Australian Ballet financial result: R&J sells out but the cost takes its toll in 2011

The Australian Ballet’s sold out production of Romeo & Juliet in Melbourne and Sydney attracted an audience of more than 57,000 people in 2011.

But its hefty production cost of $1.8 million, and the cost of refurbishing two other full length productions, Madame Butterfly and The Merry Widow, contributed to the company’s 2011 financial result – a deficit of $1.36 million on ballet operations.

This compares with a surplus of $61,651 the previous year.

Announcing the result today, the company’s executive director, Valerie Wilder, said the Australian Ballet had “returned to its historic business model, where an operating deficit in ballet operations is offset by income from our building”, that is, the Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre in Melbourne.

The Ballet Centre contributed a surplus of $2.47 million. Rental revenue is an important part of the income from the building in Southbank, but the bigger money earner from the six level building is the public car park.

Every year, the company’s management and board members must silently thank their predecessors for their foresight in building the centre that opened in 1988 at a cost $22 million.

Due to a strong subscriber base, box office revenue continues to be the main source of income for the company. At $21.5 million last year, this represented 56 per cent of total operating revenue. This was on a par with the previous year.

The annual report also noted that one source of income came from hiring out productions (costumes, sets, cloths etc) from its repertoire. In 2011, the company earned more than 50 per cent above average from this source, due mainly to the sale of Stanton Welch’s Cinderella (1997) to the Houston Ballet, where Welch is artistic director.

ABC Classic FM recently broadcast part of Prokofiev’s score for Cinderella, a reminder, for me, of its power – especially in the spine chilling moments when the clock strikes midnight. At least the company still has Ashton’s Cinderella in the repertoire although I don’t think it’s been seen since 1980.

Both the chairman of the Australian Ballet, Christopher Knoblanche, and Valerie Wilder, commented on the marketing results of the company. Knoblanche wrote that more than 30,000 people ‘like’ the Australian Ballet on Facebook, up from 16,000 at the same time in 2010.

“This number”, he wrote, “is three times higher than other Australian performing arts companies and growing at a rate of approximately 200 a week”.

Wilder wrote that “in 2010, we recorded our largest ever volume of media coverage but this was eclipsed in 2011 with an impressive increase of 21 per cent”.

Expenditure on marketing and communications increased to $6.3 million in 2011 compared with $5.5 million the previous year.

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