17/02/2011 - 00:00

Funding challenge for WA Ballet

17/02/2011 - 00:00

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THERE’S a palpable energy on the performers’ side of His Majesty’s Theatre’s stage door.

Funding challenge for WA Ballet

THERE’S a palpable energy on the performers’ side of His Majesty’s Theatre’s stage door.

Dancers huddle in the foyer and behind-the-scenes staff from the West Australian Ballet and WA Opera hurry past.

WA Ballet’s general manager Steven Roth explains the company’s prima ballerina (yes, the state has one), has been injured in rehearsals ahead of the opening night of the popular outdoor dance season, Ballet at the Quarry.

There’s tension in the rehearsal room; injury is just one of the challenges facing Mr Roth and WA Ballet’s artistic director, Ivan Cavallari – but the show must go on.

The size of the stage the company performs on is a perennial issue, as is the space the company has at His Majesty’s.

The news at the iconic building is not all bad though. WA Ballet is about to move into its newly restored and heritage-listed building in Bayswater.

Certainly the extra space will be appreciated.

At His Majesty’s, costume designers are hastily preparing for the opening of Cinderella in May in a tight space, while already completed pieces carefully hang on racks lining hallways.

Mr Roth says the sets from past productions lie in shipping containers at a storage yard, and confirms that the move to Bayswater in October can’t come fast enough.

Due to some recent leave taken by Mr Cavallari, the company has brought-in fellow artistic director Pablo Aharonian to aid in its direction – though Mr Cavallari said his physical absence had not changed how much work he committed to WA Ballet.

“It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, physically I might not be here, but mentally I am totally,” he said.

Beyond human resources challenges, both Mr Cavallari and Mr Roth make it clear that the lack of support for the arts in WA is a major issue.

Within the ballet itself, though, one of the most obvious issues is that WA Ballet receives the lowest level of funding for a state dance company in Australia.

Three years ago when Mr Roth came on board, he helped to develop a strategic business plan for the company, which he had hoped would help to catapult it to an international level.

Two of the key principles in that plan were developing WA Ballet into a repertoire-based dance company – meaning it can perform the classics of ballet – and increasing the number of dancers from 19 to 32.

After all, to attract the best choreography, the best dancers and an audience to watch them, it makes sense for a company to have crowd-pleasers such as Swan Lake and Cinderella.

The plan was set in motion with a $1.2 million commitment from the state government and the rest, $400,000, to come from the federal government – a figure the ballet has still not received.

Mr Roth laments the lack of action from the federal government.

“When you look at the $92 million that goes to the arts nationally, $7 million to WA, it’s really just a penny in a bucket,” he said.

The lack of funding is having an effect on the company, and with 26 professional and three young artists, WA Ballet is still short of the full dancing troupe it requires to meet its strategic goals.

“We have a great group of dancers, they are highly motivated and deserve the recognition of state and federal government,” Mr Roth said.

“If you liken it to football, there are just not enough dancers on the bench.”

 

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