Every winter, for the past 21 years, Cork City Ballet has held a gala performance so audiences can see guest stars of international fame and higher quality.
Local student dancers have the opportunity to work with these luminaries, and gain invaluable experience. Whether you are a lifelong balletomane or a fervent student, a child attending weekly classes or a fan of classical pieces, there is much for which to thank this hardworking company.
But it can’t keep going without support. Ballet is notoriously expensive to stage, second only to grand opera. Aficionados love both art forms, but don’t realise how much they cost. The unpalatable truth is that CCB gets little or no funding, despite its considerable achievements.
This November’s production of The Nutcracker, with prima ballerina, Erina Takahashi, will cost at least €100,000. Cork City Council loyally gives €7,000; but there is nothing from the Arts Council.
“I’ll tell you something,” says artistic director, Alan Foley. “I was very close to giving up. After all, there has to be more to life than working round-the-clock to make something wonderful happen and getting no support for it.”
He was, he says, hovering on a final decision. If he had taken it, then there would have been no festive ballet in the city this winter. Corkonians were very close to learning just how much of a loss that would have been.
But fate took a hand in the most quixotic of ways. “I’d written to the Arts Council, asking why we had, yet again, been granted no funding whatsoever. Their reply came. It said that out of a possible 30 marks for funding consideration, our application for CCB had scored just six. Six out of 30? For everything we do here in Cork, for all that we make possible?”
Oddly enough, it was that discouraging letter that decided him — but in the opposite direction. “I thought, ‘well, go ahead, that might be what you think of us down here in the south, but we’ll show you’! You just sit back and watch while we achieve the impossible!”
A maxim he had often heard declaimed by the great Joan Denise Moriarty came back to him. “There is no such phrase as ‘I can’t.’ Get on and do it!”
And so, Cork City Ballet’s spectacular, full-scale production of The Nutcracker, complete with glorious costumes from the Kirov, one of the world’s leading ballerinas as the Sugar Plum Fairy, a full, professional company, and opportunities galore for excited young students, will go ahead. Against all the odds.
But there are other possibilities. Why shouldn’t CCB be supported by individuals, as well as organisations? In America, as Foley says, ballet companies depend on local contributions. Why not the same here?
The opportunities presented by The Nutcracker, after all, are legion. A confectionery company sponsoring the Kingdom of the Sweets? The army chipping in for the ‘toy soldier’ act? A major department store giving support for the Christmas scene? Ballet schools collecting to sponsor the children’s party? If we value our cultural assets, we should be prepared to support them in every way possible.
The Nutcracker, Cork Opera House, November 20-22. www.corkcityballet.com.
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