Disappearing Dances/New Bids on the Block/Orchestra Hall Forecast Partly Cloudy/Passing Costs on to Consumers | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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Disappearing Dances/New Bids on the Block/Orchestra Hall Forecast Partly Cloudy/Passing Costs on to Consumers

Can Ballet Chicago afford to pay the piper? Choreographer Gordon Pierce Schmidt isn't holding his breath.


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Disappearing Dances

As reported here a few weeks ago, Ballet Chicago's repertory this season will consist of a single production of Coppelia. One reason for its limited scope might be the departure of resident choreographer Gordon Peirce Schmidt, who was let go last May when the company was scaling back operations to cut expenses. Since the financially strapped troupe owes Schmidt several thousand dollars in back royalties for performances of eight of his pieces, none of the choreographer's works will be reappearing in the company's repertory anytime soon. Although he has received some small payments, he has no sense of when--if ever--Ballet Chicago will be able to pay him in full.

Schmidt was hired as Ballet Chicago's resident choreographer in 1989, and in his years with the company his choreography was nominated for four Ruth Page Awards; he won last September for The Gift of the Magi. His other well-known dances include Scenes From an Italian Songbook, In a Nutshell, and one of the company's most popular works, the vaudeville-themed By Django.

Having severed his ties with Ballet Chicago, Schmidt plans to choreograph a new work in 1995 for the Indianapolis Ballet Theater and participate in a ballet choreography competition in Boston. He's currently setting up a multifaceted arts production company that would make videos and present dance concerts, among other things.

New Bids on the Block

The village of Skokie recently discovered that it will have to come up with an additional $2.6 million to build its new North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Slated to open in the fall of 1996, the center will become the new home of Wisdom Bridge Theatre Company and Centre East, the Skokie-based presenter of theater, dance, and other attractions. Last winter the project, which includes an 840-seat theater and a multipurpose room that will hold up to 500, was expected to cost $13.6 million, but none of the bids recently received are less than $16.2 million. Harold Hansen, the project's coordinator for the village of Skokie, says the 19-percent increase is primarily due to changes in the construction business.

The original construction costs were to be covered by $3.4 million in village funds and $10.2 million from the state. To raise the additional $2.6 million now needed, the village has proposed a 2.5-percent hotel tax--a means of generating revenue that hits the pocketbooks of visitors rather than those of residents. Hansen is initiating a separate fund drive to raise the money for the theater's sound and light equipment.

Centre East, currently presenting shows at a 1,300-seat auditorium on the campus of Oakton Community College, may change its programming strategy when it moves into the new center's considerably smaller theater. Executive director Dorothy Litwin says her organization is conducting a survey to determine whether audiences would be willing to pay higher prices for big-name performers. "Among other things, we're trying to find out if people would be willing to pay $50 a ticket to see Tony Bennett," explains Litwin. If not, they may shift to a more community-oriented roster of attractions, including programming for children and senior citizens.

Orchestra Hall Forecast Partly Cloudy

The Orchestral Association, parent of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is quietly investigating whether to include "clouds" (sound-diffusing baffles hung from the ceiling) as part of Orchestra Hall's $100 million expansion and renovation. Acousticians from several firms who have examined the concert hall say clouds would improve sound quality, particularly for the musicians and conductor. But some trustees think clouds would detract from the beauty of Orchestra Hall's interior. "You don't see those [clouds] in the great concert halls in Europe," says one. New York's Carnegie Hall had used clouds to improve its acoustics, but they were removed during a substantial rehab of that facility several years ago.

According to Roger Cline, a CSO musician serving as liaison to the trustees overseeing the renovation, the plan currently under consideration calls for hanging clouds over about one-third of the stage. He thinks the clouds would improve onstage acoustics, but admits appearance is a primary concern. "The clouds would affect the lighting in the hall, for one thing." When CSO trustees met last Friday, they agreed to continue exploring the matter.

Passing Costs on to Consumers

Some Light Opera Works subscribers were jolted recently when they opened the mail and found letters announcing the high cost of renewing subscriptions. Main floor center seats for a three-production season have jumped 71 percent, from $66 last season to $113. The cover letter accompanying the renewal forms did not offer any explanation for the increase. Managing director Bridget McDonough says it was prompted in large part by a renovation that decreased the capacity of the group's performance space, Northwestern University's Cahn Auditorium, from 1,200 to 1,000. "The decrease in seating means a $55,000 loss in potential annual income for us," says McDonough. With funding to make up for the drop unavailable from other sources, McDonough turned to subscribers. "Our grant from the Illinois Arts Council is $11,000 less than it was four years ago, but our expenses certainly haven't decreased."

The prices of LOW subscriptions in other categories will increase less dramatically. Subscriptions for main-floor side seats, which cost $63 last season, will rise to $89, and season seats at the back of the balcony will go for $47. The price of a single LOW ticket will jump from $42 to $45. According to McDonough, this remains below the $47.50 Chicago Opera Theater charged for a single ticket last spring.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.

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