Helene

"Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear"

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I just finished reading an advanced copy of Stephen Manes' "When Snowflakes Dance and Swear". Manes spent a little over a year at PNB, from preparation of the 2007-8 season, Boal's third with the company, to the very beginning of the 2008-9 season, and he followed just about every aspect of life in the company and the hundreds -- thousands if you consider families and mentors -- of people that make a season possible. It is similar to Joseph Mazo's "Dance is a Contact Sport" in that Manes dedicated his life to a season with a company, but far from being just about dancers and/choreographers. Manes takes an in-depth look at the school, classes, coaching, backstage, PR, the front of the house, administration, touring, auditions, fundraising, the orchestra, the Board: all of the aspects that come together to make the organization run and the performances happen. He even pays a visit to The Barn in Carlisle, PA. He also avoids the self-consciously cuteness in which Mazo wrote, but Mazo wrote in the '70s.

Many people have asked over and over again, "How are works transmitted?" "How do the dancers learn them?" "How do dancers work?" This books describes all of these in great detail, including the contrast in style, approach, and expectation of different stagers/stager-choreographers/choreographers, and, because that season boasted so many new works of different sizes and demands, there is quite a contrast. (The one thing they had in common, how many times they praised and encouraged, was the biggest surprise to me.)

The book gives a robust portrait of Peter Boal in a critical year in his first 5-year term as Artistic Director, and in-depth descriptions of the crucible of that period: a production of Jean-Christopher Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette", which replaced a much-loved version of Kent Stowell's, "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet". Boal had five of Stowell's Juliets and several Romeos among his Principal Dancers; with one exception the stagers rejected all of them, which in a perverse way was an advantage, because everyone was equally unhappy and insulted, especially as the stagers tried to audition them in the non-title roles -- PNB didn't have enough performances to offer that many casts in the Stowell version -- and the one exception was unhappy because she felt that Boal would always favor Carla Korbes.

2007-8 was also a critical point in the transition from Francia Russell and Kent Stowell to Peter Boal, two years away from the honeymoon, and the adjustment was huge, however well as it was handled publicly, and the detailed descriptions of the making of each rep and special performance, presentation, and gala/party over the year establish context.

Whatever anyone thinks of Peter Boal, there is someone in the book who will validate their conclusion, because, ultimately, this is a book about work and, by extension, about business, and Peter Boal is the boss. There are limited resources -- time and money -- and limited opportunity, and no matter how much money he and his staff raise, time and opportunity are still limited.

PNB is run, at least in this period, on a pretty strict business model, to produce a small operating surplus each year. That limited the amount of new work that Boal could produce, especially going forward, which is not entirely a bad thing, based on the company's experience of conflicting schedules, the logistics of so many stagers, time and money restrictions during the 2007-8 season, as well as giving dancers the opportunity to fine-tune and deepen their interpretations by repeating the ballets sooner than later. The book was written about the season before the financial crisis hit, after PNB had deferred an endowment gift on which the 2008-9 season budget relied, only to find the value of the endowment reduced below contributions, and before "Nutcracker" suffered the triple-whammy of the financial crisis, a new Christmas show in town, and a massive snow storm that crippled the city, whose poor response toppled then-mayor Nickels.

It's also a book about communication, and setting expectations, and often, the lack of both. I found it pretty astonishing that stager after stager from the modern dance world, whether their experience was with smaller companies or in an established theater like in Monte Carlo, seemed to have no idea about what it would mean to their rehearsal process to work in a repertory company with a union. What was a given to Stacy Caddell or Brian Reeder or Benjamin Millepied, all NYCB veterans for whom this was not news, seemed astonishing to the Monte Carlo team among others.

There are many profiles, both of dancers, stagers, choreographers, and people behind the scenes, and for NYCB fans, Carla Korbes, who was cast widely in the season, is a featured player, with appearances by Miranda Weese, Seth Orza, and Sarah Ricard Orza. I thought the most fascinating was the one of Bruce Wells -- what a perspective Wells has. Maillot's thoughts were also a highlight. There is also an epilogue, to bring the reader up-to-date through last season.

It's a fascinating story, regardless of whether the reader has ever seen Pacific Northwest Ballet.

