Nissinen was sympathetic to the problems of marketing, and noted that building an audience can be a slow process. “How do you get the word out? Do you have a marketing budget? How big is that budget? How far will it go? That is always an issue,” he said. “And then sometimes it takes several years before people realize what the thing is and have more interest in it.”
Kargman, the documentarian, underlined that last point. “The prominent ballet competitions around the world took years to become as established as they are today,” she said.
Nissinen added, “When you start something like this, you pretty much individually carry the whole financial burden. You start looking at how much money the prizes were — Valentina funded all the money pretty much out of her own pocket. That’s a lot of money for an individual. And I think she found surprises in some costs related to the theaters and things like that. She did her very best.”
I asked Kozlova whether better attendance would have enabled the competition to remain in Boston. “It would have helped,” she said. “We still would have needed more donors, but if we did have a full house, that would have helped tremendously. But it did not happen. I was surprised, because in New York, if you stage some sort of ballet competition, there are lots of people in general coming from all sorts of schools. And I know that Boston has many ballet schools, and that’s why I was surprised that they were not there. Maybe it was the wrong time of year to do it. Maybe the kids had their own finals.”
It’s true that May and June are transitional months on the Boston arts calendar. It’s also likely that if Kozlova had been able to spend more money on publicity, more people would have shown up. But what the competition really needed, and what Kozlova couldn’t give it, was a year-round local base, and a founder with better local name recognition. “I think if I was in Boston,” she speculated, “if I was working in Boston, if I had danced before in Boston, I think it probably would have been a different story. But I was not there.”
Might Boston Ballet sponsor a competition at some point? Nissinen was doubtful. “We already do so many things, from outreach to all the things with the school,” he said. “I don’t think a competition would make sense. I don’t think it would make sense for any professional ballet company to organize a competition, to be honest.”
Kozlova, however, said she is not ruling out a role for Boston in the competition’s future.
“Competitions also can travel,” she pointed out. “There could be a New York branch and a Boston branch. It was in my head to have this sort of competition in different locations, not only in the United States but in the world. Boston just needs a little bit more time. I’m not able to do a competition next year in Boston the way I did in the past two years because it’s hard for me to bring people from New York to sponsor and support. I have to have local people. But I will continue to do the competition, and hopefully one day we will be able to return to Boston.”
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.