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NYCB Dancers Cut

102 posts in this topic

Simon,

I can assure you that this is one of the most strictly moderated boards that I have ever been on, and if I came remotely close to libel, I would have been editted - and likely banned - many posts ago. Each post that I have made has been with an extreme emphasis on the fact I am only offering a potential counterpoint to the mass feeling of "Shame on the NYCB".

The one statement that you've posted that I agree 100% with is "we don't know anything, except the facts as presented". And the facts, as presented, are that the New York City Ballet is currently in a financial crisis and has laid off eleven corps members". That is ALL we know. And the fact that that is all we know is largely - if not entirely - what my point in this has been all along.

We see the dancers as dancers. We do not see them as people. We do not see them as employees. We do not see them as students. We do not see them in rehersals. We do not see them in dressing rooms. We do not see them as anything that comes remotely near a complete picture. And therefore we are not in the position to make statements such as "it's a shame that his worth was held in such low regard." You accuse ME of making potentially damaging statements, but I speak particularly BECAUSE of statements such as the one you just said. Who are you to know what regard Max Van Der Sterre was held in? Who are you to know the pain behind the decisions that were made? Who are you to know the factors that led up to the decisions? And what kind of damage do you think it does to the company to have accusations made about how poorly and unfairly things are run when we do not begin to fathom anything that happens behind closed doors?

I have not stated, nor do I believe that "people of worth" are never let go. That would be an absolutely absurd statement - particularly in the current economy. What I have said, is we are NOT aware of what goes on backstage. And when the time comes that difficult decisions must be made - particularly in an enviroment such as the NYCB - those decisions are based on an extremely complicated equation. I see no reason to believe that someone who has dedicated his life to the New York City Ballet would take these decisions lightly and I refuse to jump on to the "Shame on the NYCB bandwagon." I do not claim that I have all the answers, but I do recognize that someone who works with these dancers day in and day out has a better understanding of the big picture than I do from the orchestra seats.

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[moderator beanie on]

Speaking of strictly moderated :)

We're not out of line, but we are starting to go in circles at this point.

People have stated their positions and re-stated them for good measure. Some of it comes down to a wider issue of salaries and labor and people's sense of fairness - we're probably not going to change many more minds at this point.

[moderator beanie off]

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[moderator beanie on]

Speaking of strictly moderated :)

.............. - we're probably not going to change many more minds at this point.

[moderator beanie off]

Agreed, but I just have to get in my two cents worth!

What we do know, is that the official reason given by the company was financial. At least one dancer was told "we can't afford to keep you". Then in The Times: "Mr. Tabachnick confirmed that an undisclosed number of new corps members would be promoted from the ranks of eight apprentices". This makes it clear there were more considerations than saving money. Saying this for publication is hurtful for the dancers, and their professional reputations.

Now I give Peter Martins credit for at least speaking directly to each individual dancer, rather than sending a letter, as MCB did. I do think it would have been better, kinder, albeit more difficult for him, to have an honest talk with each dancer about why they were singled out. If they haven't a clue, how can they grow from this experience? Sometimes dancers don't realize they are projecting a bored attitude in rehearsal, or their absence from a huge co. class is noticed, and seen as lack of a work ethic when in fact they are paying for a more demanding class elsewhere. Perhaps they aren't a good fit for this co. in style or body type, but would be valued by a different co. There is no way to avoid the pain that results from being fired, but a little guidance might make the transition to the next step easier.

Thinking of the Cunningham debacle on top of this, I wish management would stop making things worse by making ill considered comments in the press!

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That is an entirely different Kistler issue. The debate over whether Kister should remain in the company has nothing to do with Helene's assessment that Martins thoughts should have been along the lines of "I make a lot of money. My wife makes an above average amount of money. Therefore bringing down the ax on someone who makes less money is bad form."

That is the equivalent of picking which corps members to cut based on which one of them has a trust fund or is married to a wealthy spouse.

The corps member is not the head of a company who is making the decision to not renew a contract, but who could make a sacrifice to save someone else's livelihood. There's not logic that makes these equivalent.

