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Somebody Else's Dancers?


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#1 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 08:16 AM

Company changes directors. New director now takes over company full of dancers that someone else chose. All of them are good enough to be there, so they meet a general standard. Most have come from elsewhere, so they've transplanted themselves to this new city, some for a few years; they've bought homes in some cases, they've put down some roots. Maybe some of them are beginning to feel that this could be the place they stay in.
Now what is it that makes the new director feel that he/she has to make wholesale changes, let large numbers of dancers go, etc.? Should this be done with no consideration to the turmoil it causes in people's lives? Sometimes those who are released are corps de ballet; for the most part (and I think of particular instances here) who've made a career so far of fitting in with a group even if they dream of making soloist some day. What is it that makes a director let these people go right away, after seeing them, in most cases, for only a short while? Why don't directors make a bigger effort at making these people do different things?

[ March 08, 2002, 08:40 AM: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]

#2 Manhattnik

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 09:52 AM

I can think of a bunch of reasons.

Directors have cronies who need work.

Firing a bunch of dancers means that anyone with loyalties to the previous administration will either be history, or think long and hard about disagreeing with the new management.

It makes them look good to the board, as they can point to how busy they've been cleaning house and improving the standard of the company.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 09:58 AM

All excellent reasons, Manhattnik. I see a great future ahead of you -- the Mr. Fix It of ballet smile.gif

I think the "cronies who need work" is the key here -- I'd like to think it was artistic vision, but when was the last time you saw that? -- and also the fact that the ability to hire and fire is an index of power. It's building a power base and networking. I give a job to this teacher, who's connected to this network. This will help me down the line.

#4 Calliope

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 10:23 AM

Sometimes the board has something to do with the cronies as well.
The last issue of Vanity Fair covers Anne Bass and a run-in she had with Lincoln K. over at NYCB (it also covers her Fort Worth Ballet days).
With regard to dancers, sometimes salaries come into play as well as loyalties.

#5 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 10:44 AM

Power. Because they can. Why do most dancers who move into management, whether it's as AD's or other administrative positions, suddenly totally forget what it is like to be a dancer? I don't see this as much in ballet masters, but in many AD's and most certainly those who move into company administrative areas.

Perhaps because they lived through the years of being a dancer with little to no power at all? But even so, the WAY that power is often used brings many questions. The past does not justify a lack of humanity in dealing with human lives. Dealing with dancers is just not at all the same as dealing with individuals in major corporations. (Not that a lack of humanity is justified there, either, but dancers are artists and, I think, far more vulnerable as individuals than those in the "civilian" world.)

A new director is certainly entitled to a creative vision, and to make some changes in terms of realizing that vision. However, I feel that these need to be done over time, and after giving the dancers and other artists of the present regime an opportunity to work with the new vision. Changes can be made without charging in and sweeping out the place and starting over, assuming that there is a solid and well functioning company in place.

Time and patience are always at a premium in the lives of AD's, and even those with caring and compassion do succumb to these pressures, it seems. Their jobs are huge, and the demands on their time unbelievable. But making the time to do what they want to do in a way that does not destroy others should also be a top priority.

#6 Ari

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 12:35 PM

If the new AD is making a major change in the company's repertory and/or style, replacing dancers could be justified. If, for instance, the company previously emphasized straight dance ballets and the new director wanted to move more in the direction of dramatic works, and s/he knew that the existing dancers had no talent for acting, that could be a reason (though it would be politic to try them out first). Or if the company had previously had more of a modern dance outlook and the new director wanted to make it more classical, that would certainly be a valid reason.

#7 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 12:49 PM

but at the same time, ari, most of them don't seem to be able to spend enough time watching and testing the dancers in the intended direction to be able to make the right decision!

#8 Ari

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 01:32 PM

I don't know how long new directors spend watching and testing the dancers, Mme. Hermine, so you have me there. smile.gif

#9 dirac

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 03:10 PM

I don't think this is an issue peculiar to ballet. It happens in opera companies, too, and also in businesses, where it's de rigueur for a new CEO to bring in his own people, for practical reasons -- any leader wants lieutenants in place who are loyal to him -- and to show the board that he is Putting His Stamp on the company. New publishers taking over a newspaper will often bring in new editors and writers, for example, and it's not always what you call a graceful transition. I don't know if right or wrong really enters into it -- it's the way of the world. As Ari says, he can also have other motives that are more artistically justified, and sometimes it's just a mishmash of all of the above.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 03:52 PM

Ari, I agree that there can be justification for wholesale changes. For me, if there's an artistic reason -- a real one -- that forgives many sins. The examples you cited are good ones. It can even be as persnickety as "I don't like visible calf muscles" or "I must have highly arched and articulate feet." I think that kind of a balletmaster could make cuts after one class. Dancers with insufficient turnout, or dancers who, when standing in first position, have a space between the calves. There's one major American company that has, in its audition notices, height requirements. It will eventually be the tallest compoany in the world. I think it's women 5'5 to 5'8 and men 5'10 to 6'1.

