Dance moves: making a ballet on a shoestring
Cork City Ballet's 'The Sleeping Beauty' opens tonight, and its artistic director Alan Foley has bet his house on its success
As dozens of dancers from around the world get ready a few doors away, Cork City Ballet artistic director Alan Foley is holding an impromptu production meeting in his office in the Firkin Crane dance centre in Cork. The company, one of only a handful of professional ballet companies in Ireland, has never exactly been flush with cash, but this year has been a real struggle.
The financial constraints and uncertainty are especially frustrating for all connected with the company, as 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of Joan Denise Moriarty, founder of the Irish Ballet Company (subsequently the Irish National Ballet), and a series of events are taking place in Cork to celebrate. Cork City Ballet adapted Moriarty’s best-known work, a production of The Playboy of the Western World, earlier in the year, and the company’s flagship event for the year is The Sleeping Beauty.
These plans nearly didn’t come to fruition, after the Arts Council decided not to fund The Sleeping Beauty. However, Foley – who was the first Irish dancer to study at the prestigious Kirov Ballet School and danced with a heart defect for much of his professional life – is not easily dissuaded. Using personal funds, borrowing costumes, recycling sets, pleading for Cork City Council support, getting dancers on reduced contracts, and calling in every favour he could from here to St Petersburg, the show will, after all, go on.
In the production meeting, choreographer Yury Demakov, who danced with the Bolshoi Ballet, is opening a large bag of costumes he has brought him and which will be remodelled for this production. Foley is consulting with Patricia Crosbie, the company’s ballet mistress, about how they will get their set transported from storage to stage. “Who do we know in a rental company?” Foley asks, as the rest of the team consult their phones.
Such are the financial constraints that the two lead dancers, Monica Fotescu Uta and Sergio Torrado (who was Natalie Portman’s partner in Black Swan), don’t arrive until the day before the production opens. In the meantime, the company will rehearse in the Firkin Crane dance centre (which Moriarty also founded) while Demakov and Foley will liaise with the two leads via Skype and using clips on YouTube to ensure they know what’s required of them.
Foley says that some dancers would get in the region of €15,000 per performance in New York. “Basically, what you’re talking about is the equivalent of Beckham coming to Cork,” he says. “The lead guys we get come for a fraction of what they get elsewhere. They do it because I know them and I ring them and say we have nothing. When we didn’t get funded this year, I said to myself, this is it, I am done. I already felt that it was a constant uphill struggle and this year especially I felt the legacy of Joan Denise was being overlooked greatly by the Arts Council. There comes a point when I had to say, who am I doing this for? You feel like no-one gives a sh*t, but then you get back on the treadmill and start calling around and bit by bit we got there.”
If the numbers don’t add up after all box-office receipts are counted and bills remain outstanding, Foley says he will be personally liable for the shortfall. “At the end of the day if it doesn’t work out, I will have to go to the bank and re-mortgage my home to meet the bills. We need about 90 per cent capacity, but the audience has always been very supportive towards us. That’s what keeps us going really.”