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Models of artistic directiontypes, changes, etc


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 08:01 AM

[This thread was moved from the Boston Ballet forum, where it had started as a discussion of ballet mistress Eva Evdokimova and morphed into a discussion of artistic directors in general.]

Some enterprising M.A. candidate should plot the growth of administrative staffs of ballet companies.

#2 mbjerk

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 08:12 AM

Plotting the growth is easy - begin in the 60's with one admin staff to every twenty to thirty dancers and end today with one admin staff per dancer. Between marketing, development, planning, board relations, etc. the staffing has grown exponentially. Much of this is due to the funding organizations giving monies for organizational planning and stabilaztion, which is needed but the old adage of what is rewarded becomes habit...

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 08:16 AM

That's my impression without doing the stats :D The first time I realized this was when I started the Ballet Alert! newsletter and really looked at the programs and other literature companies send out. I noticed the one-for-one ratio too. Another thing driving this, I think, is that dancers are retiring, or being forced out, at younger and younger ages, and it's hard to start a new career at 42, much less 32, especially if you're a high school drop out -- as the "real world" might term you.) This trend has coincided/collided with the Baby Boomers, so all of a sudden there are four, five, six times as many retired dancers as ever before. Equals: one administrative staffer for each dancer.

#4 mbjerk

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 08:25 AM

In a weird way dancers are seen as cost where admin staff are seen as revenue generating, especially those in marketing and development. Dancers are the product, so to me it is strange to cut the product and keep the sales force - what do they sell?

Similarly older dancers are seen as more costly - less minutes danced with higher salaries - and younger dancers dance more with much lower salaries. There is often a tension between older principals and younger dancers. The trend in most companies seems to be a chain - get rid of the older, more expensive, push the younger less expensive and fill in with the school at no cost. I cannot imagine the discussions held between artistic, executive and board on this issue. It is not fair to generalize, but this is in evidence in several companies over the last five years.

Of course in a dream world you keep the older principals to dance, coach and provide examples of work ethic, artistry and company loyalty. But many fields have this issue - look at upper, middle management in corporations, basketball teams, and the theater.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 08:32 AM

Gosh, I wonder if there could just possibly be a connection to all of this and THE FACT THAT THEY'RE NOT SELLING TICKETS!!!!!

growl grumble grumble -- new emoticons needed!

It's not just older principals, it's older corps, too. There were corps dancers -- with satisfying careers, people doing a lot of soloist and demisoloist roles; "top corps" -- who danced until 40. Now you're out at 26. And that means the 25 year olds do their best to look and dance as though they're 16. (Not saying that 16 year olds aren't wonderful to watch; they are. I don't want a ballet company too have no one under 35. Diversity -- odd that in an age where everyone is clamoring to "put America on stage" ballet companies are becoming less and less diverse.

#6 fendrock

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 09:23 AM

As a Boston Ballet subscriber, I received a postcard about my tickets which included the note that the entire box office would be closed (can't remember if it was for 1 week or 2) for an unpaid vacation, which ALL staff would be taking at staggered intervals throughout the year.

I do know the school staff was pruned, and that they are not replacing some school administrative staff as they leave.

So I do think they are trying to make prudent cuts to the budget.

I've wanted for some time to start a new thread in response to an article in the Globe about Nissenen's changes at the Boston Ballet. Seems that many are leaving, some voluntarily. The issue raised in the article was that a new AD wants to form a company in his own image, as it were.

What is the relationship between building a company in the AD's image and the dancers with which he/she has to work? Is it an artistic vision being fulfilled, or is it similar to a new CEO replacing key staff members with his people?

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 09:31 AM

What is the relationship between building a company in the AD's image and the dancers with which he/she has to work? Is it an artistic vision being fulfilled, or is it similar to a new CEO replacing key staff members with his people?

Fendrock, you've pointed to one of the central changes/issues in ballet today. It's often the latter, I think. And in some cases there is no artistic vision, because often ADs get the job because they're dancers who've had to stop dancing and need a job, or they've spent the last five years of their career thinking, "If I were in charge...." but without having a view of ballet larger than their own careers.

Sometimes, of course, there is a director with an artistic vision -- Tomasson in San Francisco, Villella in Miami (although he was starting a company rather than changing an existing one, I believe), Ib Andersen in Phoenix, and now Chris Stowell in Eugene, Oregon. And then they may have to change artistic and even administrative staff to do this.

I really don't know which is the case in Boston. There, the board's vision seems to be, "We want a big time company. Make it happen." That doesn't mean Nissinen doesn't have an artistic vision, of course -- we'll know on a year or two :D He seems to be making the company over in the image of San Francisco Ballet, or using SFB as a model. That could be a very good thing. Irony is, it's not that different a model from what Bruce Marks was doing -- sometimes boards, who don't understand what it takes to make a ballet company run, but only look to externals -- box office receipts, press coverage -- don't look at the big picture either.

#8 mbjerk

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 09:55 AM

But an AD does have a taste in dancers, in a style of working and in a performance quality. It is not unusual for a new AD to take a year with the existing dancers and then start to work toward his (in this case) taste. This happens even without a vision for the company. It may also be that the board wants a big company and the AD uses his taste to fill the dancers and rep without having a urgent sense of what his big company should look like. Also dancers may find the new AD not what they want and move on. In my experience, most who leave after the first year do so for two reasons: they were leaving anyway but waited to see what was up with the new regime or they want to dance in a differing way or amount that the new AD requires.

