BALTIMORE -- The Maryland Ballet has laid off 12 dancers and canceled three performances because of a budget crunch.

The five-year-old company decided last week to go on "hiatus" after realizing it had several bills even after taking in $80,000 from holiday performances of "The Nutcracker," officials said yesterday.

Board President John Kohler II said the ballet needed $60,000 to continue operating this year and was moving up a planned February fund-raiser to get it. He said he expects the ballet to continue performing after the money comes in.

"We want to have money in the till before we go ahead" with the season, he said.

The company's dance school, which has about 100 students, has not been affected by the layoffs, said Artistic Director Phillip Carman.

The ballet initiated the layoffs because of a delay in an expected contribution from a corporate donor and rejection of a $40,000 grant request from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kohler said.

NEA spokesman Josh Dare said agency policy prohibited him from saying why the application had been rejected.

The Maryland Ballet, which has an annual operating budget of $325,000, about a third of which comes from ticket sales, began operating as the Harbor City Ballet five years ago, shortly after the Baltimore Ballet went bankrupt.