An example of something somewhat equivalent would be a corps member -- or soloist or principal -- with a trust fund or a wealthy spouse who volunteers to leave the company so that his or her salary could be used to save someone else's job. But as Apollinaire Scherr pointed out in her blog, a dancer's life is short, and his/her earning years are limited, and a dancer making such a sacrifice is not the same as one made by a company head who has made a substantial salary for a number of years.

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I too am trying to see this from both sides. In my view, the Union should have been brought into this. On Broadway with Actor's Equity they have a "show cause" clause that mandates that management must "show cause" for dismissal and all sides have the opportunity to be heard. A recognized, valid reason for dismissal must be proved. Management cannot simply fire or release someone.

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I too am trying to see this from both sides. In my view, the Union should have been brought into this. On Broadway with Actor's Equity they have a "show cause" clause that mandates that management must "show cause" for dismissal and all sides have the opportunity to be heard. A recognized, valid reason for dismissal must be proved. Management cannot simply fire or release someone.

Mimsyb,

I agree with Leigh that this is going round the houses and getting nowhere, especially as we're now firmly in the realm of speculation and conjecture.

Safe to say there are two opposing viewpoints here: Those who feel deeply for the dancers involved and who for some time have been disenchanted with the management and artistic policy of NYCB: And those who view the massive payments of the top tier administration as deserved and feel that the dancers may in some way have brought their sackings on themselves. It's time that both sides agree to disagree.

However, Mimsyb, as has been stated here the corps are on one year contracts - the AGMA contracts for NYCB are downloadable at the AGMA website -, renewable at the start of each year and the reason given for their termination is cost and cost alone. The reasons for termination are unique for each agreement for different companies - in the case of NYCB Martins views it that they're not "firing" the dancers they're simply not renewing their contracts. The saving of $1m and loss of over a fifth of the corps de ballet is to be made up by the intake of far cheaper apprentices.

Though since apprentices can only be taken in for one year before they legally have to be let go or hired into the corps how this "cost saving" device is going to function in the long term is up for debate. One wonders if this time next year there'll be further interviews from a host of disgruntled apprentices let go before NYCB had to commit full time?

One could conjecture that were there breaches of company protocol or examples of gross misconduct on the dancers part these would have been cited.

You're not going to get to the bottom of this or "understand" - it seems purely economic and whatever internecine politics and machinations may exist will probably never be known.

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I too am trying to see this from both sides. In my view, the Union should have been brought into this. On Broadway with Actor's Equity they have a "show cause" clause that mandates that management must "show cause" for dismissal and all sides have the opportunity to be heard. A recognized, valid reason for dismissal must be proved. Management cannot simply fire or release someone.

This is an interesting view, but sort of a double edged sword, is it not? On one hand, there is certainly a benefit having an unbiased (?) person come in and be the voice of reason. But on the other hand, doesn't this lead to the same over involvement of union officials in artistic decision making that many on here complain about? If we're concerned that Kistler, N. Martins, Borree, and others are still being held on to unnecessarily because of unions ( a view that I am not advocating, but merely repeating), then what happens when we add 60 more people to that list? By the time you've been promoted to a soloist or a principle, the idea is that you've "proven yourself". An artistic director NEEDS the ability to prune a little in the lower ranks.

Broadway is a very different cup of tea for many different reasons. People come in, they audition for a role and they are contracted to play a specific role (with a certain amount of flexibility in terms of understudying) for a specific show. The contract is a limited contract. The demands are specific. On Broadway, certain actors are hired for a certain amount of parts. There is no concept of a weekly casting sheet.

Furthermore, contracts for all members on Broadway, including leads, are generally for a year - not unlike the corps members. So in effect, any Broadway producer has the right to let any actor go after that year's time - including leads.

And finally on Broadway, there is VERY little room for "the show is suffering financially, let's let some of the actors go." It's an all or nothing thing. The show is open or it is closed. Whereas in a reperatory company such as NYCB, there is a large pool of talent to pick and chose from as needs dictate. In financially strong times, the dancers benefit from that because people who may not have been hired under more challenging economic times may get a shot to prove themselves. However on the flip side, in times like this, there is likely to be a group of people whose contribution - for whatever reason - is considered more expendable.

