Eighteen months ago the challenges facing San Jose Dance Theatre and the dance industry as a whole seemed insurmountable. The pandemic had hit and the organization faced one of the biggest hurdles in its 57 years of history. At the beginning no one knew how long we would shelter in place. Being in one of the most restrictive counties in the country we faced no dance classes, no performances and, most concerning of all, significantly reduced income. Eighteen months down the track we reflect on the challenges, the success, and the changes we made to emerge stronger and ready to tackle the coming years.
Having launched our new ballet company only weeks prior to the shutdown we were at a crossroads. We could have paused our plans as many other companies did, but it was clear to the Board and Artistic Staff that the next year was going to be the toughest year in recent history for the industry. We wanted to do everything we could to support dancers, choreographers and the industry. Hiring an outstanding team of six dancers in 2019 we forged ahead with our programming, moving everything to digital. We also continued with our plans to launch aTrainee program and Pre-Professional training program. Together the 13 dancers worked online, performed in parking lots, filmed downtown and when we could, in the theatre, to produce over 15 new works across the season.
Transitioning to an online format and fully embracing Zoom™, as most ballet schools did, was essential in ensuring we retained our student dancers. Additionally supporting our success in sustaining and gaining new students, audience members and overall support for the organization was the launch of our digital subscription program. This program provided dance tutorials, original content, behind the scenes sneak peeks and much more. Continuously added to over the shut down, the program now includes many of our mainstage productions, an online magazine and new choreographic works from emerging artists.
Most recently the organization successfully launched the full length classical ballet of Sleeping Beauty to the program. The ballet was a collaboration of the professional company and the academy and incorporated a cast of over 60 dancers. Navigating COVID protocols throughout the pandemic has been challenging and Sleeping Beauty was one of the largest hurdles with such a large staff and managing changing protocols.
Shortly after a well-received digital “The Nutcracker” was released as our 55th annual production the pandemic year presented another serious setback. San Jose Dance Theatre suffered one of the largest losses in our history when over $25,000 worth of costumes were stolen in January of this year. Thanks to overwhelming support from across the country we were able to successfully raise more than $20,000 in cash donations and a countless number of costume donations.
The year has thrown broader challenges at us including spotlighting inequities within the industry. We have reaffirmed our commitment to diversity at SJDT and supported diverse dancers and choreographers to develop and share their passion for dance. Our Dance Shorts program invited six diverse community members to create new works for the company in 2020. The success of this program will continue into the future with ‘Dance Shorts 2021’.
We have found the key to our success throughout the shutdown has been persistence, an open mind and the willingness to think out of the box. We have needed to modernise and adapt to the changing world to remain successful. This success has translated into rewards across the organization. Prior to the pandemic San Jose Dance Theatre generated most of its income through tuition and ticket sales. Now with the addition of the company, embracing digital, and continually adapting to changes, we expanded our financial base and shown a beacon of hope for the community.
Since the crisis began the organization has increased its giving program by 500%. With this we have been able to support our students, staff and community better by providing greater access across all of our work. This has also set us up for a great 2021 – 2022 season and we are all excited to be able to offer an even bigger year to come.
Now as we look towards the future, we strive to deliver more training, more performances, and more community development. San Jose Dance Theatre is excited to be offering over 100 ballet classes a week now in person, a season of three major full length ballets and a contemporary program for the coming year. We will also launch more in-school programs that go out into the community to share and develop a love for the art form.
San Jose Dance Theatre would be nothing without its passionate and dedicated Board of Directors stepping up to the challenges of the changing world and embracing a bright future. It is with great sadness that we bid goodbye to Renee Forbes who sat on the board for 26 years. She has shared her love for dance and costume making, creating many of the extraordinary tutus which highlight our productions. Renee has gone above and beyond through the many challenges the organization faced and we wish her all the best with her future endeavours.
We would also like to welcome Michelle Yasuda back onto the board. Michelle has an extensive background in financial management and will support the organization’s growth in the coming years. Additionally, current board committee member Kay Pettitt has been elected as Treasurer. Kay’s understanding of the dance industry and financial management will ensure continued financial success.
By Michael Pappalardo Business Development and Artistic Associate, San Jose Dance Theatre