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NYCB Dancers Cut


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#31 Beatrice

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 05:50 PM

Argh. I am so over the complaints about Martins' worth. At the end of the day, like him or not, HIS role in the company is essential. That of one individual dancer - any individual dancer - is not. His salary is NOT exorbitant within the framework of his responbilities. Bosses generally make much more than those who work under them.

As for the laid off dancers, nobody like to hear of the sadness and suffering of another. But as I've said before most of us are not regularly backstage at the NYCB. We don't know why these people were chosen for the cut. But in any profession, the first people who are let go in difficult financial times are the ones who are considered the least valuable to the organization. Perhaps some of these people demonstrated attitudes backstage. Perhaps individuals in this group exhibited a sense of entitlement that exceeded their actual contribution. Perhaps there were punctuality or attendance issues. Perhaps their progression as dancers had simply come to a standstill. I don't like to see young people's dreams crushed. But I also recognize that in this economy choices do not come easy. Perhaps laying off a group of dancers who may not have been adequately contributing to the company may have opened up opportunities for more deserving people. Perhaps this frees up funds for some much deserved promotions. Perhaps it will allow more promising apprentices to enter the company. I don't have the answers, but I think it goes deeper than simply saying "Shame on the NYCB".

#32 canbelto

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 06:08 PM

I disagree about the blog. I think many of the NYTimes readers blogs have led to some wonderful discussions. One was when Frank McCourt recently passed away -- many of the readers posted on the blog, and a large number of them were former students. He had, after all, been a NYC schoolteacher for 30 years. It was amazing to me how the world saw him as this famous author, but most of the posters on the blog still saw him as their English teacher. A really poignant read (especially for me, a high school teacher). :D
Some columnists have had wonderful, lovely discussions on their blogs -- Nicholas Kristof, for example. And to the laid off dancers, one or two thougthless comments might not detract from words of sympathy or heartfelt advice.

#33 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 08:15 PM

But in any profession, the first people who are let go in difficult financial times are the ones who are considered the least valuable to the organization.

Humm..Arguable... :D

#34 Helene

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Posted 24 July 2009 - 10:40 PM

Argh. I am so over the complaints about Martins' worth. At the end of the day, like him or not, HIS role in the company is essential. That of one individual dancer - any individual dancer - is not. His salary is NOT exorbitant within the framework of his responbilities.

That in itself is arguable, since his salary is so much more than that earned by artistic directors with comparable responsibilities, regardless of how well or badly he does the job, and that is before his hundreds of thousands to run SAB, also considerably higher than those who run similar academies worldwide. He does not work in the private sector.

But as I've said before most of us are not regularly backstage at the NYCB. We don't know why these people were chosen for the cut. But in any profession, the first people who are let go in difficult financial times are the ones who are considered the least valuable to the organization.

A few other scenarios that do not follow this conclusion are: people who are laid off/not renewed because they become unaffordable rather than not valuable; people who are laid off because they are not useful to specific people in management; people who are laid off because they or their dependents develop medical conditions that affect the company's health insurance rates; people who are laid off because they are not sheep.

This isn't the first time that Martins has cleaned house by not renewing a chunk of the corps; it happens to coincide with one of the many financial crises that the company has had since its creation. NYCB made a deliberate decision to clean house again rather than saving money elsewhere to save jobs, as a number of other companies have.

#35 DeborahB

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 03:33 AM

I disagree about the blog. I think many of the NYTimes readers blogs have led to some wonderful discussions. One was when Frank McCourt recently passed away -- many of the readers posted on the blog, and a large number of them were former students. He had, after all, been a NYC schoolteacher for 30 years. It was amazing to me how the world saw him as this famous author, but most of the posters on the blog still saw him as their English teacher. A really poignant read (especially for me, a high school teacher). :D
Some columnists have had wonderful, lovely discussions on their blogs -- Nicholas Kristof, for example. And to the laid off dancers, one or two thougthless comments might not detract from words of sympathy or heartfelt advice.


