Jane Simpson

Jobs to be cut at RDB?

45 posts in this topic

The Danish newspaper Politiken this morning carries a story - confirmed by comments from the Theatre Director and others - that the Danish Royal Theatre organisation has to cut its total workforce by about 100 people as part of the savings which were a condition of the four-year deal on funding made with the government last month. The cuts are to be split between management, technical/administration, and performers; the paper gives the total number of performers to lose their jobs as 35, which - if the cuts are spread evenly over the different art forms - would mean around 9 dancers. The artists were told before Christmas that this was going to happen and the decisions are to be made by January 16th.

The compulsory retirement at 40 will somewhat reduce the immediate pain but won't cover it all, and the Director also says that the ballet, the theatre and the opera will each have to cut one major production next season.

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Today is decision day, when the Royal Theatre's leaders decide on how many redundancies they need and where they will come from.

Meanwhile the leader of the dancers' union, Byron Mildwater, is saying that the dancers are prepared to negotiate about 'everything' - including taking a pay cut - to avoid layoffs. He is also coming up with other suggestions, such as that the ballet should only perform in one of the three theatres, that less should be spent on costumes etc, and that the management should look at options such as sponsorship of individual dancers.

The actors' union, on the other hand, thinks the management should bear the brunt of the necessary cuts.

Difficult times - desperate, even, for those whose jobs may go - and some very hard decisions to be made...

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Tonight at the opening of the RDB's run at the Palais Garnier in Paris - and on the occasion of an EU gala - dancers handed out flyers to the attendees expressing their concerns at the planned layoffs.

From Politiken (translated via Google):

"Ballet dancers at the Royal Theatre conducted this evening an unusual action in Paris turned against planned layoffs and cost savings of ballet.

"Before a performance on the occasion of the Danish EU presidency attended by among others Queen Margrethe and several peaks from France and the EU were ballet dancers dressed in costumes and training wear right out on the stairs in front of the French National Opera at the Palais Garnier, where they shared out leaflets to Prominent among the guests."

View the translated article here.

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The number of jobs to be cut down has now been reduced from 100 to 50 according to a press release from the theatre January 5:

Press-release (in Danish, I'm sorry - maybe google translate can help)

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Plus some 38 additional jobs to be lost due to attrition. The management appears to be treating the job cuts as a fait accompli, instead of really working to find ways other than cutting artists to deal with their budget issues. (For example - does a facility located in the heart of Copenhagen really need its own fully-staffed canteen providing discounted meals to performers and theater workers?)

Today the Opera chorus (which stands to lose 16 singers) held a free concert at the Old Theater that, by all reports, was packed to the rafters and included an impassioned plea from the director to save those positions. Nikolaj Hubbe, on the other hand - who as recently as this past summer was in very hot water as a result of a leaked management consultant's report - has been strangely silent about the proposed cuts. Of course, he just signed a new 5-year contract, so his nest is nicely feathered no matter what happens.

The tactic of starting with a big number when a smaller one will do, then announcing the smaller number and declaring victory is a common one in negotiations. It allows the management to give the illusion of progress when in reality all they've done is arrived at the number they intended to get to all along. Very often 'negotiations' such as these are just an illusion.

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Maybe you are right in these assumptions, I don't know - it is very difficult to judge from outside what happens in a hermetically closed and bureaucratic institution like the Royal Theatre. I'm not sure, though, that the silence of Hübbe has to be an indication of lack of will to fight for his company, that would be hard to imagine with his fiery temperament and normally very non-compromising nature. I think all 4 directors (of respectively ballet, opera, drama and orchestra) are subject to strong rules of not going public with anything and of staying loyal to the government of the theatre, including the political government, no matter what happens. That is part of having a leading postion in the state or in a municipality (I suppose it is like that in most countries, but I don't know...).

The political pressure on the theatre administration seems to be rather heavy, though. Lately the Minister of Culture has announced that none of the members of the board will get their membership renewed this year, which means that for the time being the theatre is without a board, and therefore all decisions now lie with the theatre management. Even in good times it must be a problem to have this fundamental break of continuity in the work of the board, and in a situation like this it must even more difficult.

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Today the theater performers published an open letter to

Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller asking for help. Mærsk-related foundations spearheaded and funded the construction of the new opera house on the island of Holmen, across from central Copenhagen. It's a gorgeous facility, but has proven expensive to maintain. As the letter points out (Google translated version): "In this desperate situation we can not help but think about what you, Mr.