Sort of like decorating a house one room at a time using the existing furniture, perhaps refurbishing some. One has taste and style, but does not yet have an overall plan for the house. Due to time, money or sentimental reasons one throws out only what one truly cannot stand and works with the rest. Until that moment when new furniture can be bought or made. And there are times when one room is so different and fantastic that you go back and redo others to match.

The difficulty is this is so subjective and most AD's are not communicative about what they want to see. Even Balanchine and Ashton did not answer directly questions about what their visions were. They did it and it evolved over time. Both however had favorite dancers and ways of doing things.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 10:37 AM

I love your house-furnishing analogy -- I think it's very apt. (My only tiny quibble is that Ashton and Balanchine built very good houses which isn't always the case with our Home Improvement types today :D )

I'm going to break this thread off, because I'm afraid that our comments about directing in general might be taken as criticisms of Mr. Nissinen in particular, and, when we got into theory, I don't think that was the intention. So I'm going to move this over to Issues and will close the thread until the split/move has been accomplished -- thanks!

#10 mbjerk

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 11:09 AM

Yes, but many thought the houses these two were building in the 30 - 60s (particularly Balanchine) did not fit in the neighborhood at the time.

To go further, these two did not have to deal with zoning, permits and building codes that most ADs deal with today - boards, unions, competion from other massive amounts of various entertainment media, etc.

Finally, I spoke with an executive director of over thirty years. His take on this was that he missed the practical "Ballet Russe attitude" AD - one who when faced with difficulties had a first responsse of how do we make this work for the best possbile performance? These days he finds that ADs (and dancers) have an entitlement attitude - well it has to be this way or it is not possible and that attitude does not allow for compromise to maintain quality while moving forward. It also leads to deficits and careless spending.

Here it is hard as companies differ in size, controls, etc.

#11 fendrock

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 11:28 AM

As a person who is not knowledgeable about ballet, I'd be interested to know the parameters within which these artistic directors are making adjustments.

I guess the most obvious is body type and a certain Look --

What are the others? Unsuitablility for dancing the repertory in which the AD is interested? -- but surely most experienced dancers in a top company would be flexible enough to adjust, and would in many cases appreciate the chance to try new thing.s

(As an aside, not sure that members of a ballet would appreciate being just "part of the furniture..." )

#12 mbjerk

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 12:09 PM

Why do you buy TIDE instead of CHEER or OXYCLEAN? They all clean clothes. Often the same logic goes into selecting dancers at this high a level. At the level of a Boston or ABT there are soooo many good dancers that the AD's choices are this subjective.

That is the difficulty in forecasting casting and the fun in analyzing what goes on. There are definite things: technical ability with ease, acting ability, looks, physicality, musicality, work ethic, casting appropriateness, willingness to do what is asked for, willingness to keep quiet, all the things in a "normal" work environment also apply: office politics, team work, personal chemistry, etc. How many times have you looked at pormotions or casting and wondered how that happened because you thought that person did not deserve or was wrong for the part or other reasons it does not fit. It is not possible to guess the inner thoughts of the people in control of the decisions beyond a certain standard of dancer (and sometimes not even that).

It is very hard to make students understand that after a certain point it boils down to luck and taste. They must focus on making themselves the best they can be. If they are good enough to be considered, then that is about all they can control - there most probably is not an objective reason that you did not get the job or accepted into the program. Students (and dancers) are often frustrated when they ask "what can I do to get in" and are told nothing save that "you are a good dancer, but not right for us."

#13 Ari

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 12:39 PM

In a weird way dancers are seen as cost where admin staff are seen as revenue generating, especially those in marketing and development.  Dancers are the product, so to me it is strange to cut the product and keep the sales force - what do they sell?

The company I work for, which has nothing to do with ballet, has exactly the same value system. It's trying to force those whose job it is to put out the product to concentrate instead on administrative matters. Those of us who still care about the quality of the product have to be surreptitious about the amount of time we spend attending to it. And we also have the problem of older, more experienced, higher paid employees being replaced by cheaper younger people without substantive experience.

So I think the problem is not exclusive to arts organizations; rather, it's the corrupting influence of corporate America, which nowadays is being run by MBAs instead of people who care about the company. Whatever happened to the mantra of "excellence" so popular in the 80s?

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 02:23 PM

:D Ouch! Careful here, there are MBAs involved in this discussion (not I, however). One that I know about, though, is responsible for the creation of individual one-of-a-kind product masterpieces, so there's a vested, emotional, and artistic tie to the end user - the consumer!

#15 mbjerk

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 02:46 PM

I agree with Ari to the extent that MBA's bring a quantifiable focus to the discussion, This is healthy, but there are unquantifiable, intangible reasons to keep people ona and continue to do things in the same way. It is hard to quantify the costs over the next wo years of releasing someone with ten years experiece . The new people must be trained, climb the learning curve and create cost through multiple mistakes and taking longer to do things - these add cost. A lot of this is fuzzy data, so not used in a cost benefit analysis. Not to mention the lessened productivity due to falling morale and shiifting loyalties. The people do follow the if it ain't broke don't fix it and these MBA's first job should be to explain why it is broken and how those doing the work should design the fix.

Mel - you do have an MBA - Master of Ballet Arts - harder and longer to achieve than my Master's of Business.

MBA's, like Executive Directors, are brought in from the outside as fresh, educated eyes. They do not know the history or culture of the company (dance or corporate) and that is often by design. Unfortunately they do not take the time to learn of these important things and are therefore seen as arrogant and disrespectful. In my consulting days, listening to the why and how of the company was crucial to explaing the why and how of changes necessary to change the company in the direction the analysis pointed. Rallying the troops to the cause gets more done than telling them what they have done for so many years is wrong.


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