I can't see where increased Union involvement in the corps would be helpful at all. Either it would lead to an increasement in "golden handcuff" syndrome that is a constant source of frustration to many fans. Or it would put us exactly where we are right now - with one year corps contracts that the managment has the decision whether to renew each year.

I believe that LiLing has made an extremely valid point. That a certain part of the problem does not lie in that the lay-offs occured, but how they were handled. I totally agree that it would have made a better learning experience to the dancers to explain why, specifically, their contracts were not being renewed. That being said, Martins may have been advised legally to say as little as possible - not because he was legally in the wrong, but because sometimes things can be misunderstood or misconstrued.

Simon, if you really see this as such a black and white issue: that there are either people who "care deeply" for the dancers or those who felt the dancers "deserved being sacked", then there is more than one reason you and I will never see eye to eye. Things are never quite so black and white and if you believe they are, I'm afraid you're suffering from an extremely limited perspective. I hate to see dreams crushed. I hate to see people hurting. And I have specifically said innumerable times, that I do NOT know the reasons that these eleven were chosen - I merely understand that there is likely more to it than "eh. I don't like you. You're out." I can think something is terrible and painful and hate to see that it happened, but still know that the pain *MAY* have contributed to the greater good.

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Safe to say there are two opposing viewpoints here: Those who feel deeply for the dancers involved and who for some time have been disenchanted with the management and artistic policy of NYCB: And those who view the massive payments of the top tier administration as deserved and feel that the dancers may in some way have brought their sackings on themselves.

As best I can judge, it's not exactly two opposing viewpoints here in the way you describe...though message board dialogue can congeal in that way. I think that at least some of those posting feel much of one way yet some of the other way, would criticize Martins for x but not for y...worry that injustice is being done to the dancers but not altogether sure to which ones, are conscious that we don't have the big picture etc. etc.

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What is clear from all of the official word disclosed by the company is:

*NYCB's endowment has dropped substantially

*NYCB, even with the current cuts, racked up a substantial deficit this past year and will continue to do so going forward, even with the cuts, unless the market recovers miraculously or someone/some group is willing to subsidize the company to the tune of millions more each year until there is a financial recovery

*The company made the decision to save a gross of 1.2 million by cutting the corps by 11, while at the same time hiring six apprentices.

*Upper management, including Peter Martins, who makes abut 700K in his position, took a 10% pay cut for next season.

*Upper management is trying to reduce the size of the company from 101 dancers to about 93, which is a net loss of 8 dancers.

What is also clear is:

*There was not enough natural attrition this season to reduce the company by 11 dancers.

*The company has to hire apprentices or corps members from SAB, if it wants to keep up the prestige of the school and have a place for up-and-coming new talent.

The two issues in contention are:

1. How much the company will save net, after the costs of the apprentices are netted out of the 1.2M

2. Whether the cuts should have been taken elsewhere to save the same net amount.

We have every right to discuss these issues, as well as why Martins grew the company to the size it became.

We will see same time, next year (assuming the same economic climate), whether the company is committed to its target size, and, if so, how it maintains it.

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Simon, if you really see this as such a black and white issue: that there are either people who "care deeply" for the dancers or those who felt the dancers "deserved being sacked", then there is more than one reason you and I will never see eye to eye. Things are never quite so black and white and if you believe they are, I'm afraid you're suffering from an extremely limited perspective.

Thank you Beatrice for such an incisive character analysis, it makes me feel so validated to be so perfectly understood. However, I would hope that others who've actually read my numerous posts don't view me in such a negative light. Though I agree you and I will never see eye to eye as you seem to have a need to misconstrue debate for attack and ironically attack on a personal level people who disagree with you, hence I am a person of "extremely limited perpective" - though may I point out as limited as I am, as passionate, opinionated or heated as I may get in discussing an issue I never attack on a personal level.

The reason why I somewhat glibly perhaps put a "black and white" perspective on such a complex issue is precisely that as Leigh stated this thread is going round and round in circles and nothing new is being said.