The book is available through amazon.com, amazon.ca, and amazon.co.uk in hardcover and Kindle editions, as well as from Japanese and European amazon.com sites. It's also available in Nook and Adobe formats.

Here's the website to the book, from which you can read six chapters:

http://wheresnowflak...ceandswear.com/

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In the interview innopac cites above, Stephen Manes makes a powerful observation when asked what he found that was extraordinary in the world of ballet:

So is the teaching. What surprised me in the PNB school was the authority conveyed by the instructors thanks to their professional experience and knowledge. I also found their total absence of condescension toward their students noteworthy. I suspect there are lessons to be learned from this by teachers of almost anything

It struck me (as it obviously did him) how different primary education in this country might be if it had the aspects of: "hands-on" by teachers that really knew their subject from experience, truly loved the subject themselves, and always put the students and the subject first. Some sort of intra-country "Peace Corps" perhaps?????

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Excellent topic in regards the business of ballet company evolving, making and driving. Just the sort of work that I have been asked to look for, and now I know where to look. Thanks for identifying and describing the work. Can you tell if a book that is desribed as a posthumous revelation on living as a dancer, by a Robert Gladstein is available? The book was to be published exactly 20 years after his passing. I have not been able to find a copy and wonder if any of you can tell if it is worth a search? Perhaps you might just tell why such a seemingly good idea was to be published so long after passing?

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I have been reading this book and learning a tremendous amount. I found surprising the deferral to stagers by the artistic director on issues casting, particulary since this seemed to contrast with the practice described on this board on discussions regarding RDB and Mr. Hubbe.

The writing style of the book, so far, disappoints. I derive pleasure in the facts and the details about which I am learning as I read, but not from any turn of phrase. I feel like I am reading a unedited sports blog, instead.

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I read the book in November, but was busy during the holidays and failed to write a review here. I do recall that the book is self-published, which explains the lack of editorial supervision. A good editor would have cut some of the banal quotes to simple summaries and easily cut 200 pages from the book. But it's still an excellent read. I'll try to put together a formal review next weekend.

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I'll try to put together a formal review next weekend.

I will greatly look forward to that. (I am in the middle of reading the book -- and enjoying it very much. For PNB regulars like me, it's like reading a book about one's own family!!)

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I'm in the midst of this book, which I find entertaining, enlightening, and very, very frustrating. It seems like the author followed the company for a year, taking notes (or recording?) everything, then just published it all with no editing whatsoever. There are endless (and I do mean endless!) accounts of rehearsals with dancers grimacing, laughing, and being given notes; endless lengthy quotations from dancers and staff, rambling, unfocused, ungrammatical, and with no editorial comment whatsoever. Quel mess!!! There is so much interesting information scattered about, about dancers and the backstage workings of a major ballet company, that I wish it had been cut to something like half -- or less -- of the current length and given some authorial/editorial commentary and a major, major overhaul for focus.

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Was the Gladstein book at any point the one you are talking about? The inference that the thing is probably a vanity publication and that no one knows where it is and that it was supposed to be published only xx years following his "passing" intrigues. The reference at another site suggests that it is in content and reference a bit touchy;why? Is it a good danse read?

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Olatunji, I'm not sure if that question was for me? I haven't read the Gladstein book, I'm talking about Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear. I don't really see it as touchy, sure there are hurt feelings about casting and promotions, intra-company divorces, etc, but I suspect it's a very muted version of the real thing. (Of course, I'm only halfway through right now.) It's both a "good dance read" and a long, long slog.

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Apologies for having begun this Gladstein Book reference. I am now told, without explanation, that this is a work NOT for me. This from a teacher who says he knows. My guardian mentor is always asking after old SFB stuff, looking for mention of someone she knew from that company who she lost long ago, thinking that such items are just laying about now that I am in this country and visiting on this coast. I somewhat naturally assumed that this was such a work.

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The book names a NY ballerina, discloses her pay, and cites her form 1099 as a source, not a form 990 or other public document.

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I don't understand the question (I'm interested because I am currently reading the book).. Are you asking whether or not Manes is making this information up, and to prove that he is not, he needs to cite a source that can be verified? Could not this NY dancer simply shared her personal information? What's the issue here?