Møller, I wonder feel to see your house on the other side of the water quietly languish, see the lights turned off and hear the music silenced."

Link to

the letter, and to a related article.

Meanwhile, the silence, at least in the press, from Mr. Hübbe is deafening.

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I think the words against Mr.

Hübbe are without foundation. We do not know what his actions and words are within the organization. Complaining to the press is merely sound and fury. For all we know, he is banging the drum behind closed doors with upper management, politicos, and private funding sources. He may have a handshake agreement with the dancers to allow them to be in the press (after all they are the real victims here if there are layoffs), while he works behind the scenes.

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It is interesting to contrast the public behavior of the head of the Opera (on his knees in front of a concert audience asking "Please, can I save my choir?") with that of the head of the Ballet. Here is what one dancer had to say about that:

"People are scared, insecure, nervous and worried. We have not been informed about what is going on. There have been more in the newspaper, than management has told us. And we have the feeling that there is no fighting spirit of the ballet management. Our management has not even taken the initiative to talk with us, Nikolaj Hübbe came to a meeting shortly before Christmas, because Ballet Association demanded that he came. But he did not say much, although it would be natural that he tried to reassure and inform us about what will happen."

If Hubbe is doing anything behind the scenes, he's keeping it a secret even from his own company. All of the public statements about the firings at the ballet have come from the dancers - mostly via their spokesperson, veteran dancer Byron Mildwater, some via interviews in the press. And while the dancers are doing a great job of promoting their own cause, they don't seem to be getting help from their own management. Which is unfortunate.

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How ironic that the A.D. who minimized religion in his stagings of Bournonville Ballets could use a little prayer or two nowadays. Just sayin'.

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How ironic that the A.D. who minimized religion in his stagings of Bournonville Ballets could use a little prayer or two nowadays. Just sayin'.

Unfortunately, prayers are only remembered when one is at need of something.

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In the Danish national paper "Morgenavisen Jyllandsposten" it is today confirmed that 7 dancers are being sacked, and 4 dancers will retire. No names are mentioned, only the announcement that among the fired are 1 principal dancer, 1 soloist and 5 corps dancers. Among the retiring are 1 principal, 1 character dancer and 2 corps dancers.

There are no comments from either Nikolaj Hübbe or theater director Erik Jacobsen so far.

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The names of the 11 dancers, who are going to leave the RDB have now been announced in Politiken:

Article (I couldn't find out making it appear in English translation, but maybe you can help yourself to a google-translation)

I can't help feeling very sad today, and I feel very sorry for the seven dancers, who are leaving the company against their own free will, some of whom I remember vividly from many fine performances during the years.

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As is clear from the Politiken article (Google translate works pretty well), Hubbe has used this as an opportunity to clean house. It will be interesting to see on Monday whether the other branches of the theater do the same, or whether their chiefs (I'm thinking of the Opera in particular) are better able to reduce the toll on the artistic staff.

Meanwhile, I'm sure all who do remain will be happy to know they'll still have a cafeteria. Because that's what running a theater is all about - Swedish meatballs on Tuesdays.

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I think it is important to be precise in these matters, and google translations are not always reliable.

What the Politiken actually writes is this (my translation):

"According to several dancers Politiken has spoken with, it is now clear that the firings are determined by the ballet master Nikolaj Hübbe's personal taste and preferences.

"It's 100 percent the ballet master's criteria that have determined it. That's how the ballet world is - it's all a lot about personal taste. It is actually very natural, "says principal dancer Ulrik Birkkjær."

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This is absolutely shocking news, especially for the seven dancers who are not retiring. I used google translate; it came up with a very bizarre translation but did give the gist and the names.

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Kistrup mentions three dancers retiring and eight cut positions, including a soloist, Lesley Culver, who was set to retire next year. How does the layoff affect her retirement earnings?

Bowman is tall: perhaps ABT should be looking his way? Or maybe he'd like it in Seattle.

Although RDB is part of a state theater, there doesn't seem to be a policy for layoffs to start with foreign dancers. One of my first thoughts when the issue was first raised was to worry about former PNB soloist Jodie Thomas, who has only been with a Company a few years.