Helene I agree totally that these things have every right to be discussed - but how much more can be said? You quite rightly wrote out the NYCB statement as to the deficit and need for trimming back the company and that's as much as any of us are going to be able to refer to when discussing this issue without conjecture, personal bias as to dancers rights and dancers we love and our own feelings about company policy and mismanagement, or rather the way the company is run.

One of the worst examples of press statements not tallying with how "I" see an issue was the Cunningham press statement in the NY Times, when Trevor Carlson "denounced" the artistry of the sacked Daniel Squire and Holley Farmer as a reason for their sackings. Well, four months earlier I saw Squire and Farmer absolutely tear up the stage in blinding performances of Crises, Xover, Biped & Split Sides. So from Carlson's statement in four months their artistry deteriorated to such an extent they no longer were worth paying or belonging to a company they'd devoted their lives to? Of course not.

The thing is unless Peter Martins says words to the effect that his house in the Hamptons needs reroofing, and new plumbing and so taking a substantial salary cut at this time just wasn't an option - so the cuts had to come somewhere else, or some other major clanger, what can be gained from increasingly debating an issue where we know all the facts as presented by the company and know how we feel personally on certain issues and all that can concluded are the same points over and over again, with nothing more than conjecture and bias to distinguish one point from another?

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I agree that we're not going anywhere, but I'd like to comment on the structural way this thread has evolved:

1. NYCB needs to address a financial crisis, including a deficit issue that has no end in sight.

2. NYCB has addressed this with the decision to cut management salaries by X% and to save a net of 1.2 million - X (for apprentices) by cutting 11 corps members.

3. There is a limit to what NYCB as an organization has control over, which includes executive salaries, marketing budget, back office operations and staff, new productions (that aren't from designated donations or funds, or grant applications), general maintenance, corps, and apprentices. There may be others, but, orchestra, principal, soloist, and back stage contracts tie the company's hands, and operating costs from electricity to toilet paper aren't going down.

4. NYCB has decided that reducing the corps by 11 is a higher priority than cuts/more cuts elsewhere in the budget where they have control.

These are the trade-offs that businesses worldwide face, although the details differ.

This has led to two basic conclusions:

1. If saving the contracts of the corps members is the lowest priority, there must be something wrong with them and/or a better use of the money elsewhere, and management knows best OR

2. Since management claims that finance was the only consideration in their decision, there are/could be other ways to save the money that would have left the corps intact.

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I would hope that others who've actually read my numerous posts don't view me in such a negative light. Though I agree you and I will never see eye to eye.

The reason why I somewhat glibly perhaps put a "black and white" perspective on such a complex issue is precisely that as Leigh stated this thread is going round and round in circles and nothing new is being said.

The thing is unless Peter Martins says words to the effect that his house in the Hamptons needs reroofing, and new plumbing and so taking a substantial salary cut at this time just wasn't an option - so the cuts had to come somewhere else, or some other major clanger, what can be gained from increasingly debating an issue where we know all the facts as presented by the company and know how we feel personally on certain issues and all that can concluded are the same points over and over again, with nothing more than conjecture and bias to distinguish one point from another?

Not sure if it was you or a moderator who editted the beginning line in your post. However, the very fact that you so "glibly" put it in black and white is why I answered the way I did. I have expressed NOTHING that comes close to the expressing the idea that I don't care about the dancers - both the ones whose contracts were not renewed and those who will continue on with the company. I take that allegation insultingly because it is, quite simply untrue. When you put things as black and white as insinuating that ANYONE on this board doesn't care about the dancers, you are entering a rather dangerous territory.

As for Martins' alleged "house in the Hamptons"... why is it so important for you to believe that Martins made these decisions for selfish reasons? You're the first one to call out allegations of libel, conjecture, and dangerously untrue statements, but you insist on insinuating over and over that Martins' decisions are those of greed and self-interest. I am not operating under the belief that all Martins does is correct. I'm just - perhaps naively - hoping that someone who has given his entire life in service to this company would be basing his decisions on what would serve the company best in the long term. I'm hoping that Balanchine's last ballerina would not be married to a man whose main concern was with his Hamptons house over the continuation of the legacy.

