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Models of artistic directiontypes, changes, etc


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#16 Ari

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 04:06 PM

:D  Ouch!  Careful here, there are MBAs involved in this discussion (not I, however).

Mel, I'm well aware that mbjerk has an MBA. However, he no is longer employed in the corporate world, and speaks of it with detachment. It never occurred to me that he might think that my comments were directed at him; if he did, I apologize.

#17 carbro

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Posted 12 July 2003 - 08:29 PM

Once upon a time, there was no New York City Ballet, no American Ballet Theater, no Royal Ballet, etc., etc. :dry: There came upon the respective lands people like Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine, Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith, and Ninette de Valois and Frederic Ashton. These were fiercely driven individuals with clear visions of ballet companies they wanted to develop. From nothing, they scraped together companies by gathering groups of dancers, creating repertoires, and ultimately, establishing administrative staffs. The early years were often touch-and-go, with short seasons and dancers having to find other jobs for most of the year.

This highly motivated generation of ballet entrepreneurs grew old and died :D and left behind major ballet companies, each with a distinct profile reflective of the founder/s, and each more secure than during most of the time they had been in existence. There was a new generation eager to head these companies. They did not have to define their vision. They did not have to expose themselves to the same degree of personal risk. They did not have to figure out how to keep a bare-bones organization viable. They just stepped in and were crowned King/Queen (in Jane Hermann's case, and now Monica Mason's) of the ready-made company.

I really believe that the survival of the fledgling companies was due to the intense drive of its founders and intense vision of its early artistic staff. The new generation never had to prove its worthiness in ways that the the pioneering generation did. And when people were noticing that all three were declining at the same time -- all with the departure of the first generation ADs -- it was no mere coincidence.

Under the circumstances, I don't know how you find a person who can wear all the necessary hats. The New York companies have elevated the the status of the administrative head, but these tend to be imported personnel. But I don't believe that nicely pointed feet and clean double air-turns qualify anyone for any behind-the-scenes job. :shrug:

Edited by carbro, 12 July 2003 - 08:54 PM.


#18 mbjerk

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 03:03 AM

I did not take any offense Ari. Actually, I was trying to figure out who the MBA was that created the products!

As with any academic education, there are many gaps when presented with the real world. The same for dance students who arrive at a company - what a difference than school or even apprenticeship!

Cabro's post is great! It happens in business also. How many start up manufacturing firms are there? It is all hi-tech as that is the open field.

#19 grace

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 05:32 AM

there are lots of thought-provoking posts here, on a type of topic which i normally shy away from reading. (i feel " :devil: " for monica mason, when i read carbro's words, though...she really IS someone who is every bit as driven and dedicated etc etc as those revered/named ballet founders.)

i recognise SOME of what's talked about here, but i think our situation in australia is not as extreme as yours. certainly ballet companies started out with ONE PERSON at the helm, with the vision - but with lots of UNPAID helpers and amateur enthusiasts to fill out gaps - i don't mean onstage (although that happened too).

now, where i live, a ballet company would have perhaps half as many staff as dancers...until you got up to the larger companies, when the figure might become something like 1 staff to every 4 dancers. it certainly is a major shift, when looked at that way, in not-so-many years, really.

my take on it, is that this change has been driven here by:-

1. financial need (as volunteer efforts got stripped away, and government funding has been repeatedly slashed), and

2. increasing audience sophistication. i don't mean that the BALLET audience is increasingly sophisticated, but that the public in general has more choices about what to do with its time, and is far more demanding now, than it used to be (thanks to TV, movies, special effects, computers, MTV, etc etc)

i appreciated reading this profile:

...the practical "Ballet Russe attitude" AD - one who, when faced with difficulties, had a first response of 'how do we make this work, for the best possible performance?'

These days ...ADs (and dancers) have an entitlement attitude - "well it has to be this way, or it is not possible"...

i think a lot of THIS attitude change stems from legal changes (such as union laws which prevent amateurs appearing onstage with professionals), and increased sophistication about legal matters (such as copyright, for example).

#20 gigi

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 05:28 AM

I'm an MBA too. Trust me - the MBAs involved with ballet companies are there because they truly love the art form and want to use their skills, energy and connections to help arts organizations succeed. There are many other (higher paying) options one would pursue otherwise...

