballet dancer brings something else to the table. Not only are they just dancers but they are directors, PR people, marketing, and more. They are pulling all of their resources to keep ballet alive, and that is amazing in itself. So, here is more about this amazing new company.
How did Ballet Theatre of Indiana come into existence?
We (Stirling & Sabrina Matheson, Artistic Directors) had been discussing how we would run a company since the very beginnings of our careers as dancers. Ballet Internationale, Indianapolis’ former professional company, folded in 2005 and that jump-started our conversations and planted the idea of starting a new company in Indy. When we moved back to Indianapolis in 2011 it was with the intention of founding a company. We spent a few years networking and building relationships, and then took the leap when Ron Morgan offered the use of his studio, Performer’s Edge. (click here for the company website)
How long have you been around? Founded? What did you do this past season?
BTI was founded in 2014 and we just completed our second season. We presented four mainstage productions: Macabre: A Night of Edgar Allan Poe Ballets, our first Nutcracker, the second annual Sun King Brewing Presents: Beer & Ballet, and an original version of The Firebird, which was performed alongside a new version of Les Biches and the grand pas de deux from Flames of Paris.
What was the thought process in creating this company?
We saw a lot of inefficient use of money and abuse as dancers: companies where the highest-paid dancers were barely scraping the poverty line while eight full-time marketing staff worked on ads for just four productions; companies where dancers were pushed to dance on injured limbs despite the long-term consequences; companies where titles and promotions were used as weapons. This was not the world we wanted.
We wanted to create a company that valued dancers as people and treated them as long-term investments, rather than expendables. We knew that dancers could fill multiples roles within a company and that if we found the right people we could use our funding very efficiently.
What kind of dancers do you look for in hiring? Working with?
Having graduated from Butler University’s Department of Dance, we knew that dancers can do a lot more than just dance; we knew dancers with experience or degrees in everything from arts administration to costuming to fundraising. We hire dancers who can comfortably wear a lot of hats, like Audrey Robson, who manages our PR and Marketing in addition to performing roles such as the Firebird and Sugar Plum Fairy. We also look for dancers who can walk the line of taking their work seriously without taking themselves too seriously; we didn’t become artists hoping to be miserable all day.
What can you expect, or should you expect from a show from Ballet Theatre of Indiana?
A fun atmosphere and a focus on storytelling. Our goal is to communicate clearly with the audience, not leave them feeling confused, disconnected, or as if they should have read the synopsis before the show started.
How does ballet reflect or relate to your local community?
Indianapolis is undergoing a renaissance of art and culture at the moment, and more and more people are looking for things to do that aren’t the old standbys of bars and sports. We’re striving to make our shows accessible to these ballet newbies and enjoyable to the area’s balletomanes who remember Ballet Internationale or attend one of Indy’s many dance schools.
This collaboration between a Ballet Education and Ballet Theatre of Indiana is raising money for what?
We’re raising money for our third season’s many and varied production expenses. We’ll need new sets, new costumes, rented backdrops, music licenses, event insurance, contractors, and the usual host of small purchases that go into creating ballets.
Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?
We would love to have all of our dancers making a livable wage so that they do not have to work a second job, as most dancers do. That may not happen in five years, but it’s at the top of our priority list and we are making headway with our new Artist Sponsorship Program. But in five years we definitely see BTI building deeper, more meaningful connections in the community and becoming a fixture in Indiana’s arts scene.
What is some advice you can give young dancers who are looking for a job in your area?
Talk to a lot of dancers – not people who danced 20 years ago, but people who are currently dancing or recently retired – and get their honest, no-holds-barred picture of what it’s like to be a dancer. If you can, talk to someone who “failed.” The dance world attaches a bizarre, unhealthy stigma to failure or early retirement, a perception that those who don’t “make it” just didn’t try hard enough. You can learn a lot from the reasons that people are willing to give up a dream they’ve had for so long. You need to prepare yourself for the reality of the dance world, with all its hardships, as well as the highs we like to focus on, and not just the dream of it.
To commemorate their first performance, which was La Sylphide I have designed a shirt around this ballet. All proceeds from the shirt go towards Ballet Theatre of Indiana. The shirts are 100% spun poly to feel like cotton, and are machine washable. Available in sizes XS-XXL for $40.00. Click here to shop.