Contrary to another one of your editted allegations, I don't "need to be right" to a bunch of anonymous strangers on the internet. I don't even need to be right to you. I would just appreciate it if you'd stop with comments along the lines of "either you support the dancers or you support the administration" and "Martins needs a new roof on his beach house". I do not believe that anything we are currently discussing is as cut and dry as that.

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Beatrice,

Please, just leave me alone? Okay?

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. I have expressed NOTHING that comes close to the expressing the idea that I don't care about the dancers - both the ones whose contracts were not renewed and those who will continue on with the company. I take that allegation insultingly because it is, quite simply untrue. When you put things as black and white as insinuating that ANYONE on this board doesn't care about the dancers, you are entering a rather dangerous territory.

There are a number of reasons why choosing to reduce the corps might be good for the long term health of the company compared to other solutions, such as more cohesion, the realization that the ideal size of the company is smaller, a medium-term strategy that sacrifices corps in the short-term until natural attrition of the soloists and principals allows the company to re-adjust, or an artistic decision to reduce long-time corps members with potential soloists (although, to note, not all 11 were long-time NYCB corps members). I don't know if any of these came into play, but I hope you can appreciate the difference between reasons that are dancer-specific, which the company has not in any way suggested but that you raised in your posts, and company-specific reasons that have little to do with these specific dancers.

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I absolutey do, Helene. For me, what this all comes down to is that there is a bigger picture that none of us are fully aware of. There are a myraid of tiny details that came together to lead the administration to take the steps that were taken.

edit to reflect previous post's edit: the dancer specific points that I brought up were a way to illustrate that any number of situations take place within the company that we are not aware of. At the end of the day, 11 were chosen. And there are reasons that those 11 were chosen over the ones who remain - it simply wasn't a matter of "we need to save 1.2 million, let's pick names out of a hat". And whatever those reasons are, they are likely tied in with the larger equation of company dynamics that we are not privvy to. It was Ms Flack who said something along the lines of them "cleaning house". I'm just saying that sometimes the house needs to be cleaned.

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I realize that this statement is not going to contribute to the discussion, but a good bit of this thread and the other one on the dancer layoffs from NYCB feels like a bad day in law school or an academic conference that has gotten out of hand, where someone just wants to be right at the expense of the ideas being circulated.

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edit to reflect previous post's edit: the dancer specific points that I brought up were a way to illustrate that any number of situations take place within the company that we are not aware of. At the end of the day, 11 were chosen. And there are reasons that those 11 were chosen over the ones who remain - it simply wasn't a matter of "we need to save 1.2 million, let's pick names out of a hat". And whatever those reasons are, they are likely tied in with the larger equation of company dynamics that we are not privvy to. It was Ms Flack who said something along the lines of them "cleaning house". I'm just saying that sometimes the house needs to be cleaned.

Which makes theses 11 dancers problems that needed to be fixed, which is not what the company said.

Again, it could be any combination of salary, the need with a smaller corps for dancers who fit specific roles (especially with regard to partnering) and/or size(s), who are all-around stylists vs. specialists, etc., and having nothing to do with interpersonal dynamics (which works both ways).

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Folks, how about you all take one more post to conclude your thoughts - if you need to. Otherwise let's say this thread has run its course.

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Helene, I definitely agree that all the things that you just listed could be part of the equation. Or all of the equation.

All I've been trying to express is that nothing here is simple. Right or wrong, I believe that for all of this faults, Mr Martins cares deeply about this company and is trying to make the best choices for it in very difficult times. When you have to pick eleven hearts to break, it's not an easy decision and I'm sure that a million factors were considered when his decisions were made.

I, personally, don't think that the adminstration has acted irresponsibly. I'm sad for the dancers whose contracts were not renewed, but at this point, I don't see any proof that the administration is at fault. In a year, I may think otherwise. But right now, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

edit: Thus being my concluding thought on the matter, Leigh Witchel :D . If anyone wants to talk to me further via PM, you know where to find me.