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I can't imagine who would do that. I was not thinking that he made it up, although, I have no way of knowing; how would I? I was just wondering who would have shown him that. I would have liked him to annotate his note. If he did have private, confidential, internal information, how did he obtain it, why would anyone give it to him, and how could anyone know it was reliable? I was just startled to read that footnote.

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If he said it was from a dancer's 1099, why would it need a further citation? He's a respected journalist and author who well knows the standards about sources in professional journalism.

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It used to shock me how open some people are about their salaries. No more. If Manes got the figure from the 1099, I assume the dancer in question showed it to him.

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With all the backstabbing and politicking discussed in various sources, and since the book is not about the ABT, one wonders if someone else may have shown it to him. He did not say she shared it with him. Also, journalists can be ethical but misled. I would like to know his source.

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Perhaps there is some confusion about what exactly a 1099 is. In this ballet case, we have to be talking about what is known as a 1099-MISC (as opposed to 1099-DIV etc that are used in the financial industry). The IRS uses 1099-MISC as a way to attempt to track money paid to someone who provides services to you, but who is not an employee (employees get tracked via W-2s and have withholding removed from their paycheck). The most common occurrences of this that I know of is when you pay more than $600 in a single tax year to a lawyer or to an independent contractor while conducting business. I presume the relationship of a ballet dancer to the ballet company is that of an independent contractor (defined by the contract).

1099s exist in 2 places: the company that issues it, and the "vendor" to whom it is issued. So Manes could have gotten a 1099 from either source, but given the text of the footnote, it would seem he got it from ABT. There is nothing illegal, or perhaps even unethical, about showing a 1099 to 3rd parties, but I suspect that there probably is some sort of etiquette within the ballet world about showing 1099s. For example, I run a small business. I issue 1099s to lawyers that I've used from time to time. If an author came to me and asked how much I paid to lawyers while doing business in 2011, I personally wouldn't hesitate to show him/her the 1099s I'd issued during the year (I suppose I'd first have to think, why is this person asking).

Note that 1099s have nothing to do with salaries. If a 1099 was issued, then the dancer is essentially an independent business person, and as such gives up (in practice) some of the "privacy" that might attach to an employer/employee relationship.

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Why would a principal dancer not be an employee and union member receiving a form W-2, then?

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The label "principal dancer" is not a legal term as far as employment law is concern -- it is more of an honorary title. Different companies organize their hierarchy in different ways with different labels. At a company like ABT, where they have a long-term relationship with certain guest artists, the title "principal" probably refers more to the level of role they are assumed to dance than to a place in the employment hierarchy of the company.

In other, smaller, groups, dancers often work on a short-term contract that spells out obligations and leaves open their options to work elsewhere. You might perform as a principal for them in the three programs they have scheduled, but only be obliged to be exclusively available to them for three distinct periods. And many smaller companies still do not hire union employees.

Working in the arts, dance included, often means working outside the standard employment practices. It's difficult to fit into the paperwork matrix of mainstream employment, where one person has one employer all the time.

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Per-performance contracts have been common at ABT. This is touched on in the film "The Turning Point", where Emma and Freddie were told that they wouldn't be doing the "Giselle"s the following year, and Emma comments that this will hurt him financially, because he's now paid on a per-performance basis.

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The label "principal dancer" is not a legal term as far as employment law is concern -- it is more of an honorary title. Different companies organize their hierarchy in different ways with different labels. At a company like ABT, where they have a long-term relationship with certain guest artists, the title "principal" probably refers more to the level of role they are assumed to dance than to a place in the employment hierarchy of the company.

In other, smaller, groups, dancers often work on a short-term contract that spells out obligations and leaves open their options to work elsewhere. You might perform as a principal for them in the three programs they have scheduled, but only be obliged to be exclusively available to them for three distinct periods. And many smaller companies still do not hire union employees.

Working in the arts, dance included, often means working outside the standard employment practices. It's difficult to fit into the paperwork matrix of mainstream employment, where one person has one employer all the time.

The ABT artist in question is not a guest artist. I was focused on union issues from reading about PNB in the Manes book. I remember reading something elsewhere about a union in NY. Would individual dancers negotiate their own contracts and rates?

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