The idea of putting a smorgasbord of 30 dance companies on City Center's venerable stage, five on each program, and charging a bargain rate of ten dollars a ticket for every seat was novel when it was launched in 2004, but audiences confirmed its appeal right away. Within one week of going on sale, every seat in the theater for that week had been sold. Last year, they were gone in three days.
Clearly, the price was right, and the diverse programming captivated just the kind of audience the Festival's planners had in mind: younger, new to dance, ready to explore the many varieties within the art form to discover their personal favorites.
The Festival puts major troupes such as Paul Taylor Dance Company and New York City Ballet alongside smaller, newer ensembles, and makes a point of offering as wide a range of dance styles as possible. Hip-hop, tap, classical Indian dance, ballet, and historical landmarks from the modern dance tradition share the stage, and choreographers from the burgeoning "downtown" scene have a chance to put their innovative work in front of a much larger audience than they usually attract.
"That first year, none of us knew what this was going to be. The audience's response was amazing, so enthusiastic," recalls Peter Boal, who performed in the 2004 Festival and returns in 2006 in a different role: as director of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet, which performs on October 5th and 6th. "There was an excitement in the air, and you could feel it. I think a lot of people had come to see the one company that they knew, and discovered others that they had perhaps never heard of."
Arlene Shuler, who in 2003 had become City Center's President and CEO, launched Fall for Dance with a very specific vision: "I wanted a program that would allow people to see a lot of different companies all at once, because I thought it was a wonderful way to kick off the new dance season and get people excited about dance."
It certainly did that, and it has also been demonstrably successful in its goal of attracting people who might not have previously attended dance performances. Certainly the city's dance aficionados consider the Festival a must-see event, but surveys show that one-third of the ticket buyers were under the age of thirty, and one-third were coming to City Center for the first time. Significantly, forty-four per cent reported that after attending Fall for Dance, they went on to buy tickets for subsequent performances by companies they had seen there.
A project of this scope, and with such a low ticket price, would not be possible without a great deal of support, from what Shuler describes as "very enlightened funders." Leadership support has come from The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Time Warner, and Altria Group, and there has been a generous response from government, foundations, and private individuals.
The big news this season is that the Festival has grown from six performances to ten, with four of the six separate programs being repeated. "If part of the mission of Fall for Dance is to bring in new audiences, this year we wanted to make more tickets available," Shuler explains. "Last year when we sold out in three days, a lot of people were very disappointed. In addition to insuring that more people can attend Fall for Dance, what the expansion also has enabled us to do is give many companies the opportunity to perform twice. For those companies that are coming from long distances, whether from abroad or other parts of the U.S., it becomes much more feasible, financially and logistically, to perform on two nights."
As she prepared for the Festival's third incarnation and anticipated that excited buzz of discovery within a packed theater, Shuler remarked, "I think it has exceeded every expectation we ever had. In a very short period of time, it has become part of New York's dance landscape."