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Another issue might be the different way the public (and dancers) perceive Martins compared to the way the dancers perceived, say, a Balanchine, a Diaghilev, or a Ninette di Valois. My feeling from reading historical books about ballet was that Mr. B, Diagilev, and "Madam" were perceived as almost gods, and their judgment was not to be questioned. They were revered by both the press and the dancers. When there were internal disagreements dancers were promptly kicked out and not welcomed back. I think it's a different era now. Peter Martins or Kevin McKenzie don't inspire the same amount of awe, fear, and reverence. Not that I think they deserve to, just that Mr. B never would have had to deal with these kinds of PR issues because he was, well, Mr. B. and his word was law.

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I think it's a different era now. Peter Martins or Kevin McKenzie don't inspire the same amount of awe, fear, and reverence. Not that I think they deserve to, just that Mr. B never would have had to deal with these kinds of PR issues because he was, well, Mr. B. and his word was law.
An fascinating point, canbelto. The times are different. There has been a proliferation of outlets in which can express opinions about everything under the sun. Given this, COULD anyone today inspire the kind of respect -- and, more to the point, obedience -- that those earlier figures did?

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I think it's a different era now. Peter Martins or Kevin McKenzie don't inspire the same amount of awe, fear, and reverence. Not that I think they deserve to, just that Mr. B never would have had to deal with these kinds of PR issues because he was, well, Mr. B. and his word was law.
An fascinating point, canbelto. The times are different. There has been a proliferation of outlets in which can express opinions about everything under the sun. Given this, COULD anyone today inspire the kind of respect -- and, more to the point, obedience -- that those earlier figures did?

I doubt it, if only because neither Martins nor McKenzie has the reach that Balanchine did in his day, especially after the Ford Foundation grant, which extended his reach to many of the US training academies. When Farrell and Mejia trying to get guest gigs after they left NYCB, very few companies would touch them, because they couldn't risk getting on Balanchine's bad side. Does anyone have that kind of authority now, especially with the number of dancers who are able to move from continent to continent, and with foundations managing the right to perform the greatest works?

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I think it's a different era now. Peter Martins or Kevin McKenzie don't inspire the same amount of awe, fear, and reverence. Not that I think they deserve to, just that Mr. B never would have had to deal with these kinds of PR issues because he was, well, Mr. B. and his word was law.

No Artistic Director inspires the fear/awe the way a genius like Balanchine did. But it's also interesting to note that dancers from other companies who have been let go do not appear to be running to the press to bad-mouth their artistic directors in the same way that former NYCB dancers do. There is a negative perception of Martins which, I think, is fueled in part by issues of nepotism, in part by the fact that he never will be the equal of Mr. B (who could!?) and in part by the fact that he has loaded down the NYCB rep with mediocre (sometimes awful) ballets that he has created.

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Abatt, dancers definitely spoke out when Ross Stretton fired (let go) dancers when he took over the Royal and later when he left the company. The same happened at Boston Ballet and at San Francisco when there were regime changes. I guess the difference here was this was not a new AD coming in but rather a financial situation. Maybe it was just not handled well. In the 1990s, there was a trimming of older corps members. Maybe the difference then from now is the world they were being released into was more secure. And they had fewer avenues to vent to. Or the dancers of today are products of their culture. Meaning they are more vocal about what concerns them and they use the media available (Newspapers, Magazines, websites, blogs, twitter, Facebook etc...) to get those concerns out there.

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No Artistic Director inspires the fear/awe the way a genius like Balanchine did. But it's also interesting to note that dancers from other companies who have been let go do not appear to be running to the press to bad-mouth their artistic directors in the same way that former NYCB dancers do. There is a negative perception of Martins which, I think, is fueled in part by issues of nepotism, in part by the fact that he never will be the equal of Mr. B (who could!?) and in part by the fact that he has loaded down the NYCB rep with mediocre (sometimes awful) ballets that he has created.

I'm thinking maybe people skills are also an issue here? Firing/layoffs are an inevitable part of running any large organization but there are ways to do it that minimize ill-will or hurt feelings. This isn't the first time fired/laid off NYCB workers have gone to the press with grievances and angry words under Martins' reign.

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