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Funding & Elitisim


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#1 Calliope

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Posted 21 December 2001 - 10:16 AM

I can tell off the bat this will be long winded, so please bear with me while I try to get to my point.
I was wondering last night about this. I remember seeing in the threads in the past the "is ballet elitist" subjects and since we've been discussing finances lately. In the States it seems that a large portion of the companies rely on the Gala fundraisers for the bulk of funds and many of the companies state that performance cover barely a small percentage of the overhead for the operations. Which basically means that people that can afford to go to $1,000 a plate dinners are the primary donors (not that the rest of us that contribute don't make a difference, but...)
Does the financial backing of the upper tier contribute to this ballet is for the elite notion and is it the same in other countries (both the funding and elitist attitude)?

[ December 21, 2001: Message edited by: Calliope ]



#2 liebs

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Posted 21 December 2001 - 07:20 PM

Although galas are an important part of the fundraising mix for dance companies, I am not aware of any company where the galas constitute the greatest portion of the funds raised. Most companies have a diverse mix of funding including individual gifts from a wide variety of donors, foundation grants, corporate sponsorship or grants and government funds. If ballet is an elite art form, how it is funded is only part of the issue.

In Europe, government provides most of the money but ballet is still considered an elite art form. My question is "why is that considered bad?"

#3 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 09:24 AM

i don't think being an elite form of art is bad, but i don't think that it has to mean that it is elitist about its audiences. in the case of dance i think that to be elite means in some ways to be beautifully done. to be more than something everything can do, at the same time being something everyone can love. i don't think there's anything wrong with that; i love going to the metropolitan museum but i don't look down on the paintings just because i can't reproduce them!

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 11:21 AM

Rich people have always supported the arts. I'm very happy they do -- it means they're there for the rest of us to enjoy.

I agree. I don't think "elite" is a dirty word. Or "literate" or "educated."

#5 Estelle

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 12:00 PM

[quote]Originally posted by alexandra:
Rich people have always supported the arts. I'm very happy they do -- it means they're there for the rest of us to enjoy.


Except when it becomes too expensive and only a few people can afford it... And also "elite" seems to be a word which has a lot of different meanings depending on the context (I agree than ballet is, as Mme. Hermine wrote, "not something everyone can do", and that "educated" and "literate" surely aren't bad words, but I don't think that being richer means that you have better artistic tastes...)

As liebs wrote, in Europe (or at least in France, since I don't know well about the situation in other European countries), most of the art is funded by the government. There is some private funding, but not much (and especially not much for dance- it seems that the sponsors prefer to support "lasting" things like sculptures or paintings, rather than performing art). There are galas from time to time at the Paris Opera, but I don't know much about them, and I don't think they represent a significant part of the budget (moreover, I think that often they are for charity purposes for other causes).

I don't know if ballet is considered as an "elite art form" in France (perhaps because the word "elite" isn't used that much?), it probably depends a lot on whom you're speaking with. But surely it isn't considered as very accessible from a material point of view, as the only big company with a large repertory is in Paris and rarely tours in the other French cities (while taxpayers there pay for it, too)- and surely there are as many people able to appreciate ballet in other French cities than in Paris... Moreover, even if the ticket prices are less high than for other companies like the Royal Ballet or than opera tickets, it still isn't very accessible for most of the population, and the POB administration doesn't make much efforts about it (they often have a "you're not good enough for us" attitude towards potentiel customers that I find quite annoying), unlike many theaters. Then, I think that there are quite a lot of people who consider ballet "not intellectual enough" (often they haven't seen any), but that's another matter.

I think that, as it has already been written in other discussions, ballet can't become a "mass art" without losing much of its qualities, but I wonder about the situation in some other countries. For example, I remember reading(in articles in "Ballet 2000") that in Cuba ballet was very popular, and for example that the ballet festival there was a huge event, with sold out tickets, etc. How true is it? And has it implied some negative consequences on the art form?

[ December 22, 2001: Message edited by: Estelle ]



#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 12:10 PM

"Elitism" is a loaded term. If you take it to mean an insistence on quality, it's a virtue. If you're talking about restricting access, it's a vice. I've always believed in being elitist about content and populist about access. As has been said before here, ballet isn't for everyone, but it is for anyone.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 12:18 PM

In Cuba, ballet is extremely popular. It may be the result of the political situation -- that Cuba has been so isolated it's had to look inward -- but the ballet has been a great source of national pride. Alonso was also in the position of being ablt to present what she wanted to present and to educate an audience -- anyone, rich or poor (of course being rich doesn't mean one has better taste; being well-educated, however, means that at least one has been exposed to good art) needs to be educated to appreciate fine art or literature.

I think the arts will depend on rich donors, which is why New York City can support two big, and several small, ballet companies. If you need to raise $500,000, getting it in $10 checks is a much more daunting task than being able to tap five people who can be convinced to write a $100,000 check.

The situation in France is quite different from here, I think, since so many of the smaller companies outside Paris have been turned from ballet companies to contemporary dance companies. I've heard two rationales for this. One is simply that contemporary dance is so much cheaper -- smaller cast works, no pointe shoes, etc. -- and the other is (Patrice Bart said this in the recent DanceView interview) that "ballet does not stand mediocrity" and that it's better to have one top-of-the-line company than a dozen lesser lights. IMO, this is a mistake and one that will eventually cost French ballet dearly. If most of France is cut off from ballet -- never sees it -- but sees only contemporary dance, well, gosh, that's what they're going to think of as dance, and Paris Opera Ballet is going to be even more distant and foreign -- and the cries of "why do we have to support that elephant?" will grow louder.

