Jane Simpson

Jobs to be cut at RDB?

45 posts in this topic

I don't disagree at all that if cuts must be made from the artistic staff, then it is the AD's responsibility to make those cuts with an eye to what he believes will work best for the company under his leadership. So it's probably the case -- and would make sense -- that cuts were made based on his artistic preferences.

My question is whether cuts to the artistic staff were necessary - the last resort, so to speak - or whether there were other savings that could have been implemented but weren't. I don't imagine we will have any definitive answer to that question, because that level of detail will never make its way public. However, it will be interesting to see whether the other branches of the theater - which are due to announce their cuts on Monday - were able to ameliorate the toll on their artistic staff and, if so, how they did it. Remember that the Opera was set to lose 16 of its 56 chorus members, a significant cut. Stay tuned . . .

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The way reports have been written since the story broke, the ADs were given a directive to reduce specific headcount. Perhaps, at a collective level the numbers were negotiated, but nothing has been written to suggest that they were given a DKK amount to cut overall or from artistic HR. That could be short-sightedness -- i.e., not giving the ADs the chance to come up with their own solutions, such as across-the-board cuts or (more) job sharing in multiple theaters or administration -- it could be based in the economics of the long-term cost of benefits, such as pensions, for example, or it might have come as a bombshell with a short time to come up with a solution. There may be a contractual clause or unwritten rule that all theaters come up with the same type of solution. The headcount solution might be the best for the ADs regardless of whether it was imposed or decided voluntarily. For example, if the rep was changing to need fewer dancers overall or to need different types of dancers/singers, then it was an opportunity for ADs to make the change.

In Seattle, for example, the dancers agreed to take pay cuts to preserve the numbers rather than lose members, and it was in their best interest, given the demands of the rep and inevitable injuries. Although Peter Boal has said repeatedly he'd rather do mixed rep where he can give many dancers the opportunities for leads instead of full-length story ballets where there are two-three leads and another few main characters, the full-length ballets lose much money less than mixed rep. No matter how you slice it, he needs warm bodies for the full-lengths. In a few weeks, PNB will perform Alexei Ratmansky's "Don Quixote", and even under the best possible circumstances -- everyone's healthy even though there are three extra performances (42% increase) over two weekends -- Dutch National Ballet, for which the work was choreographed, is larger than PNB before counting the 24 corps members, and the PNB dancers have a triple bill to perform five weeks later, and "Carmina Burana" a month after that.

In the US the musicians, stagehands, and dancers have different unions which negotiate contracts separately, and while the same musicians can be contracted for multiple companies, the contracts are separate. In Seattle, the Symphony musicians are given the option to play for the Opera orchestra, while the Ballet orchestra is a separate entity. while in Phoenix, the Symphony musicians play for the Ballet when it performs in Symphony Hall, while the Opera orchestra is a separate entity. The Ballet and Opera have independent back stage and costume/set shops. My understanding is that while the different groups in Denmark -- musicians, backstage, dancers, and actors -- have different levels of power that shift, all are employees of the state theater, and that very well could mean fewer choices for solutions to the money issue, especially a sustainable one. It's not likely with the world economic climate that budgets will go up any time soon.

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In Denmark labour cost are one of the highest costs in any enterprise. As we have to pay very high taxes the basic wages are higher than in most other countries. Comparing the ballet company with peer companies, the Danish dancers are paid a higher basic wage and is paid 365 days a year. The theatre also covers some of their pension pays. As the budget cuts have gone on for years, most other area have already been hit. The credit crunch had made more difficult to sell tickets and the theathre is hard hit by the costs of running the new opera and drama house. When the opera was given by a big sponsor to the theathre management did not really wanted the gift as it came with no money to run it. The state tthen provided some money, but not enough to cover the cost and what money was given has since been cut. As it is the company has two larges stages but only one orchestra. If a ballet and opera should play the same night, they have to hire a second orchestra for one of the two performances. It makes it difficult and expensive to for instance do more performances of a popular programme and it makes it difficult to really use the artistic assets. As the theatre like any opera house loose money everytime they perform, the cure so far has been to cut number of performance, but that makes each performance more costly as most of the employes are contracted for almost life. A statistic was publish last week that showed that the ten most expensive productions was 7 operas, 1 musical and 2 ballets. The Opera beeing much more expensive than ballet. The two ballets were Romeo & Juliet and The Ballerina program. WHy were they so expensive. R+J was a rerun, but it include many extras, has a complicated decor and I suspect that the cost of hiring an extra orchestra hits hard. The Ballerina programme is a fairly cheap programme, but as it only had six performances the cost for each performance is high.

