PeggyR

SFB: Sponsored principal dancers

43 posts in this topic

Freudian slip, I meant to say sponsors rather than owners. I really don't see why it is necessary in San Francisco where the ballet is very well managed and the audience well heeled. It's an old money town and old money here loves the ballet. For example, one evening at the symphony I sat in a box named after one of the people at work – she's a lawyer – and the next morning I ran into her in the elevator. I said what a surprise to have been seated in a box with your name on it. And she said "oh that's something my husband did – he's always doing things like that, I can never keep up."

Anyway it's ok to sell sponsorship to the "orchestral seats, chairs, drinking fountains, seats, curtains, rest rooms" as Bart says, but they're inanimate objects.

Share this post


Link to post

I read an article from a long time ago in which Roberto Bolle said that at ABT, dancers have to find a sponsor and don't get paid. I may be misquoting it, so forgive me if I am wrong.

Of course, money buys influence. Presumably, one pays to create opportunities to see a favored dancer dancing. Why is it preferable to deny that and pretend it is not true?

However, at the Bolshoi, the implication from press reports seems to be that certain lines have been crossed in this regard.

Of course, the auctions are problematic. Particularly in light of the history of this country, how can one put a strong, beautiful human being on an auction block, for "sale", without any sensitivity to the images of the past that arise? One can solicit donations, even for a particular individual;s benefit, without this demeaning, painful process.

Share this post


Link to post

I read an article from a long time ago in which Roberto Bolle said that at ABT, dancers have to find a sponsor and don't get paid. I may be misquoting it, so forgive me if I am wrong.

Something seems a little off on this...I can't imagine the dancers' union would allow them to perform without compensation. And it seems unreasonable to expect the dancers themselves to recruit a wealthy donor to sponsor them. Perhaps some could do that on their own, but all of them? I tried a little googling to see if anything turned up with these comments, but struck out.

Share this post


Link to post

Mr Bolle may be referring to mandatory participation in certain fundraising activities that try to garner sponsorships. I can see an AD make that part of a principal's contract - Principals and Soloists are required to appear at the Black Tie Ball, Gala Cocktail hour, etc. I'm sure the union rep has a sliding scale of fees for time spent, etc.

Anne Bass is a good (bad?) example of a sponsor who became too involved in NYCB. Another is John Fry at Ballet San Jose and the media interest in his personal relationship with a dancer, while he was leading the board.

I think it only works well if there are bright lines drawn for sponsors about the types of relationships they may have with the dancers. It protects all involved parties from issues down the road.

I used to row and the best part of the sport was that sponsors paid for boats (racing shells)! A $35,000 Olympic level racing boat for 8 women had a place for the name at the bow of the boat. Most of the time the sponsors didn't want their own names. They preferred to name boats after their favorite coaches, or a fellow rower who had passed away that they admired for contributions to the sport. Sometimes they picked literary names, school mascot names, or something silly. I've seen the "Emma Peele", a series of boats named after Greek Mythology, smaller boats named after the 7 dwarves, etc.

If I had $35,000 to spend on a boat, I'd call it "the Debauched Sloth" after the Patrick O'Brien book series on Captain Aubrey / Dr Maturin. There is something lovely about the idea of a "debauched sloth" winning a rowing race. Far more appealing than making dancers feel like they have to do unethical things to get $$$ to dance.

Share this post


Link to post

At least in the case of Boston Ballet's AGMA contract, there is no remuneration for attending donor functions (except if required to dance). I would imagine other AGMA member contracts would be similar.

"ARTIST REPRESENTATIVE ACTIVITY Any non-dance activity in which Artist’s presence is voluntarily requested to further the fundraising, marketing or educational mission of the company, inclusive of, but not limited to, press interviews, donor cultivation socials and the annual fundraising ball. Such activity, not to be unreasonably scheduled, is voluntary and therefore non-compensable unless Artist is plying his / her trade (e.g. dancing), in which case such time shall be compensated at the applicable rate (see exception below, subparagraph O – Free Day)."