Lincoln Kirstein had a theory that what kept ballet alive was all the small companies -- even the really tiny ones, the infamous Dotty Dinkles of the world. That gives lots of people a connection to ballet. Ballet in America was richer, I think, in the 1940s, '50s and '60s when several companies toured incessantly, bringing ballet to even tiny towns. But you still need people with money to fund it.

High ticket prices is a knotty question, and no one looks at the costs of producing ballet. It's not just the dancers and musicians, or even the stage unions (who used to get all the blame) now. It's very high salaries to administrative and artistic staff. Departments of education, community outreach, marketing, special programs, etc. That all has to be paid for.

#8 liebs

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 05:25 PM

Alexandra, you're right. All of the expenses of running a big or small company add up. But it is important to remember that no one, not the dancers, stage hands, musicians or administrators get rich on the salaries or fees they are paid. Almost everyone does it to some degree or other for the love of it.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 05:44 PM

Liebs, I'm sure you're right. Everyone, or almost everyone, in ballet is there because they love it, but artistic director salaries in the larger companies are now counted in fractions of a million -- quarter-million, half-million -- dollars PLUS if the director is a choreographer, there may be royalties on top of it, and certainly are if his or her ballets are taken into another company's rep. So I think there are some people at the top -- and on the exec side, too -- who are doing very, very well financially. Several $100,000 salaries must have some effect on ticket prices! (There are still dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who are helping out on subsistence wages, or as volunteers, too, but the tip of the pyramid is getting pretty heavy.)

[ December 22, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]



#10 Estelle

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Posted 22 December 2001 - 08:31 PM

[quote]Originally posted by alexandra:

I've heard two rationales for this. One is simply that contemporary dance is so much cheaper -- smaller cast works, no pointe shoes, etc. --


That was one of the main reasons for the change in Nancy (the city of Nancy cut its subsidies).

[quote]
and the other is (Patrice Bart said this in the recent DanceView interview) that "ballet does not stand mediocrity" and that it's better to have one top-of-the-line company than a dozen lesser lights. IMO, this is a mistake and one that will eventually cost French ballet dearly.


I agree 100%. Also, I think that part of the problems is that most things in France still are very much Paris-centered (even if there has been much progress in the last two decades), and so the changes in regional companies are not taken very seriously- the powers that be seem to think that as long as there is some ballet in Paris, that's the only important point... Also none of the regional companies has had a long, continuous history (even though there had been ballet companies quite early in many cities, after all Dauberval's "Fille mal gardée" had been premiered in Bordeaux in 1789): there have been so many changes of directions and policies, with the work of one director being destroyed by the next one, that it was hard to build anything on such foundations. And most people don't seem to understand that building a company and a repertory takes some time, and not only the three or four years an artistic director often lasts.
Also, another reason why ballet probably is more and more foreign to most people is that there is so little of it on television. I've been told that in the 1970s and 1980s, the public television was
showing some ballet quite often, but now it is almost unexisting (probably because all TV channels, including public ones, are interested only in audience figures and advertising money). Of course ballet on TV can't be compared with a real performance, but at least the people who see it know that ballet exists, and it can lead them to pay more attention to it (that's what happened to me thanks to a program about Nijinsky)...

#11 Calliope

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 07:34 AM

I'm not sure what defines "rich" but on a typical 1 year for a senior corps member in NYCB with a tour.
They make upwards of 100,000. They get overtime, out of the country per diem and salary.
That's not including if they do guest appearances, which nicely cushions a soloist or principal (who don't get paid overtime).
So while they're not "rich" they are far from starving artists. Then again, this is just NYCB, I'm not sure about other companies.

#12 vrsfanatic

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 08:59 AM

Please help me to understand...do you mean upwards of $100,00.00 annually for a senior corps member of NYCB?

Let's hope those dancers have saved their money because they will not come anywhere near that as teachers!

#13 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 09:17 AM

If that is true, it is way, way beyond anything I have ever heard of for a corps de ballet dancer, even in a major company! Have things really changed that much in a few years? Even with overtime I find that about double the figures I have heard about. When they tour they get a per diem, but they also have to pay for hotels and meals, while still paying rent in NY, so the per diem probably barely covers their daily expenses on the road. I'm not sure about NYCB, but in most, if not all, companies the dancers are paid on a weekly basis, and their contracts vary anywhere from twenty some weeks a year to maybe 46 weeks for a very few. Even they make $700 to $1000 a week, (and smaller companies pay much less than that) that doesn't come close to a six figure salary.

Calliope, I'm not trying to be argumentative here, but I'm really concerned because I think that young dancers reading that might think they can earn that kind of money and if that is happening at NYCB I think it would be the only place. Do you know what the average weekly salary of a corps dancer is in that company, and how many weeks a year they work, not counting overtime or per diem as I don't think they are regular enough additons to figure into an average salary and per diem is not salary anyway.

[ December 24, 2001: Message edited by: Victoria Leigh ]



#14 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 10:31 AM

on agma's web site, (www.agmanatl.org) it actually has the details of the current contracts of four different companies. as far as corps de ballet of nycb, it lists the following:

8/23/99-8/22/00 8/23/00-8/22/01 8/23/01-8/22/02
Level A Corps $ 825.00 $ 842.00 $ 858.00
Level B Corps 990.00 1010.00 1030.00
Level C Corps 1180.00 1204.00 1228.00
Level D Corps 1430.00 1459.00 1502.00

and they are guaranteed, if i read this correctly, 38 weeks of work, which at the highest level listed here, is just over 57,000.

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 10:45 AM

And what do they say about per diem, which is not income, but accountable in unemployment calculations?


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