Hubbe wouldn't be the first Artistic Director to turn layoffs into an opportunity to clean house.

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The names of the 11 dancers, who are going to leave the RDB have now been announced in Politiken:

Article (I couldn't find out making it appear in English translation, but maybe you can help yourself to a google-translation)

I can't help feeling very sad today, and I feel very sorry for the seven dancers, who are leaving the company against their own free will, many of whom I remember vividly from many fine performances during the years.

It is so sad Anne....Hopefully they will manage to come through this, but it will be difficult to find another job as a dancer in Denmark..

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An artistic director is responsible for casting, this is a big part of his/her vision. It can't be expected that he/she would keep someone rarely cast over a dancer often cast. There could be a lottery, with everyone's chance equal, but to what point? The company has excellence as it's goal. It's just a shame they didn't find some other way to cut the budget... Shortened weeks or one less production or an equal percentage pay cut for everyone...

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As is clear from the Politiken article (Google translate works pretty well), Hubbe has used this as an opportunity to clean house.

Hubbe wouldn't be the first Artistic Director to turn layoffs into an opportunity to clean house.

Before this interpretation of what is going on in the RDB gets the character of a fact, I have to say, that unless checkwriter has some insider knowledge, which makes it possible to read between the lines, there has been nothing in the press, neither in the article checkwriter refers to in Politiken, that directly says so. What the article said was:

"According to several dancers Politiken has spoken with, it is now clear that the firings are determined by the ballet master Nikolaj Hübbe's personal taste and preferences."

And this is what an A.D. do all the times. He has the final say in everything, in casting, in who is accepted into the company etc. One may not like that fact, but it is not the same as to say, that he has misused this power to "clean house". That is a very strong accusation which one shouldn't bring forward unless one is very sure.

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And this is what an A.D. do all the times. He has the final say in everything, in casting, in who is accepted into the company etc. One may not like that fact, but it is not the same as to say, that he has misused this power to "clean house". That is a very strong accusation which one shouldn't bring forward unless one is very sure.

According to your own translation of the "Politiken" article,

"According to several dancers Politiken has spoken with, it is now clear that the firings are determined by the ballet master Nikolaj Hübbe's personal taste and preferences.

"It's 100 percent the ballet master's criteria that have determined it. That's how the ballet world is - it's all a lot about personal taste. It is actually very natural, "says principal dancer Ulrik Birkkjær."

There's been no statement by the company or theater administration that the cuts were made on an objective basis, such as seniority, tenure, rank, or nationality and no statement refuting that it wasn't Hubbe's decision to make.

According to Eva Kistrup's blog:

The New Zealander [Andrew Bowman] has been with the RDB for his full career, but he has been an infrequent dancer for most of Hübbe's tenure. Soloist Lesley Culver who is also laid off, would have reached retirement next season. Cecilie Lassen, who's original promising career has been marred with injuries has been given a retirement package. The remaining lay offs are placed on members of the corps, who have had little stage time and no featured roles. This group include two Danish girls and three foreign dancers.

The dancers who've been laid off have one thing in common: Hubbe hasn't or couldn't (in the case of at least one oft-injured dancer) use them. Laying off dancers that aren't useful to an Artistic Director is one definition of cleaning house. (Of course, there are other reasons good and bad that an AD can clean house.) It doesn't take insider information to come to that conclusion.

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Maybe I'm now the one who is reading more between the lines than is really there. I understand from your explanation, that the expression "to clean house" can have a more neutral meaning and that it doesn't necessarily mean that a director misuses the opportunity to get rid of his or her enemies or critics. Because of the managment crisis last year the latter has been a fear vented in the papers before the layoffs were a reality.

I don't know if objective criterias are less damaging. Maybe it hurts less to be sacked because you are, say, the one with less seniority, and not because you are the less usefull, and for the A.D. it is much easier to hide behind such criterias, because he or she doesn't risk accusations of favourism. But for the company it can never be the best criterion, as you might end up sacking some of the best dancers that way.

What is really the issue, and maybe has been it all the time to you, checkwriter, (I apollogy that I might have got your meaning wrong) is, whether Hübbe has had any choice: Could he have avoided the lay-offs by saving money elsewhere in the organisation? And how free has his hands been in this process? One must remember that there is a theatre director above both him and the other A.D.s of the house, who has the final say.

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