Share this post


Link to post

Mr Bolle may be referring to mandatory participation in certain fundraising activities that try to garner sponsorships. I can see an AD make that part of a principal's contract - Principals and Soloists are required to appear at the Black Tie Ball, Gala Cocktail hour, etc. I'm sure the union rep has a sliding scale of fees for time spent, etc.

Anne Bass is a good (bad?) example of a sponsor who became too involved in NYCB. Another is John Fry at Ballet San Jose and the media interest in his personal relationship with a dancer, while he was leading the board.

I think it only works well if there are bright lines drawn for sponsors about the types of relationships they may have with the dancers. It protects all involved parties from issues down the road.

This all makes sense (and thanks for the links to the articles on Bass and Fry). The "bright lines" typically drawn at Universities for named endowed professorships are actually a good guide here -- e.g., the University's standard procedures for hiring and evaluation remain intact and donors are excluded. In recent years, an (in)famous wealthy donor (who also donates liberally to the ballet) has tried to dictate hires for their endowed chairs in economics and caused quite a flurry of controversy, but I won't go into that and take us too far onto a tangent.

EDIT: I don't want to be accused of unattributed gossip. Here's one of many news stories about the economics controversy:

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/1044:koch-brothers-fueling-farright-academic-centers-across-the-us

Edited by California

Share this post


Link to post

Asking dancers to attend company galas and balls (without compensation) does not seem unreasonable. It's only a few times a year. It's no different than when companies hold Christmas parties or other events and expect their employees to attend (without any additional compensation) in order to make a good impression on invited clients. Also, I think dancers tend to make important connections that are potentially beneficial to them at such functions.

Share this post


Link to post

I read an article from a long time ago in which Roberto Bolle said that at ABT, dancers have to find a sponsor and don't get paid. I may be misquoting it, so forgive me if I am wrong.

Something seems a little off on this...I can't imagine the dancers' union would allow them to perform without compensation. And it seems unreasonable to expect the dancers themselves to recruit a wealthy donor to sponsor them. Perhaps some could do that on their own, but all of them? I tried a little googling to see if anything turned up with these comments, but struck out.

To find the quotation, I would have to go back to translate a bunch of articles to English from Italian. This issue stuck with me because I thought it was very burdensome and extreme. I thought maybe words were misquoted, over-emphasized, or taken out of context. I remember he was sponsored, at the time of the quotation, by a company for which he did advertising in Italy, though.

Share this post


Link to post

Acqua di Parma is a major sponsor of Bolle's performances. I recall seeing their ads all over the opera house a few years ago when I attended a Bolle performance at the Met. Acqua is also sponsoring Bolle's gig at City Center in September, Roberto Bolle & Friends.

Share this post


Link to post

Acqua di Parma is a major sponsor of Bolle's performances. I recall seeing their ads all over the opera house a few years ago when I attended a Bolle performance at the Met. Acqua is also sponsoring Bolle's gig at City Center in September, Roberto Bolle & Friends.

A different company sponsored his ABT performances when he first arrived in New York.

Share this post


Link to post

Acqua di Parma is a major sponsor of Bolle's performances. I recall seeing their ads all over the opera house a few years ago when I attended a Bolle performance at the Met. Acqua is also sponsoring Bolle's gig at City Center in September, Roberto Bolle & Friends.

Abatt, was it this company? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJdy1B7MNiM

Share this post


Link to post

I'm not sure, but thanks for posting that youtube video. Really fun commercial to watch. (I also recall seeing an old commercial on youtube with Angel Corella and Gwyneth Paltrow that aired in Spain that was fun. Totally off topic.)

Share this post


Link to post

I wound up writing something about this for the Society of Dance History Scholars in 2005, commenting on the Kinetz article -- if this feels too long just skip to the end...