Except in this case, I do agree with you about the NYT's blogs. In fact, I am a regular poster on both the ArtsBeat blog (I was out there defending Patti LuPone immediately!), and the Bats blog (huge Yankees fan. Going this afternoon). The posting about Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes" is a must read) from his former students had me in tears. However, this was a column that asked the public (most of whom have no idea what dancers have to go through to get where they are) to give advice to young, professional dancers. I read every comment and more than just a few were derisive, unflattering, thoughtless, crude (in more than one case) -- and these were directed at the dancers (!), not at NYCB. (That said, the first comment was about Career Transition for Dancers which is a fantastic organization. So many dancers, including former NYCB's, Stephen Hanna -- now the older "Billy" on Broadway, and ABT's Matt Murphy -- now with a thriving photography business, have made very nice transitions with their help).

I do think an ArtsBeat column that would allow people to vent about how sad, angry, disappointed, concerned, worried, annoyed, and perplexed
they are about the corps cuts would have been welcome, appropropriate, and interesting; it might have sparked a good discussion about the arts (and funding)in general. The NYT's story is officially coming out tomorrow -- perhaps the ArtsBeat blog will do a follow up story about NYCB (especially if they get a lot of comments about the Arts & Leisure piece).

#36 bart

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 04:27 AM

This isn't the first time that Martins has cleaned house by not renewing a chunk of the corps; it happens to coincide with one of the many financial crises that the company has had since its creation. NYCB made a deliberate decision to clean house again rather than saving money elsewhere to save jobs, as a number of other companies have.

Good points.

On one level, this is a story about a ballet company, ballet dancers, the arts.

On another level, it's a story about "relative worth": some people are worth more than others, in economic terms; it costs a SO much money for an executive to live in New York City; etc.

On a third level, the NYCB is part of a much larger story about how Market Economics work in the U.S. today.

All three perspectives have been articulated on this thread so far. The way you define the situation determines what you think/feel about it and what should or should not be done.

I fall in with the third group.

About NYCB: This particular action was a conscious policy decision, as Helene says. It was not an act of God. Probably there was a hope that it would slip through and not be noticed. But it has been noticed. Better luck next time, NYCB.

The idea that managers feel bad making such decisions is neither here nor there. "This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you" has never been a particularly believable statement. Or relevant to anything.

About the larger context: Layoffs have become one of the first steps that are taken nowadays when a company faces economic difdficultlies. One reason is that they are actually relatively easy to carry out if contracts are written as they are in the world of ballet companies and, frankly, in most employment situations outside the major corporations and government agencies. They can be justified by statements like "We don't need you" -- which is actually the literal meaning of the British usage, "you're redundant." Try being one of the undocumented workers currently being rounded up for deportation in Arizona, Florida, etc. Once they were actually encouraged to come (a policy of "Don't ask; don't tell."). Now they're "no longer needed" -- "redundant."

We are living through a time in which unemployment (like the lack of health care insurance) is treated as an individual problem rather than a societal problem. "It's your bad luck." Or, worse: "Something is/was wrong with you." As someone who grew up in a very different climate-- the years following the depression, the New Deal and World War II -- this astonishes me. To those who grew up in the 80s or afterward, it probably seems quite natural.

#37 Beatrice

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 08:03 AM

That in itself is arguable, since his salary is so much more than that earned by artistic directors with comparable responsibilities, regardless of how well or badly he does the job, and that is before his hundreds of thousands to run SAB, also considerably higher than those who run similar academies worldwide. He does not work in the private sector.


Hasn't it also been discussed that the salaries of the dancers at NYCB are all significantly more than the dancers in other companies with comparable responsibilities? If we're looking at the whole, doesn't it stand to reason that if the dancers are among the best paid in the industry, that their administration is too? The question for me here isn't "is Martins making a greater amount than his peers". It's "is Martins making a disproportionate amount compared to his dancers." Is the percentage of Martins' salary to his dancers' salaries significantly greater than the percentage between artistic director and dancers in other major companies?