The primary focus of an MBA is development of leadership skills - how to inspire others, how to build a cohesive organization, how to create a vision and an actionable plan to achieve that vision. If you look at the great ADs and EDs over time, they have exhitibed these capabilities.

I live in Boston. I feel sorry for the dancers and the administrative team. Morale is clearly low, and the dancers' employment and professional development prospects have been unstable for many years now with the numerous changes in direction. You can feel their stress from the audience. I don't think the company can be turned around overnight.

#21 Alexandra

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 05:59 AM

Quick administrative note -- gigi (and others reading this thread who are also dedicated MBAs, I hope you've noticed the new Arts Admin forum).

More substantive comment. I know that there are people working in arts administration who are truly dedicated and care deeply about the art form. But there are also some who don't know much about the art form beyond loving it -- don't know how ballet companies as institutions work, don't understand the difference between art and hamburgers.

Re the Boston situation -- I think gigi is absolutely right. The situation (here, or anywhere with a similar situation) can't be changed overnight. We can only hope that the new direction wants to stabilize things and pay attenton to morale, and will be able to do so.

#22 mbjerk

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 08:23 AM

Alexandra stated what I meant - that one must experience the industry in order to be most effective. Also in professions, without that experience the professionals will not listen no matter how beneficial the advice. Believe I know how hard it is to give up that mid-range six figure salary for the salary I have now!

I like to say that companies are like ocean liners - hard to turn about quickly. What one can do is change a deck or two (or sometimes even just a stateroom) and start the tugs working on turning the ship. The captain (AD) must have a clear course in order to use the tugs effectively. Where MBA's can help is in how to place the tugs, which decks need attention, and what/when to tell the passengers, crew and owners as the ship changes course.

Sometimes it helps to send out the launch to see what is ahead too!

#23 fendrock

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Posted 27 July 2003 - 02:30 PM

This topic, to a certain extent, has come full circle.

How do we know that the situation at the Boston Ballet is akin to an ocean liner changing direction?

Is something dreadfully wrong, or is it simply a case of an artistic director who wants to make a mark?

If the direction is changing, what might be the nature of that change, and why does it require a change in dancers?

#24 citibob

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Posted 27 July 2003 - 06:04 PM

I resonate with Carbro. I might point out that the original regional companies --- just about everything but the original efforts in NYC and SF --- had a different genesis from, say, NYCB. They were not started on a shoestring by a visionary. Rather, they were started after Balanchine had made a splash and there was funding to establish ballet companies in the rest of the country. These companies appeared on the scene relatively quickly. Many major, well-funded American ballet companies NEVER had a visionary period like that of NYCB and George Balanchine.

As for changes with new AD's and stuff --- one has to expect that when management changes, dancers will change. Dancers came because they liked what they saw in the old management. When the new management comes, they may not like it as much --- it is a choice foisted upon them, rather than one they made. This is not to say anything good or bad about the new management. It's only natural to look around at that time and ask "is this really what I want?" I think this happens in any corporate setting. Similarly, the AD should have some leeway in working with dancers he thinks he can work well with.

Personally: if my AD were replaced, I would almost certainly leave with him --- or simply leave.

Is something dreadfully wrong at BB? I have no clue. But I see little evidence of it from what people have said in this thread. There's nothing worse than being hired as a manager or director of something and then not be allowed to manage or direct as you best know how.

#25 mbjerk

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Posted 27 July 2003 - 06:35 PM

I was not referring to Boston in particular, only to large companies in general. To my knowledge there have been no cases where a director has come in and changed dancers, rep, board and vision in only two years. Usually it is a three to five year process and that is why most new ADs request a four to five year contract. It takes time - that is the nature of the beast.

With respect ot Boston, those that I know in and around the company are supportive of what is happening and understanding of the budget compromises necessary in these times. I make no judgement as I am not there, nor have any personal connections. Please take my opinions as generic for large, classically based companies. These companies are very different from smaller, choregrapher/AD based.

#26 fendrock

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Posted 31 July 2003 - 06:11 AM

Okay, maybe this deserves its own thread, but I had another, related thought --

how does the company school relate to the artistic director and his/her ability to build a company that fits his/her artistic vision?

As an example, Balanchine founded a school for his company, whereas some artistic directors now have virtually no relation with the company-related school at all.


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