What can be done? Looking at Sweden and Norway, their national theatres are cheaper to run but has more performance. They have split into independent drama and Opera/ballet houses. I cannot see how that split can make it cheaper, but as it works in the other countries that could be a solution. Another solution could be to merge the orchestra and choir with the othe national orchestra and choir. That is the model in Austria where Wienna Philhamonics has more members than an ordinary orchestra but do the concert scheduke and cater for the operas needs. As long as the orchestra is not pplaying Mahler and the Opera Wagner on the same night that would work and save money.

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The Royal Theatre has today issued a press release about the job cuts, which have now all been announced.

The final number of jobs to go was 81, with about a third of these coming from planned retirements, expiring contracts, abolititon of vacant jobs etc. The remainder was made up by 42 agreed redundancies and 12 layoffs.

33 of these were artists: 16 from the opera chorus, 1 opera soloist, 1 repetiteur, 11 dancers, 3 actors

Most of the actual layoffs were from the ballet: the reason the theatre gives is that most of the dancers would lose their pension rights if they left voluntarily.

The full text of the press release is here:

http://kglteater.dk/Aktuelt/Nyheder/Nyhedsarkiv/2012/PRM%20mandag%2016januar.aspx

It's in Danish but Google translate does a reasonable job.

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What is the difference between redundancy and layoff?

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In Danish terms redundancy means leaving your job either as being layoff or making an agreement to leave. Layoff is being fired without any degree of voluntarity.

The way the dancer are employeed direct that if a dancer accept to leave the post by their own action they will not get the full pension. They have to be in the position of saying I did not agree to leave. That is why the management must fire them whereas the opera singers can negosiate a retirement package

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As a result of the cuts, the new director of the Danish Royal Opera, Keith Warner, has resigned today after less than one season in the job. He gives as his reason that he is 'unable to realise his great dreams for the Opera'.

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Like Pamela Rosenthal at San Francisco Opera and Gerard Mortier at New York City Opera before him.

I'm not sure where, in this economy, one realizes one's great dreams, unless one has a sponsor as wealthy as Kekhman, but, oh, wait: Kekhman wants to use his money to realize his dreams.

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Keith Warner's farewell speech to the opera company (in English):

http://politiken.dk/kultur/fakta_kultur/ECE1518243/dokumentation-laes-hele-keith-warners-tale-engelsk/

Wow.

(Sorry, I know this isn't ballet, but it is so close to the RDB that I think it ought to be here! The bit where I don't quite follow him is where he says one saving could be made by having the orchestra play for fewer ballet evenings ...)

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Wow, I wonder how that will play in Denmark. His message here is a lot different than not realizing his vision. I'm surprised that working in 50 opera houses over 30 years he never encountered the institutional/bureaucratic issues of a state theater, but, perhaps, in other roles he was shielded from it.

Not playing for the ballet, though: those are fighting words.

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I asked for the right to look at the orchestra playing for less ballet evenings. This would internally save overtime costs; I asked, remember, as the head of the orchestra, not head of the opera and was told it couldn’t be considered...

Overtime pay is the root of his request to examine playing fewer ballet evenings. I don't think he is trying to disrespect the ballet art form.

I read his entire letter, as you'd expect of someone working in the Opera art form, there is a lot of drama in the workplace, on stage, and in his letter. But if you can read his letter and look for the major points - he was given all the responsibility, but no authority. Other people were dictating to him how to cut costs, when other AD's have more authority to look at other cost savings in sets, minimizing overtime pay, etc. It does seem to me that the Europeans have been slow and snobby about finding corporate sponsorships and aggressively fundraising. The financial crisis has been going on for more than 4 years now and not difficult to forsee. Ballet in the US has adjusted by adding more "warhorse" story ballets that attract families, renegotiating contracts, etc.

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

So said Benjamin Franklin in the Continental Congress just prior to signing the Declaration of Independence. It seems to me the Royal Opera, Ballet, Chorale, Orchestra and Theater are all hanging separately.

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Overtime pay is the root of his request to examine playing fewer ballet evenings. I don't think he is trying to disrespect the ballet art form.