A few other scenarios that do not follow this conclusion are: people who are laid off/not renewed because they become unaffordable rather than not valuable; people who are laid off because they are not useful to specific people in management; people who are laid off because they or their dependents develop medical conditions that affect the company's health insurance rates; people who are laid off because they are not sheep.


All true and my initial statement was too narrow. However, I still stand to the larger point that my ill-phrased statement was making: most, if not all, of us do not have a big enough picture of what goes on backstage to know what made Martins decide to clean house rather than take another approach. Additionally, we have no idea what made him chose THIS group of dancers.


This isn't the first time that Martins has cleaned house by not renewing a chunk of the corps; it happens to coincide with one of the many financial crises that the company has had since its creation. NYCB made a deliberate decision to clean house again rather than saving money elsewhere to save jobs, as a number of other companies have.


I agree that it was a deliberate decision. My reasoning is simply that we do not know what the reasoning behind that deliberate decision was. Sometimes what is best for an individual or eleven is not what is best for the company. If these dancers' contracts were not renewed simply because they were disliked personally by management, then yes, shame on the NYCB. However, if these contracts were not renewed because these particular dancers were not contributing to the growth of the company, that is another story entirely. If they weren't renewed because the management felt that the money would be better spent making sure more deserving company members got could maintain their current salaries, that is also a valid approach. The cost of living in New York City is very high and I can understand a potential thought process that it may be better for 11 people to be cut from the roster than for dozens (of possibly harder working and greater contributing) to take a paycut that may make living here a financial strain.

#38 Helene

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 09:03 AM

Hasn't it also been discussed that the salaries of the dancers at NYCB are all significantly more than the dancers in other companies with comparable responsibilities? If we're looking at the whole, doesn't it stand to reason that if the dancers are among the best paid in the industry, that their administration is too? The question for me here isn't "is Martins making a greater amount than his peers". It's "is Martins making a disproportionate amount compared to his dancers." Is the percentage of Martins' salary to his dancers' salaries significantly greater than the percentage between artistic director and dancers in other major companies?


I would say, no, that is not the question in a time of financial crisis, especially when the amount is substantial. You had written earlier that Martins salary does not make him rich in NYC. Adding in the 300K he makes for heading SAB, even if, because of his high tax bracket and the Alternative Minimum Tax, the household is paying 50% in Federal, state, and city taxes on his salary, just on his salary alone, his take-home pay on 1 million would be over 40K/month, and that's not including Kistler's salary, which isn't public, or royalties, any investments which are taxed at a lower rate and other income sources, if any. (I don't know if she receives a salary for teaching; in a recent interview she said she was pretty much teaching full-time.) While that doesn't make one rich in NYC, and many mid-level people on Wall Street have made the same while helping to do substantial damage to the US economy, which Martins has not done, it makes them wealthy and more well off than 99% of the people who live in NYC. In addition, he's had a number of years of very high salary with the opportunity to accumulate substantial wealth during good times, while a corps member has had the opportunity to live comfortably, assuming no family to support without a second earner in the family.

Balanchine took no money when there was no money to be had.

The cost of living in New York City is very high and I can understand a potential thought process that it may be better for 11 people to be cut from the roster than for dozens (of possibly harder working and greater contributing) to take a paycut that may make living here a financial strain.


If ABT dancers make so much less, and are also subject to the same high costs of living, it doesn't hold that the financial strain of an overall pay or benefits cut by the best-paid dancers in the country will sink them. ABT managed to keep their roster by forgoing vacation pay (partially offset to the dancers by unemployment benefits, with possible cost to the company if their unemployment taxes go up as a result) and contributions to pension. Since Martins said the move would save 1.2M, or about 109K/dancer, the cost of benefits must be substantial: according to a recent NYT article, Flack, as a senior corps member, was making 70-80K/year. Even if her salary was average, this would mean 40-50K/year in benefits, payroll taxes, and pointe shoes (for the women); it is likely that her salary was on the high side, and the amount for average cost is even higher per dancer. While some costs are fixed or rising (payroll taxes, pointe shoes), there was additional room to negotiate on benefits in addition to the possibility of a pay cut to save jobs. (Pointe shoes for apprentices are a 1:1 wash, anyway.)