I'm sure dirac is right that this is the way of the world, but "what's good enough for Enron is good enough for ballet" doesn't work for me. (I think it's been terrible in the publishing industry too. Every time I speak with my agent I hear about another group of editors -- with best-selling authors, who have performed well, who are team players, intelligent people -- let go from this or that publishing company because Mogul X has bought Grandfather Books.

#11 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 05:08 PM

Sometimes I get the feeling the Board expects complete turnover when they hire a new director. I even get the feeling in some instances that's even what they want.

In other cases, I have heard a board stipulate there will be no dancer firings (or only a maximum number, like three or four) for the first year of a new directorship. It's a very effective way to tell a new director they are interested in continuity.

#12 katharine kanter

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Posted 15 March 2002 - 02:20 PM

I assume some of the debate here has been prompted by the firing of Serguei Berejnoi and Tatiana Terekhova by Mr. Nissinen at Boston a fortnight ago. There are people on this planet who would give their eye-teeth to have that pair teaching with their company - Miss Terekhova has a fond spot in many a heart worldwide - so I doubt they'll be unemployed for long, but really, why do that ?

What would happen if each new conductor fired half the Berlin Philharmonic because he's suddenly decided he prefers the French fiddle school to the German ?

That's how one should see it I think: most company directors today do not see their dancers like a fledgling Berlin Philharmonic, potentially a truly great ensemble, moving forward like one man, with a vast repertory they know on the tips of their fingers.

No ! Dancers today have about the status of hoofers in a lineup from the Crazy Horse Saloon. Company directors move amongst the serried ranks of high-kickers, and retain those who appeal, or whatever... who knows...

I've quite literally heard of new directors coming in, looking round a class and saying things to the effect of "Good dancer, but Italianate type. I prefer a cooler, sleeker Nordic look".

Until we get back to the idea of classical dance as a branch of musical culture, rather than as a people-show to goggle at - Gwyneth Paltrow doing a fashion shot - we are going to be bicyling through heavy sauerkraut, as the French say.

#13 gigi

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Posted 15 March 2002 - 03:37 PM

Constant turnover in senior management of a company, paired with the oft-condoned purge-binge style of dancer and staff employment is incredibly unproductive from the perspective of fund-raising, audience-building, relationship-maintaining (choreographers, international reputation, etc.) and morale. Unless there is a fundamental problem with a company, Boards and the public ought not tolerate such practices. Boards should instead reward gradual change implemented, where a director must prove he or she is capable of making smart decisions and "developing" and organization. All too often we see a new AD or ED slash staff and throw out strategies, just to imprint his or her own mark on the organization - and how often does such a director actually have the experience or moral authority to do this?? As of late, most newly-appointed directors are accepting a major promotion and are relatively unproven at managing a comparably-sized organization (think Ross Stretton, Mikko Nissinen). Imagine new CEO Jeff Immelt firing all of GE's talent when taking over for Jack Welch, just to show he's different and he's in charge - this would rightly be considered stupid and irresponsible. Let's hold ballet companies to the same standard of intelligent leadership.

Whim is not something that should be applied to community cultural treasures. The public, which supports companies through ticket sales and government funding, but has no unified voice, deserves better. So do the dancers and employees of a company.

I question the Board that hires a director who will make wholesale changes to a company's repertoire and style. Drastic change would not be necessary if careful oversight were maintained to ensure the best mix of style and leadership at all times.

#14 LMCtech

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Posted 16 March 2002 - 06:29 PM

Sometimes it has to do with personality.

If the new AD can't stand this person he may have to work with, or if that person can't stand the AD or won't make the changes the AD wants, something has got to give and it will be the person lower down on the ladder.

I have said before that every AD has the right to have working for him or her people who can share his artistic vision or help him acheive it. Sometimes that has little to with talent or tenure or experience, but with personality.
For instance, I don't like working for micro-managers, if someone new was hired to be my boss that managed that way, either I would have to leave, or I would be fired. And it wouldn't be because I couldn't do my job, but because under the new conditionds I would no longer be able to do my job as effectively.

Dancers (and their managers) work VERY closely with one another, it is essential that they can respect each other. One personality conflict can ruin and entire ballet, ballet season, ballet company.

[ March 16, 2002, 06:33 PM: Message edited by: LMCtech ]


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