Dance in the Ownership Society

August is traditionally the “silly season” in journalism, so originally Erika Kinetz’ essay for the New York Times (“How Much is that Dancer in the Window,” 15 August 2004) seemed like just another cheerful “behind the scenes” look at the business of dance, appearing at a time of year where there aren’t as many actual performances to comment on. But it sparked a modest hubbub on the Internet, and the subsequent discussions illustrate something about the state of arts support, and our expectations of artistic freedom, at the beginning of the 21st century.

Kinetz describes the rise of direct support for dancers in ballet companies, either through an endowed position, or more frequently, and more disconcertingly, as auction items at fundraising events. As she points out, direct patronage is nothing new -- the members of the Jockey Club were patrons of the ballet just as the Imperial family in Russia and Diaghilev’s wealthy donors were. But during the intervening years some of the mechanics of arts support have changed, and in this newer context, the relationship between donor and artist appears in a different light.

One of the many intriguing side effects of the creation of arts agencies on national, state and municipal levels in the 1960’s was a shift in the public perception of the arts as a public possession. With tax money going to arts institutions, they became more visibly attached to the communities that “paid the bill.” They were included in the civic census of community attributes, and occasionally subject to some of the same budgetary reviews and oversight that other projects endured. The significant growth in officially tax exempt (501 © 3) organizations has lead to a similar growth in the number of board members involved in their administration. Their relationship to these groups is not just monetary, it’s fiduciary as well -- they are legally responsible, on some level, for the actions of the company.

This is not to say that all arts groups enjoy government support, or that all private donors have gone the way of 78 rpm recordings. But increasingly, especially in groups that have been founded in the last 25 years, the expectation of the public is that a company named after a city receives some kind of official support. This can appear as outright grants, user tax exemptions or some kind of break on their facilities rental, but it’s an unusual group that doesn’t get some kind of “donation” from the public through an arts agency. This creates a sense of public ownership that is sometimes at odds with the other kinds of fundraising that arts groups frequently do.

One example comes from Seattle, my home town, and the recent remodel of our opera house. Originally built in the 1920’s, it was in desperate need of seismic reinforcing, as well as a laundry list of amenities for performers and audience members. The financing for these improvements was, like many recent construction projects, a combination of public money from bonds, proceeds from grant applications, and direct donations, solicited by the organizations who were to use the building. Several local corporations and leading families took advantage of what have become known as “naming opportunities” to have their name attached to certain parts of the project. The hall itself was renamed after Marion Oliver McCaw, whose children run a successful cell phone business. Inside the building, the main auditorium, the smaller lecture hall, three lobbies and the box office are all named after major donors, as are the garden and the plaza outside. An impressive number of individual seats in the auditoria are also dedicated to donors, on a much smaller scale. There was a significant amount of public “tax” dollars invested in the work, but there is comparatively little recognition for that built into the structure itself. And yet, when there was a shortfall in the financing, there was a great deal of controversy about who should cover the deficit -- whose responsibility it actually was. The municipal partners wanted the ballet and opera companies to go back to their donors, but the general sentiment seemed to be that it was still a public building, despite all the individual names on it, and that the public should shoulder at least a part of the additional debt. (This particular difficulty has yet to be fully resolved.)

So when the New York Times runs a photo collage of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Patricia Barker in full arabesque, with a price tag marked $100,000 dangling from her pointe shoe, this image of an artist for sale comes into play with a convoluted set of norms for arts funding. On one level, auctioning off dancer support is just another example of fiscal transparency -- along the same lines as the person who buys the “100% subscription,” where the true cost of presenting a season is reflected in their subscription ticket price. They are being asked to support the actual cost of doing business. In the past, donors have purchased access to artists and the process of creating artwork (like Diaghilev’s procession of potential donors) -- isn’t an auction like this just another version of “buying your way backstage?” In their desire to find another catchy way to present the financial needs of the organization, fundraisers ask their potential donors to “buy” pointe shoes and tutus. Offering dancers in the same fashion could be perceived as a difference in degree, not in kind.

