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Business Texas Ballet Theater prepares for life beyond COVID-19

Texas Ballet Theater prepares for life beyond COVID-19

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Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

PAUL K. HARRAL

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Texas Ballet Theater has delayed the start of its 2020-2021 season originally scheduled for Sept. 11 in Dallas and Oct. 2 in Fort Worth because of uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The health and safety of our artists, patrons, students and staff is our top priority,” said Executive Director Vanessa Logan.

But keeping the ballet sustainable is also a priority.

Starting July 1, the company will also reduce the salaries of full-time employees and reduce dancer contracts from 40 weeks to 38 weeks. Salary reductions range from 5 to 20 percent of current pay based on a bracket system. So far, there have not been any furloughs or layoffs.

The ballet also will dance to recorded music when performances resume.

“We had to make the very difficult decision to not have live orchestration next year. We cancelled one whole production in the fall and due to economics made the decision to use recorded music for Beauty and the Beast,” Logan said.

The steps are part of TBT’s plan to cut its budget by $2 million to protect the company’s future. The company also established the TBT Relief Fund to help support dancer and staff salaries, artistic productions and general operations.

Logan said that there is still a lot of money to raise to meet next year’s goal.

When the ballet canceled the rest of the current seasons, patrons were given the option of refunds, using the tickets in hand for the next season or donating the money.

“I have been so moved by our patrons – and I’m sure every organization says they have the best patrons – but I would say approximately 90% donated or put their ticket money on credit for next season instead of asking for a refund,” Logan said.

That helped the cash flow.

“It was extraordinary. We could not have felt more loved or supported. Really wonderful. And we look forward to being creative next year and providing a season in whatever way we can,” she said.

Amid the uncertainties created by the pandemic, TBT has developed new ways to connect with its audience off the stage.

The company streamed two previous performances, Ma Cong’s Firebird and Carl Coomer’s Henry VIII, on its YouTube channel. It also shares photos and videos from dancers’ lives outside of the studio on its social media channels, and dancers recently called patrons to thank them for their support.

“Our goal right from the beginning was to keep everybody secure and we kept everybody on payroll. But what allowed us to continue was the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) funding that we did get,” Logan said.

TBT originally planned to open its 2020-2021 season with Beauty and the Beast Sept. 11 at Winspear Opera House in Dallas and Oct. 2-4 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, but will delay the start of the season and open with The Nutcracker Nov. 27-Dec. 27 in both Dallas and Fort Worth to ensure the company and audiences can safely return to the theater.

Beauty and the Beast will now run May 14-23, 2021.

Logan said the staff is learning about the digital world very, very quickly, pointing to the two ballets streamed on YouTube as an example.

“I’ve been truly humbled and honored to work alongside them in these last extraordinary weeks,” she said.

Logan has had some experience with lockdowns. She was chief of staff at Boston Ballet when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred April 15, 2013.

“We were in lockdown for four days in the city. But it’s extraordinarily different. This is unprecedented,” she said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began developing she began preparing the ballet for the possibility that staff might be working remotely.

“We started practicing VPN (Virtual Private Network) at home and we started checking our computers. And about two weeks before we actually went, we all started working remotely,” Logan said.

She declines to say she was prescient.

“It was an opportunity that I saw, and I just said, ‘Worst case scenario. If this is an exercise in futility, we are getting to test what it would be like if we should need it and let’s just be prepared.’ And that was really what drove that,” Logan said.

Her goal from the start was to over communicate. She had weekly calls with the dancers, with directors and with staff. Some of those have switched to every other week now. Sometimes they just become creative and idea sessions.

Some, maybe a lot, of what has been learned is going to carry over when something that looks like normalcy reappears.

“Those are the silver linings. The collaboration that I have felt from the resident arts organizations, and most specifically, Bass Hall, has been wonderful and we’ve been meeting weekly. Normally we meet quarterly,” Logan said.

Andrew Walker, director at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, facilitated a conversation between performing arts organizations and the museums.

“I mean when we talk about what is the culture of Fort Worth? We’re finding that there’s a collaborative spirit and one in which we all know that if the other succeeds, we all succeed in some way. And that has just been so remarkable. I mean really wonderful to be a part of this community and to see that,” Logan said.

“We want to be creative; we want to support one another. We know the importance and how essential the arts are to Fort Worth or to any community really, aside from all of the people that we employ, who are members of the community and that’s shining through. Our common threads are more than we thought they were,” she said.

The ballet – and the other arts organizations in town – have been through tough times before. In 2008 during the Great Recession, the ballet began to use recorded music and some ballet dancers  in tutus solicited donations on the streets downtown.

The focus now is about sustainability.

 There are circumstances simply beyond the ballet’s control.

“How do we responsibly go forward to next season so that we fulfill our commitment to all of the people who  have invested in Texas Ballet Theater for over 55 years and create this beyond 2021?

“The economy will absolutely dictate what that looks like to a degree. The one thing that we do know is that it is going to change. So, how do we continue to choreograph around those changes,” Logan said.

It’s likely to be a tour jeté.

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