In the original article from February, Martins said "There were no plans to reduce the number of principals and soloists, and their salaries remain fixed by collective bargaining agreements". So were the benefits that ABT dancers agreed to give up.


All true and my initial statement was too narrow. However, I still stand to the larger point that my ill-phrased statement was making: most, if not all, of us do not have a big enough picture of what goes on backstage to know what made Martins decide to clean house rather than take another approach. Additionally, we have no idea what made him chose THIS group of dancers.

Hence the need to refute the argument that the reasons could be entirely an issue of the talent and work ethic of the 11 dancers.

#39 kfw

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 09:04 AM

That in itself is arguable, since his salary is so much more than that earned by artistic directors with comparable responsibilities, regardless of how well or badly he does the job, and that is before his hundreds of thousands to run SAB, also considerably higher than those who run similar academies worldwide. He does not work in the private sector.


Hasn't it also been discussed that the salaries of the dancers at NYCB are all significantly more than the dancers in other companies with comparable responsibilities? If we're looking at the whole, doesn't it stand to reason that if the dancers are among the best paid in the industry, that their administration is too? The question for me here isn't "is Martins making a greater amount than his peers". It's "is Martins making a disproportionate amount compared to his dancers."

Martins apparently made almost three times as much as a director last year than McKenzie did at ABT. Did NYCB dancers make that much more than their peers at ABT???

#40 Helene

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 09:57 AM

Martins apparently made almost three times as much as a director last year than McKenzie did at ABT. Did NYCB dancers make that much more than their peers at ABT???

At that ratio, it would make the salary of a senior corps member at ABT between 25-30K/year. The ABT contract is not up on the AGMA site.

Apollinaire Scherr wrote the following on her blog "Foot in Mouth":

...Martins is basically paying himself--with the NYCB Board's approval. And what's the worry on the part of the Board? That if he isn't paid like a king, he's going to work for the competition? See? Comparisons to directors outside the arts don't work. But if Martins is in fact thinking about it that way-- if the money's what's keeping him--let him go. These are bad values for a ballet company to be burdened with.



#41 Beatrice

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 10:45 AM

I would say, no, that is not the question in a time of financial crisis, especially when the amount is substantial. You had written earlier that Martins salary does not make him rich in NYC. Adding in the 300K he makes for heading SAB, even if, because of his high tax bracket and the Alternative Minimum Tax, the household is paying 50% in Federal, state, and city taxes on his salary, just on his salary alone, his take-home pay on 1 million would be over 40K/month, and that's not including Kistler's salary, which isn't public, or royalties, any investments which are taxed at a lower rate and other income sources, if any. (I don't know if she receives a salary for teaching; in a recent interview she said she was pretty much teaching full-time.) While that doesn't make one rich in NYC, and many mid-level people on Wall Street have made the same while helping to do substantial damage to the US economy, which Martins has not done, it makes them wealthy and more well off than 99% of the people who live in NYC. In addition, he's had a number of years of very high salary with the opportunity to accumulate substantial wealth during good times, while a corps member has had the opportunity to live comfortably, assuming no without a family to support without a second earner in the family.



I don't think that it's fair to factor in Kistler's salary here. It's irrelevant. I also think that if he's making 300K heading the SAB that needs to be looked at separately.


If ABT dancers make so much less, and are also subject to the same high costs of living, it doesn't hold that the financial strain of an overall pay or benefits cut by the best-paid dancers in the country will sink them.


But it is also not unreasonable to say, "We have a very large roster of corps members. Some of them pull their weight more than other. Why should those who go above and beyond have to take on an extra financial strain to keep some less valuable members here"?

Hence the need to refute the argument that the reasons were entirely an issue of the talent and work ethic of the 11 dancers.


