CBT Finally Makes Plea 

The dance company expects $270,000 in shortfalls

The Charleston Ballet Theatre made its first public plea over the weekend during a performance of its annual Nutcracker.

Charles Patrick, board president, and Jill Eathorne Bahr, CBT's long-time choreographer, told the audience at Gaillard Auditorium that the dance company needs $180,000 by year's end. They did not say what would happen without the money, except that 2009 programs might be "curtailed."

In an interview with City Paper, Patrick said the dance company anticipates a fund-raising shortfall of as much as $270,000. If $180,000 is not raised now, he said, CBT might not be able to pay employees, adding that "we'd hate to do that." CBT may also have to cut dancers.

How many?

"At least two," he said.

The means would be attrition, but Patrick did not rule out layoffs. Current Ballet Mistress Jessica Roan is planning to relocate with her husband at the end of the season. Another dancer is expected to retire. They probably won't be replaced, Patrick said, if $180,000 is not raised in the short-term.

"We need that to survive the next couple of months," he said.

Bahr told City Paper that one dancer left the company prior to the start of the season, reducing the corps ensemble to 16 (other dancers flesh out the CBT's numbers on a pay-per-performance basis). Bahr also clarified that the two departing dancers will not be replaced next year.

In the interview, Bahr was hard to pin down about what might happen to CBT's dancers if $180,000 can't be raised by year's end. She said time will tell what will happen, as will the generosity of CBT's supporters.

"As for layoffs, we'll know by the end of the season," she said."This is the hardest time we've ever lived through."

Patrick said this weekend's plea for support yielded $10,000 from a former board member and $5,000 from a former associate of the board. Other donations, likely smaller, were collected but have not been counted yet. Between $20,000 to $30,000 was raised due to the "special requests" made over the weekend, Patrick said. Along with Nutcracker ticket receipts, the total would be tallied in time for an emergency brainstorm meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 16) to figure out new ways to boost contributed income.

"We've already cut the budget to the bone," Patrick said.

Though supporters were warned that programming may be "curtailed" if $180,000 is not raised by the end of the month, an inside source, who did not want to appear at odds with CBT's leadership, said that no programs are likely to be canceled, nor are there signs thus far that dancers' jobs are in jeopardy.

What's likely is CBT dancers will dance more. The Gaillard and the College of Charleston's Sottile Theatre costs too much. CBT's Black Box Theatre on King Street holds fewer people, so more performances would be necessary.

Case in point is the reprisal of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, which was first performed in November, but was so popular that additional shows have been slated for Dec. 20-21. See www.charlestonballet.org for details.

The CBT is the last of Charleston's Big Three to go public with its financial woes. The dance company is also the second of the city's largest performing arts groups to reveal its troubles at the Gaillard. The CSO did the same thing during the intermission of a Masterworks program on Nov. 15.

But CBT's crisis has been brewing for weeks. The mounting tone has even verged on the edge of panic.

On Nov. 20, the company sent an e-mail to supporters warning that "An Empty Stage Cannot Be Our Future." The author wrote, " ... at this time and at this moment, we are asking for your support to simply maintain our 20-plus-year-old dance company's survival."

Additionally, on her blog (www.cbtbahr.wordpress.com), Jill Eathorne Bahr wrote of the need to raise $180,000 right away.

"The future of the ballet is contingent upon the meeting of this important goal," she wrote.

The CSO needs $1 million by the end of the season. Charleston Stage needs about $200,000. Each has pleaded its case to the public with special focus on major donors who have decided to hold onto their cash instead of giving it as they normally would. Since going public, the CSO and Charleston Stage have streamlined budgets and reported modest gains in fund-raising.

Like the CSO and Charleston Stage, the CBT has suffered from budgeting that assumed too much from an economy in deep recession. The dance company based its fiscal year on sponsorships that did not materialize, on charitable contributions from reliable patrons that were not forthcoming, and on grants from foundations that were smaller than expected.

Like the CSO, CBT's biggest outlay is its artists. Its total expeditures were $1.7 million during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, according to the most recent tax documents available. Of that amount, dancers cost $318,460. Compensation for "officers, directors, key employees" was $108,000 (Jill Bahr draws $60,000). And rent of its King Street Black Box Theatre was $70,299.

The PrimeSouth Group owns the building. Patrick said CBT is already late on its rent.

"The landlord isn't happy with us," he said.


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