And yet, the idea of putting a person on an auction block has other, far less benign, associations. The organizations that Kinetz discusses in her essay all go to some trouble to disassociate any sense of “ownership” with these programs, but those questions certainly came up in the public discussions following the Times’ publication of her article. Even some people who had a strong pragmatic take on the practice, framing it as just another way to keep dance companies alive, admitted that it had uncomfortable connections. For many others the allusions were much more grotesque.

Though we’ve all heard the description far too many times, dance is indeed an ephemeral art form, here just a minute ago but gone right now. And in the current “ownership society,” if we can’t hold on to the dance, apparently we want to grab onto the dancer.

Share this post


Link to post

Sorry, I hate the idea of it. It's one more way for a dancer to be nothing more than an object, once again. Think about it. "Sit with us at the gala, go to dinner with us, can you talk to this person, would you consider doing a special performance, etc." In addition, it's humiliating for the other dancers in the company who don't necessarily get a sponsor. Not because they are not top-notch. Think about the other SF principal and soloist dancers. Domitro, Zahorian, etc. - they don't deserve to be sponsored?

I completely agree. I think it's divisive (and potentially comic - maybe a good topic for a Woody Allen or Almodovar film). I think I might stop going to ballet at the point Domitro, Zahorian, Chung, Quenedit, etc are all sponsored - subservient to the whims of their owners rather than just devotees of their art and some part of them inaccessible, just as art is essentially independent and inaccessible.

I find the idea more than a little unsavory, and I hope the dancers do not feel, or are made to feel, unduly obliged to their sponsors. It would be interesting to read a follow-up article to the NYT piece linked to by abatt earlier in the thread that describes how this has been working in practice.

Share this post


Link to post

This thread seems to be addressing two separate, but maybe related, issues. One involves the burdens and disadvantages of sponsorship, such as obligations to one's sponsor, the propriety and implications of auctions, the possibility of undue influence, and unsavory consequences of sponsorship. I've commented on this above. I'll add that one questions whether companies can provide (or can be made to have incentive to provide) sufficient protections for dancers.

The other issue people are addressing in this thread involves competition and opportunity. The board has discussed different companies that have no rankings, or no star systems. This is misleading. NYCB claims to have no stars, but it has legendary muses, who received different levels of attention. Of course, I do not believe in discrimination. However, the notion that all dancers of equal training have equal skills or fan bases is misleading. I generally do not support a system that does not post casting. I would not want to see certain dancers, even if they are of equal rank. Two dancers can have equal training, but different skills or different interpretations of roles. The adagio expert might appeal to me in a given role more than the dancer known for her allegro skills. A beautiful, young technician may be of equal rank to an older dancer, but the young one may lack life experience and therefore be unable to understand or convey sufficient pathos in a dramatic role. An individual may prefer to help provide opportunity to dramatic, adagio dancers in lieu of acrobatic stars, and therefore, provide a sponsorship for an individual who has those qualities, rather than a fan favorite who receives sufficient attention for huge jumps and spins.

Share this post


Link to post
Someone should actually create a restaurant that is staffed solely by professional dancers (each working only a few hours a week at the restaurant). It would be the place to go for the arts community, haute-couture set and the demimonde! Just a thought. ;)

Years ago, in London, Anna-Marie and David Holmes had just such a restaurant, it was called "Holmes Hamburger House." smile.png

Share this post


Link to post

Note: things have changed - Sarah Van Patten (a US citizen) is now the recipient of the Diana Dollar Knowles "grant" (the SFB wording is, "Appointed Diana Dollar Knowles Principal Dancer in 2013"). Congratulations to Ms. Van Patten.

http://www.sfballet.org/company/dancers/principals

I also note the sponsors are listed underneath the dancers' photos. All that's needed is a slight emendation, perhaps ("Diana Dollar Knowles's Principal Dancer")?

Share this post


Link to post