That was never my argument. My argument is only, and always has been, that we do not know enough about what takes place backstage to determine if NYCB is acting unfairly. When an appealling group of fairly young people approach the press and talks about crushed dreams, it's completely natural to want to reach out to them - to assume that they are vicitims. We see these people onstage, but we have no idea of what energy they bring to the wings. We don't know them as people or as employees. Nobody who has been fired or laid off is going to say to the press, "You know. Truthfully, I was an awful gossip, I created a lot of negative energy backstage, and my dancing abilities, while strong, are not amongst the most noteworthy in this company ". But I think that it's naive to believe that there haven't been dancers - in the NYCB or elsewhere - who have not been laid off for similiar reasons.

I'm just saying that I can see more possible scenarios here than to assume that the NYCB is entirely in the wrong.

#42 Helene

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 10:57 AM

I would say, no, that is not the question in a time of financial crisis, especially when the amount is substantial. You had written earlier that Martins salary does not make him rich in NYC. Adding in the 300K he makes for heading SAB, even if, because of his high tax bracket and the Alternative Minimum Tax, the household is paying 50% in Federal, state, and city taxes on his salary, just on his salary alone, his take-home pay on 1 million would be over 40K/month, and that's not including Kistler's salary, which isn't public, or royalties, any investments which are taxed at a lower rate and other income sources, if any. (I don't know if she receives a salary for teaching; in a recent interview she said she was pretty much teaching full-time.) While that doesn't make one rich in NYC, and many mid-level people on Wall Street have made the same while helping to do substantial damage to the US economy, which Martins has not done, it makes them wealthy and more well off than 99% of the people who live in NYC. In addition, he's had a number of years of very high salary with the opportunity to accumulate substantial wealth during good times, while a corps member has had the opportunity to live comfortably, assuming no without a family to support without a second earner in the family.



I don't think that it's fair to factor in Kistler's salary here. It's irrelevant. I also think that if he's making 300K heading the SAB that needs to be looked at separately.

I think it's perfectly fair to look at the amount of money in a household when determining how much of a sacrifice to make to sustain a company in hard economic times, when other people's livelihoods are on the line, since one argument is that people have to support families on their salaries. Martins has made his: 10% of his NYCB salary; his salary is substantial by just about any standard.

It's also important in figuring out the tax bracket of a given household, which was one of my arguments.

My argument is only, and always has been, that we do not know enough about what takes place backstage to determine if NYCB is acting unfairly. When an appealling group of fairly young people approach the press and talks about crushed dreams, it's completely natural to want to reach out to them - to assume that they are vicitims. We see these people onstage, but we have no idea of what energy they bring to the wings. We don't know them as people or as employees. Nobody who has been fired or laid off is going to say to the press, "You know. Truthfully, I was an awful gossip, I created a lot of negative energy backstage, and my dancing abilities, while strong, are not amongst the most noteworthy in this company ". But I think that it's naive to believe that there haven't been dancers - in the NYCB or elsewhere - who have not been laid off for similiar reasons.

I'm just saying that I can see more possible scenarios here than to assume that the NYCB is entirely in the wrong.

When a company states that the reason it is laying of dancers is financial, the head of that company makes 700K -- substantially more than anyone else in a similar position in dance -- and that it decided to reduce headcount instead of more substantial pay cuts on the side of upper management or to negotiate a reduction of benefits, then it is perfectly reasonable to criticize this decision and conclude that the company was in the wrong, and that has nothing to do with "broken dreams" or attractive young people. If the company was hiding an employment agenda behind these layoffs -- got to get rid of all those gossipy corps members -- when, by contract, they could have dropped any one of these corps members all along by simply telling them "You no longer meet my needs" and the union could not have made a peep, that, in my opinion, is cowardice.

#43 Simon G

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 11:21 AM

I don't think that it's fair to factor in Kistler's salary here. It's irrelevant. I also think that if he's making 300K heading the SAB that needs to be looked at separately.

But it is also not unreasonable to say, "We have a very large roster of corps members. Some of them pull their weight more than other. Why should those who go above and beyond have to take on an extra financial strain to keep some less valuable members here"?

