Is that a shrink wrap?
Late last year, Live Performance Australia (LPA) released its 2022 Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report. This document compiles statistics collected this year for ticket sales over 2022, the first year of revival after the torrid Covid lockdowns.
The news regarding the Covid recovery looks good. The report shows that ticket sales in many of the art forms have bounced back to levels similar to those immediately before the lockdowns.
In the ballet and dance category, ticket sales rebounded from the lowest levels in 2020 and 2021, "returning to pre-COVID levels of activity". In 2020, during the lockdowns, attendances dropped to 137,389 from the previous year’s 803,472. By 2022 the attendances had bounced back to 740,572 – still below what they were before the pandemic, but within shouting distance.
Musical theatre results were especially outstanding. In 2020, 729,099 attendances were recorded; in 2022 that number leapt to 4,269,750.
Total revenue for 2022 was $2 billion while ticketed attendance reached 24.2 million in 2022. Yahoo! As LPA Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson states: ‘Australians love live performance, and more people attended a contemporary music performance than the AFL, more saw a musical theatre show than the NRL, and theatre attracted bigger audiences than the A-League."
These figures are encouraging in regard to Covid. But, for ballet and dance attendances, a longer look reveals some alarming statistics, regardless of the pandemic.
The report lists attendance and revenue figures since LPA first began collecting them in 2004. It shows that, in 2007, the number of people who attended ballet and dance was 1,457,306 – twice the 2022 figure. Audiences remained around the million mark until 2011, and since then have been steadily declining - to just more than 800,000 in 2018. We are nowhere back near that 2007 figure.
Musical theatre, in comparison, has climbed steadily from 1,847,505 in 2004.
So why the decline in ballet and dance?
Ticket Attendance and Revenue Report figures are collected on LPA’s behalf by Ernst and Young accountants. They are compiled from information supplied by most of the major and regional performing arts venues and NPAP (National Performing Arts Partnership) companies – the major mainstream companies funded by the Federal Government. Aside from Dancenorth, which has NPAP status, this means that very few of the small to medium companies or independents are counted, which makes the report an incomplete picture. There may be numerous factors that can't be explained in a list of figures.
Nonetheless, they are worrying. Could they reflect the declining government investment in dance? The best ticket increases in 2022, the report shows, are thanks to performances by the Australian Ballet of Harlequinade, Kunstkamer and Romeo and Juliet. These are big productions with huge amounts of money invested. In comparison, companies like ADT and Australasian Dance Collective, try as they might, simply can’t compete for big audiences when they are reduced to tiny numbers of dancers and don't have the resources to do the productions that pull larger audiences, let alone the marketing and promotions they need.
Artistic achievement is not measured in numbers and revenue. Nonetheless, these figures certainly confirm my impression that dance in Australia has shrunk, and it’s not just because of Covid.
– KAREN VAN ULZEN
View report here.