He didn't write that he should choose operas with lighter scores using less instruments to cut costs, or that the opera should be performed to piano accompaniments or string quartets. Somehow, though, the ballet should go on without live music? Why isn't the opera responsible for overtime costs, when the majority of operas produced by the theater last as long or longer than the average ballet performance? RDB isn't performing the reconstructed 3+-hour "Sleeping Beauty." "Swan Lake" isn't longer than "The Flying Dutchman", for example.

But if you can read his letter and look for the major points - he was given all the responsibility, but no authority. Other people were dictating to him how to cut costs, when other AD's have more authority to look at other cost savings in sets, minimizing overtime pay, etc.

European opera houses, which had been state-sponsored and primarily funded by governments in the 20th century, are well-known for being nightmares in which government politics, including political appointments of non-arts people, as well as lifer-bureacrats rear their ugly heads and have the actual authority in the theaters and wide decision-making powers. Where there is an overall theater administration covering opera and/or dance and/or theater, it's even worse. This shouldn't be news to anyone accepting an appointment at one of the major European theaters. And that doesn't even take into consideration unions, which are prominent in some countries.

It does seem to me that the Europeans have been slow and snobby about finding corporate sponsorships and aggressively fundraising.

It's not part of the culture in Europe, where taxes -- income and 15-25+% VAT is included in the purchase price -- are extremely high and the arts have been a birthright. Businesses want a return for their donations. Sports sponsorships give them broader audiences, and businesses don't have the social incentives to donate like they do in North America, where boards are prominent, and getting their executives nominated for board positions is good for bidness.

Even in North America, the truism is that it takes several generations before philanthopy takes hold. (For all of the complaining about how the rich Microsofties weren't donating back their fair share, one of Gates' best initiatives was to get people whose families weren't donors, or only donated to their churches, to donate millions each year to 501-c-3 organizations, which were matched up to $12K per employee per year.) It's not likely that philanthropy is likely to sprout suddenly, and scrambling businesses' first thoughts are generally not the arts.

People like Vilar, Koch, and Kekhman get huge bang for their (relatively small) buck, and in Vilar's case, not even his buck, by "saving" arts institutions. Russia not only was in a crisis after the Soviet Union fell, it was chaotic. Gergiev gauged the situation immediately and jumped on the fund-raising bandwagon early and often. Most of Europe is not at that point of chaos/opportunity.

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The crisis in the RDB has blown up again with full force. Dancers and actors have written an open letter to the board, in which they say that they have lost confidence in the management. They have asked for a meeting with the board, which they had this morning, though not with the board alone, as they had asked for, but with the management present as well.

The critic is especially directed against the ballet master Nikolaj Hübbe and the theatre director Erik Jacobsen, among many other things because of their handling of the lay offs earlier in January.

A google translated page from the Danish paper "Politiken" gives some more details, (though one has to live with the many funny translations): Politiken article

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An unfortunate tactic, in my opinion. By sharing their 'no-confidence' letter with the press, the artists immediately escalate the dispute to a 'crisis' level before giving management a fair chance to deal with it internally. It doesn't help their cause any, particularly in a country where (as here) layoffs by the thousands are reported in the press weekly. One wonders exactly what they want. Part of the problem may be that in Hubbe they have a director who brings with him a kind of work ethic and insistence on quality that was missing in some of the past directors. No one likes it when their flaws are pointed out . . . at least until they overcome them.

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Of course, we don't know what internal discussions came before this letter was published. Just as we can speculate that the dancers don't want to work hard or to Hubbe's standards, we can also speculate that they have legitimate complaints, artistically and management-related.

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Thanks for that link! It is fascinating and frustrating and sad.

There are several (ballet) ensembles in Germany right now which may not exist in one to two more years. These are not just the "smaller" companies, either.

This jumped out at me from the article:

In the case of the Netherlands, the culture budget is being cut by about $265 million, or 25 percent, by the start of 2013, and taxes on tickets to cultural events are to rise to 19 percent from 6 percent, although movie theaters, sporting events, zoos and circuses are exempted.

What the....??!

Weird.

-d-

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Wow! And I thought the Dutch were the wealthiest...

And WHY are sports, Movies, zoos and circuses exempt?

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It is all politics, Amy.

Lobbyists abound.

-sigh-

-d-

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