My argument is only, and always has been, that we do not know enough about what takes place backstage to determine if NYCB is acting unfairly. When an appealling group of fairly young people approach the press and talks about crushed dreams, it's completely natural to want to reach out to them - to assume that they are vicitims. We see these people onstage, but we have no idea of what energy they bring to the wings. We don't know them as people or as employees. Nobody who has been fired or laid off is going to say to the press, "You know. Truthfully, I was an awful gossip, I created a lot of negative energy backstage, and my dancing abilities, while strong, are not amongst the most noteworthy in this company ". But I think that it's naive to believe that there haven't been dancers - in the NYCB or elsewhere - who have not been laid off for similiar reasons.

I'm just saying that I can see more possible scenarios here than to assume that the NYCB is entirely in the wrong.



No one is argueing that internecine politics and backstage dramas take place and why the Sword of Damacles fell on those 11. The NY Times article however, was not a "pity party" but a reasoned and emotive look at a group of dancers whose lives are in turmoil due to the losing of their jobs. It's not an angry or vindictive piece and none of the dancers who spoke seem to be laying blame, nor are they claimng to be perfect or persecuted.

The Kistler issue is an important one, as she is a dancer who's long since past her best and whose performances are sporadic and often poor. Yet, because she is on a principal contract can't be "let go" and whose salary is incommensurate with the number and quality of performances.

This is a dance site and yes, perhaps the bias will be with the dancer rather than administration by the nature of the people who post here - and this is a good thing for this specific issue because blank press statemens from administration about firing of dancers is the stock in trade of companies wanting to make cuts; as several people have commented they're sure NYCB would prefer this issue to go quietly away and forums such as these keep that debate alive.

Nor is it just NYCB, one of the most egregious examples of this current firing policy is with the Cunningham company where three of his senior dancers were summararily dismissed with two months notice and the company administrator made a press release to the NY Times impugning their artistry. Three marvellous dancers who between them had devoted almost 40 years of their lives to Cunningham Foundation were rubbished. If you want to read a cooler interview than Sophie Flack's about the pain of dismissal than Holley Farmer's (of the Cunningham company) interview with Gia Kourlas in Time Out NY is a good bet.

Instead of questioning the discipline and commitment of these 11, six of whom are choosing to remain anonymous, why not question the huge sums paid to the principals, many of whom are well past their best, turning in mediocre performances and yet are tied with golden handcuffs to the company via their contracts?

No one is suggesting that these dancers are paragons of human virtue, but one thing about this site it's made up of people who love dancers and who know that those dancers are the most important factor, the lifeblood of companies and who would rather champion them and blanche at their expendibility than take a conservative hardline that bureaucracy and administration know best due to droite de seigneur.

#44 Pointe1432

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 12:01 PM

Hasn't it also been discussed that the salaries of the dancers at NYCB are all significantly more than the dancers in other companies with comparable responsibilities? If we're looking at the whole, doesn't it stand to reason that if the dancers are among the best paid in the industry, that their administration is too? The question for me here isn't "is Martins making a greater amount than his peers". It's "is Martins making a disproportionate amount compared to his dancers." Is the percentage of Martins' salary to his dancers' salaries significantly greater than the percentage between artistic director and dancers in other major companies?



According to 2007 public tax records Damian Woetzel was the highest paid NYCB dancer at $178,000 (and the only dancer in the "Top 5"), the year that PM's salary ONLY as AD was listed at $686,000.

Whereas ABT's highest paid dancer in the same year was Julie Kent $174,528 (also in the "Top 5" were Paloma Herrera at $158,028 and Gillian Murphy at $156,273), and KevinM's salary was listed at $287,000.

I don't know about the rest of company salaries, but I'd say the amount Martins is making is disproportionate to his dancers.

#45 richard53dog

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 12:28 PM

Apollinaire Scherr wrote the following on her blog "Foot in Mouth":

...Martins is basically paying himself--with the NYCB Board's approval. And what's the worry on the part of the Board? That if he isn't paid like a king, he's going to work for the competition? See? Comparisons to directors outside the arts don't work. But if Martins is in fact thinking about it that way-- if the money's what's keeping him--let him go. These are bad values for a ballet company to be burdened with.



Amen. Peter Martins is in a pretty cozy situation.


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