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NYCB Dancers Cut


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#46 Beatrice

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 12:33 PM

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.


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.

If Martins was married to an attorney who was making a comparable amount of money as Kistler, his spouse's contribution would not be added to this particular equation. Just because he's married to someone whose salary can be roughly assumed, it does not make it a fair way to gauge the apporpriateness of his actions.

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?


Who says that I don't? One can certainly think that there is a need for change in the way that contracts are handled for senior members of the company and still harbor the thought that there are *POSSIBLY* corps members whose contribution is questionable. I believe that it was DeborahB who explained that the Union affiliations involved make it all but impossible to release principles and soloists. So basically this is a completely different and irrelevant issue to the discussion at hand.


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.


Not once did I take a conservative hardline that bureaucracy and administration always know best. I am saying that they don't always know worst and that we are not privvy to the smaller details that make up the bigger picture.

Furthmore, you're not the only ones saying that dancers are the lifeblood of companies. I, too, am championing them. I am just looking at things from a different perspective. If this decision means that there are almost 50 corps members that can concentrate on their dance without the stresses of financial strain, this is good for the company. If this decision means that at least one or two of the SEVERAL company members who are deserving of a promotion can move up, this is good for the company. If this decision means that promising apprentices can be brought in, that is good for the company. If this decision cleaned house of some *POSSIBLE* bad seeds, that is good for the company.

All I'm doing is looking at this from both sides.

#47 Alexandra

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 01:21 PM

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.


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."


I think it's definitely part of the issue. Rightly or wrongly, when the head of an organization has family members on the payroll, questions will always be raised (fairly or unfairly).

The problem of great artists, or principal dancers, who postpone retirement has been with us for awhile. It's just that usually it's thought of only as an artistic question, but when funds are tight, it can become a financial one as well. Not to mention that there are some heads of organizations who've volunteered to work for a markedly reduced salary (free, $1.00 a year). I'm not suggesting that's what someone SHOULD do, but I do think Simon and Helene (and others here) have raised some good points. As several people have noted, other companies have chosen different paths -- cutting administrative staff, furloughing dancers for a week. I'm sure none of these decisions have been taken lightly.

#48 dirac

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 01:55 PM

That if he isn't paid like a king, he's going to work for the competition?


$700 or 800K is being paid like a king? Martins could probably have taken a bigger cut in pay than he did. But I haven't seen any evidence presented here that would convince me that he or his wife are motivated by cupidity.

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."


CEOs in general these days make too much money in proportion to the rank and file and some companies are often too quick to resort to layoffs, but I agree - no one could run a sizable organization based on such reasoning.

#49 Beatrice

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 02:07 PM

I think it's definitely part of the issue. Rightly or wrongly, when the head of an organization has family members on the payroll, questions will always be raised (fairly or unfairly).
The problem of great artists, or principal dancers, who postpone retirement has been with us for awhile. It's just that usually it's thought of only as an artistic question, but when funds are tight, it can become a financial one as well.


Indeed. But when it's been pointed out that the retirement issue lies entirely on union regulations and is literally not the decision of the head of the organization, the fact that they are married becomes moot.

Additionally, Helene's point was not "Kistler is here past her prime." Her issue was "Martins is married to Kistler so that can be factored into his household income". The income of a person's spouse has nothing to do with whether or not their salary should be altered.

Not to mention that there are some heads of organizations who've volunteered to work for a markedly reduced salary (free, $1.00 a year). I'm not suggesting that's what someone SHOULD do, but I do think Simon and Helene (and others here) have raised some good points. As several people have noted, other companies have chosen different paths -- cutting administrative staff, furloughing dancers for a week. I'm sure none of these decisions have been taken lightly.


I'm not saying that Simon and Helene haven't brought up some good points. Nor do I fail to recognize that other companies have taken different paths. I'm not even saying that I think Martins definitely handled this in the best way possible. The only thing that I'm saying - and which I truly do not even see as a debatable point - is that very few (if any) of us have enough background knowledge to accuse him of making poor choices. As you have said *NONE* of these decisions have been taken lightly.

#50 Simon G

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 02:16 PM

Beatrice,

The flip side of questioning the dancers in the way that you do with no basis in fact either reported or known, is that one could conjecture that perhaps the hidden politics are more sordid - that it's not the dancers who sinned against management but management against the dancers. Perhaps one or several of the dancers had been sexually propositioned by someone high up in administration, offered roles for favours, advancement for services rendered and when they refused marked their card permanently, set them up for dismissal. Perhaps someone on the board or a major donor has a beef with one of the dancers or their family etc etc etc

These theories are useless, dangerous, damaging and completely and utterly untrue - I would never seriously suggest them but equally hurtful is questioning those dancers work ethic, attitude and usefulness - the potential existence of "bad seeds". , rotting the barrel. We don't know anything, except the facts as presented.

Conjecture is endless, potentially libellous and ultimately worthless. And the dangerous thing about putting these theories and indeed the theories that you do forward is that they're not true, none of it's true unless proven to be a contributing factor or a given reason for termination of contract. And that's why when you do it gets me upset for sure, because it's calling into question the life commitment of a group of highly talented, dedicated individuals who are going through utter turmoil; and the statement that people who are of worth aren't fired is absolutley specious and proven wrong by the deluge of misery the world is experiencing as highly trained, dedicated and industrious people the world over are losing their jobs, not just in dance, but in all fields. Indeed, we should have heeded the advice to sack the useless years ago by trimming the fat from merchant banks.

I used Kistler as an example not because she's Martin's wife, but because I've seen her dance recently and she was the most obvious example for me of a dance establishment that's doing something wrong by presenting a dancer of such limited and diminished ability as their best. I could say this too of Yvonne Boree, Nilas Martins: or Albert Evans and Wendy Whelan who I saw dance seven years ago and loved and when I saw Evans and Whelan last year was saddened by the dimishment in their abilities.

One thing I'm glad about from the NY Times article is knowing that Max Van Der Sterre is one of the fired: glad that I know but sad that it's him. I saw him last year and even in the corps I have to say he stood out because he's the kind of dancer I love. You could see he has a very difficult body for dance, it's not a naturally flexible one, you could see that where some of his more physically gifted compatriots flew through the air with the greatest of ease, naturally, everything for him had been a challenge to achieve - that technique was something that had been hard to come by and his dancing reflected that in its intensity and the way in which he made technique work for him. I love dancers who buck the trend for hyper flexible, facile and technical who have that core of iron - those are the kind of dancers companies need, they're wonderful examples - and it's just a crying shame that his worth was held in such low regard.

#51 Beatrice

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 04:09 PM

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.

#52 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 05:15 PM

[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]

#53 LiLing

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 06:02 PM

[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!

#54 Helene

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Posted 25 July 2009 - 10:39 PM

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.

#55 mimsyb

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 05:36 AM

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.

#56 Simon G

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 08:09 AM

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.

#57 Beatrice

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 09:44 AM

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.

#58 Drew

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 10:11 AM

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.

#59 Helene

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 10:54 AM

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.

#60 Simon G

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 12:13 PM

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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