Boston Ballet Joins Series of Institutions Facing Critical Times

Suspension of Season Could Result in Loss of up to $10 Million

The ranks of the Boston Ballet and Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen had been preparing for months to premiere ‘Carmen’ last month, but when the stage was set, the preparations complete and opening night had come – COVID-19 put an end to it all.

In fact, like many arts organizations in Boston, Boston Ballet ended up suspending its entire spring season, including the huge ‘Swan Lake’ production, and are now trying to figure out how they might make it through despite the loss of millions in revenues.

“The day of the premiere I went to the stage,” said Nissinen. “My executive director Max Hodges was there. Basically, we were told we were not performing and were suspending operations.”

The performance, luckily, was able to re-schedule for August 20-30 later this summer, but that disappointment was only the start of a cascade of challenges the Boston Ballet is now facing, challenges that are about survival for the Ballet.

With the cancellation of the spring season this month, it meant the loss of their second most popular ballet, ‘Swan Lake.’ Were ‘Carmen’ also not able to go on in August, he said it could be a major financial blow to the company.

“At this point, we are looking at a major loss of revenue,” he said. “We believe that if we cannot perform both ballets, we could lose somewhere north of $10 million in revenues at least. The worst case would be much further north than $10 million and best case is to keep the situation under $10 million. That’s a potential death blow if not managed properly.”

Last week, Nissinen and the management had to lay off staff in five different waves of furloughs. They have kept anything that maintains revenue collections to keep things going.

Already they have had to also cancel a trip to New York City’s new performance venue on Hudson Yards, where they were to perform works by Forsythe – something that had been in the plans for months.

Meanwhile, the dance school in Newton and the South End have been suspended for the time being, and the huge summer training program that is known nationally and internationally is in question at the moment. Just how they would get international students to Boston in June is an unknown.

For the professional dancers, many have already been able to apply for unemployment and other benefits, and Nissinen said he was happy to see the federal government step up to try to curtail the situation – which could have become much worse for everyone.

Dancers have been sent special linoleum to dance at home and try to keep in shape in the meantime. They are being creative, he said, and are posting their workouts online and videos of them dancing in their backyards and trying to keep up.

“I’m inspired,” he said of their work at home, noting that most dancers spend nearly two hours a morning physically training and then six hours of specific dance work.

He does worry about the mental health of those in the company, some of them who have just arrived in Boston to join the Ballet and don’t know many people or speak good English.

“The other side of this is how do people stay psychologically fit,” he said. “My concerns go to some dancers coming from different countries…Now they’ve been one month staring at four walls.”

Nissinen said he has been encouraged by the actions of the Board, and by the fundraising that has been done. Still, he worries about whether the country will be ready to go out to a performance in August so that ‘Carmen’ can be performed. If it’s not safe, or people aren’t ready, it could be a situation where they don’t return until the fall, and then roll into Nutcracker.

It’s a wake-up call for Boston Ballet, and all arts organizations as they try to navigate such a path.

“I do think non-profit arts organizations are very resilient and innovative and used to functioning under certain financial pressures,” he said. “I don’t know how we will make it through, but we will. That is the goal. I feel bad for smaller and mid-size organizations which will have a really, really tough time surviving…There is no guarantee for anybody and it’s a real time of concern for Boston Ballet.”

But when they and others do make it through, Nissinen said he believes it will be these arts organizations – now fighting for their existence – that will bring healing to the community, the country and the world.

“If we do a good job, we are there so the people in the audience can do self-reflection,” he said. “The reflection is not on the performance, but the performance is the stimulus for the people to go on this journey. The second part is you have to relevant…I don’t think that means I have to do a COVID-19 ballet though.”

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