For dancers, practice makes perfect. For dance companies like Springfield Ballet Inc. intent on building a solid foundation for their program, perfecting focused growth also is a lesson in persistence.
Executive Director Evan Bennett says the nonprofit organization is gaining financial ground this year with increased ballet school enrollment and sold-out audiences for its biannual productions at Landers Theatre.
“We’re ahead of where we were last year in terms of revenue,” Bennett says.
Springfield Ballet posted fiscal 2015 revenue of $414,807 – a 7.5 percent increase from last year. The organization’s operating budget also increased 8.5 percent this year to $336,000.
At the pre-professional ballet school, class tuition ranges from $12 for a single session in the open adult ballet and conditioning class to $850 for unlimited classes in the upper level courses. Average enrollment per semester is 150-160 students across classes. The fall 2015 semester reached 173 students.
Bennett credits the nonprofit’s focus on its curriculum led by Ashley Paige Romines, the artistic and school director, and the efforts of a 21-member board and volunteer Springfield Ballet Guild in building awareness for its productions. In Romines’ first four years, enrollment grew 75 percent and has held steady the last three. She works with six instructors.
Ticket sales and grant funding for shows account for 32 percent of revenue – the largest revenue stream, followed by school tuition and general fundraising.
“Every dance institution is faced with that decision of, ‘Do we diversify and take on all these other different forms or do we focus?’” Bennett says. “I think the smart thing was to make a choice about 10 years ago that ballet is what we do.”
Springfield Ballet students are rehearsing for the 30th anniversary performance of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker,” which runs Dec. 17-20 on the Landers stage.
Featuring a 108-member cast of local ballet students and two guest performers, Bennett says the group started a fundraising campaign this season to update the show’s set for the 2016 performance that coincides with Springfield Ballet’s 40th year.
“Our goal is $30,000, and right now we’re $5,075 away,” Bennett says. “We’re close, but until you make it, you still don’t breathe.”
Now in his second year as director, one of Bennett’s early tasks was leading a national search through personal contacts and trade publications, such as Playbill, for set concepts. Of 32 entries submitted from designers in New York City to New Mexico, the ballet will display work from five finalists in the Landers’ lobby during the 2015 shows. The winner will be chosen and allotted a maximum budget of $35,000 in January.
Board President Allison Kist says the group added performances to meet audience demand for the show, which has sold out over the previous three seasons including the 2014 offering that competed for audiences with the Moscow Ballet’s iteration at Gillioz Theatre. Two of the last three spring shows also played to a packed house.
“That tells me people are embracing ‘The Nutcracker’ as a tradition that’s important to Springfield,” Kist says. “We don’t have a lot of dance theater coming through town, so that interest has evolved.”
Eugenia Alcocer Peters, the board’s marketing committee chair and principal at boutique marketing agency Brandigm LLC, says refreshing the ballet school’s brand is part of a strategic plan to maintain relevance against competing dance schools, ballet performances and dance competitions. Developments in the last 18 months include a new website completed with Nixa-based Element Eleven LLC and public service announcements produced by ADsmith Marketing and Advertising.
“Anything that we would do for another client, we’re doing for this organization,” Peters says, adding Brandigm also redesigned the color scheme for the company’s website and promotional materials.
“It’s a more consistent and cohesive look and feel for the brand. It works over time.”
Kist, who works as art director at Hutchins Advertising LLC, says the board’s focus extends beyond ticket revenue and enrollment. The school’s Legacy Scholarship Fund, which typically has between eight and 12 applicants, has awarded scholarships to 17 students in each of the last two years. Budgeted annually at $7,000 in tuition credits, Bennett says the nonprofit often is able to exceed gifting that amount to students through fundraising efforts by the guild.
Bennett says once set redesigns and 40th anniversary fundraising is underway, next on the agenda is upgrading the group’s database to streamline office work and capture funds otherwise lost to overhead.
“People do forget with an arts organization it’s still a business,” he says, noting the organization’s 35 sponsors sustain day-to-day operations. “Not many people sit down and say, ‘I want to write a check to help you pay for toner.’”