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Labor Pains at TWB


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#46 Bill

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Posted 10 January 2006 - 09:13 AM

It's an interesting situation in DC; the Washington Ballet is not functioning and the visibility of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet has increased, with the staging of Don Q and Ms. Farrell's Kennedy Center honors. I imagine that all parties, including individual dancers and company staffers, are reviewing their options.

#47 Hans

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Posted 11 January 2006 - 07:57 AM

I should hope not. It would be terrible to lose my favorite local company! :)

#48 koshka

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Posted 11 January 2006 - 09:52 AM

Fret not (yet!), Hans--I think that Bill's comment is more like a "Hmmmm, what might happen". Face it, a couple of dozen dancers are out of work for the duration and there is a growing company in town.

Given that the Feb. and Mar. performances have been cancelled, we can only hope that WB can work things out now that there is less time pressure than there was during the Nutcracker.

#49 Bill

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Posted 11 January 2006 - 12:51 PM

Fret not (yet!), Hans--I think that Bill's comment is more like a "Hmmmm, what might happen". 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Yes indeed, Koshka - that's how I meant it. And as a DC ballet fan, I'd love both companies to thrive.

#50 Bill

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 06:58 PM

In the Links section, Dirac posted this story about developments in the WB labor dispute:

http://www.backstage...t_id=1001881538

#51 koshka

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 10:43 AM

WAMU (88.5) has a segment on the WB situation right now.

I'd imagine it will be available on line later.

A few notes from the broadcast.

Main page for today's WAMU show about the WB dispute

First they had on Chip Coleman, Luis Torres (WB dancers) and Washington Post critic Sarah Kaufman. One of the callers was from AGMA. They all basically talked a bit about what the lives and careers of dancers are like (short and demanding), and about how the contract was basically "industry standard".

The topic of what brought things to an impasse at a maximally inconvenient time was not discussed. Alas, I was not quite quick-thinking enough to ask this question by calling or emailing in.

In the second half, Septime Webre was on. To my ear, he presented himself quite well in the sense that he was quite ready to lay out exactly which conditions were easy to agree on and which were not.

He said that in December, management was willing to agree immediately to the working conditions/health part of the proposed contract, and he further claimed that the proposed contract health/hours/etc. terms were roughly in line with WB practices already.

In addition, he gave some interesting figures on the growth of WB since his arrival 7 years ago (3000+ subscribers now vs. 725 before, budget up about 100-150%, etc.) and indicated that he thought a union was standard and appropriate for a company of WB's current size.

Webre laid out four points of (apparently continuing) contention:
1. Use of WSB students in WB productions other than Nut. He sees it as a casting question to be handled by the AD (himself). The dancers see it as a way of using cheap/free labor.

2. Size of the company: dancers want a guarantee that it will be fixed; management wants flexibility.

3. Hiring/firing decisions: the union wants these to be subject to review, to ensure that only artistic considerations (rather than, for example, union organizing activity) come into play.

4. Can't remember. :-(

All in all, an interesting broadcast.

#52 bart

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Posted 24 January 2006 - 01:54 PM

Thanks for that report, koshka. With (2), I have to go with the management, which has ultimate responsibility for budget (and therefore size). But with (1) and (3), it seems that some way of protecting the dancers from unfair practices and giving them a part in such decisions should be institutionalized. Either way, these don't seem insuperable disagreements. Hope they work it out!

#53 Mike Gunther

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 06:07 PM

WAMU (88.5) has a segment on the WB situation right now....
Webre laid out four points of (apparently continuing) contention:
...
4. Can't remember.  :-(

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Koshka, thanks for this. After listening to the broadcast, point 4 is the union's demand for a three-year contract for current dancers. The industry standard, I believe, is annual reviews. A three-year contract is wanted, in this case, in order to protect the current dancers from retaliation for union activity.

As a long-time subscriber (from the Choo San Goh era!) I'm bummed-out about the current season, but I feel even more concerned about the long-time viability of the company. WB has reneged on its local (Nut), national (NY), and international commitments; the company's resulting loss of credibility with presenting organizations, audiences, and donors must be very serious, and will take many years to overcome, no matter what the outcome of current negotiations.

It's clear from published news stories that management and the union are both playing hardball. My personal sympathies are with our dancers, because I know how hard they work and how beautifully they expresss their art. They sincerely feel, and have repeatedly said in print, that they have been required to work outside their "safety zone" - physically, psychologically. This is the primary issue.

Having spent a long career in large corporations, I think that I am able to recognize a breakdown in trust when I see it. Artists need (and deserve, as human beings) a basic level of security and trust to perform their best. When that trust is broken, in my experience, it is almost always due to improper management, and in my considered opinion it is up to management at all levels (AD, ED, Board) to take on the duty and responsibility to make things right.

#54 koshka

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 06:44 AM

WAMU (88.5) has a segment on the WB situation right now....
Webre laid out four points of (apparently continuing) contention:
...
4. Can't remember.  :-(

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


point 4 is the union's demand for a three-year contract for current dancers. The industry standard, I believe, is annual reviews. A three-year contract is wanted, in this case, in order to protect the current dancers from retaliation for union activity.


