The Business of Nutcracker

By Madeline Orton
Arts Correspondent

Tchaikovsky and pointe shoes. The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for many — including the ballet companies that perform it. The reliably-popular tale of a girl and her Christmas toy means income companies can count on and an influx of new audiences.

“For many companies, the typical repertory performance, the ticket sales cover maybe half the cost,” said David Gray.

Gray is President of FinanceArts LLC, a nonprofit consulting firm. He’s worked at various ballet companies including American Repertory Ballet, New York City Ballet, and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

“For Nutcracker, typically organizations — most ballet companies — actually break even, so the take at the door actually pays for the performance. And that leaves of course all the donated income or the sponsorships, which actually flow to the bottom line and help support the rest of the season,” said Gray.

Paul McRae is Associate Director of New Jersey Ballet.

“Because that part of our season is fully funded, it does allow us to stretch our dollars,” said McRae. “It allows you a little more freedom in building the rest of the season.”

That can mean taking a risk and trying something new, or simply producing a lesser-known ballet that fits the mission, but lacks the name recognition.

Beyond ticket sales and the ability to re-use costumes and sets, there’s another piece of the Nutcracker puzzle that adds to its sustainability: kids.

For kids, Nutcracker can offer an entryway into the art form—whether that’s off-stage or on.

Many ballet companies have affiliated dance schools. That means students can fill roles — party guests, mice, etc. The Nutcracker can have a full cast, and companies only need to pay the professional dancers. Students get a key component of their training as well—performance experience.

This season seven performers get to dance the lead role of Clara. Allison Ivan is one of them.

On getting to work with professional dancers, Ivan said, “Ugh, it’s amazing. Especially because, since you aspire to be a professional dancer, you learn from them.”

The biggest lesson she’ll take with her when she goes off to college next year to continue studying dance.

“If you mess up, never let it show. Always keep it performance quality,” said Ivan.

It’s performances like hers, after all, that keeps families coming back year after year. And gets Nutcracker first-timers, excited about the ballet.

“It was graceful. I really liked how they stayed on point for so long,” said audience member Jillian Canning.

Whether the show makes her want to see more ballet, Canning said,”“It did a lot. It was a lot of fun.”

And though Nutcracker may be over 120 years old, holiday fun is timeless.