<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Throughout this I've had trouble figuring out whether the "3 year" contract was to be for each dancer (I would expect "management" to find that unacceptable) or for the terms between AGMA and management, with annual reviews for each dancer but some oversight / review options for nonrenewals of contracts.

Can anybody clarify?

#55 Golden Gate

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 10:04 AM

1. Use of WSB students in WB productions other than Nut. He sees it as a casting question to be handled by the AD (himself). The dancers see it as a way of using cheap/free labor.



I was so wrapped up in Colorado Ballet's Nutcracker that I didn't surface for air until recently, and I was aware that this was happening (it's a small dance world), but I'd like a little clarification on this one part... forgive me, but I don't understand why this is an issue... CB uses the academy students/apprentices in many of their productions; this season we've done Sleeping Beauty, Nut, and we are about to dive into Cinderella... all of these productions have included parts for the littler ones... and they are very excited to be in them - mutually beneficial... they get to dance with the company, the company gets a full scale production... the students get a choice, it's not a requisite role... the apprentices are paid a very nominal sum, but again, they get the experience with it too...
Is it different because of the unionization? CB just unionized but it doesn't take effect until the fall season, so I am unfamiliar with the intricacies of that environment as yet.
Can someone clarify please?
Thanks!!
Golden Gate

#56 koshka

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 10:35 AM

_As far as I know_ the issue is not whether students can be used in children's roles. For these cases there are waivers and in any case I don't think that it's the use of students _in children's roles_ that the dancers find unacceptable.

The issue is the [unlimited] use of upper-level students as part of the corps, or, in other words, as substitutes for company members.

Students are paid less and are not unionized.

#57 vrsfanatic

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 11:10 AM

Golden Gate, I am not up on the latest edition of AGMA rules, but it used to be that extra dancers had to be paid a fee for performances of any sort. This included any children's roles in Nutcracker also. My only experience of being paid as an extra dancer in an AGMA company was back in the 1970s when we "students" were paid a per perfomance fee for our roles in Nutcracker or any other programs we performed in. This is one reason many companies have tried to keep the union out. It obviously can be a big financial commitment.

Maybe someone else has more recent information? :wink:

#58 Anne74

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 09:06 PM

Whether or not students are paid for their appearances with the main company depends upon the company. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.

The reasons why professional dancers are wary of an artistic management using excessive numbers of students? For one thing, it is demeaning psychologically and artistically to be a professional dancer onstage surrounded by students. Secondly, it is morally reprehensible for a management to consistently use extremely cheap or free labor to do the same exact work as highly trained professionals. Of course, it is common and accepted practice to use advanced students to fill out the corps de ballet in large ballets, and to have those performance opportunities stand as both training for them and as a sort of "test" of their readiness to become professional. The real issue arises when those students are used consistently in more than corps roles, or as the backbone of a corps de ballet, in place of mature artists. If there is no limit on what they can do, what's to stop the management from eventually using large numbers of unpaid students around a handful of seasoned dancers, and calling it a professional company?

#59 Golden Gate

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 09:19 PM

Whether or not students are paid for their appearances with the main company depends upon the company.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.

The reasons why professional dancers are wary of an artistic management using excessive numbers of students?  For one thing, it is demeaning psychologically and artistically to be a professional dancer onstage surrounded by students.  Secondly, it is morally reprehensible for a management to consistently use extremely cheap or free labor to do the same exact work as highly trained professionals.  Of course, it is common and accepted practice to use advanced students to fill out the corps de ballet in large ballets, and to have those performance opportunities stand as both training for them and as a sort of "test" of their readiness to become professional.  The real issue arises when those students are used consistently in more than corps roles, or as the backbone of a corps de ballet, in place of mature artists.  If there is no limit on what they can do, what's to stop the management from eventually using large numbers of unpaid students around a handful of seasoned dancers, and calling it a professional company?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


...THAT puts it in a whole different light. I wasn't aware that companies were in the practice of doing that, and I agree, it is wrong. We all raised our eyebrows when one of the dancers in our Artist I company (three levels down from a principal) was cast (albeit 3rd cast, but still...) in a the roll of Princess Aurora in the fall production of Sleeping Beauty, but that is the first time I've seen unusual casting here... hadn't occurred to me that it might happen elsewhere, and I applaud the dancers who are trying to make sure it doesn't continue. I believe those roles are prestigious and must be earned through hard work and determination over a period of time... not given politically/for financial benefit to the company.
Thanks for the eye opener!

GG

#60 Helene

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 09:34 PM

...THAT puts it in a whole different light.  I wasn't aware that companies were in the practice of doing that, and I agree, it is wrong.  We all raised our eyebrows when one of the dancers in our Artist I company (three levels down from a principal) was cast (albeit 3rd cast, but still...) in a the roll of Princess Aurora in the fall production of Sleeping Beauty, but that is the first time I've seen unusual casting here... hadn't occurred to me that it might happen elsewhere, and I applaud the dancers who are trying to make sure it doesn't continue.  I believe those roles are prestigious and must be earned through hard work and determination over a period of time... not given politically/for financial benefit

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Are Artist I's part of the school and not the company?


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