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Staging a ballet developed by another company

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If a ballet company wanted to stage a ballet like say, The Pharoah's Daughter which seems to belong to the Bolshoi and Pierre Lacotte, how would they go about it? Would Lacotte have to come and supervise? What kind of negotiations would need to be made? Are there processes?

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My deepest apologies for the length of this post...

I'm sorry to have let this question sit for so long, but it's a pretty complex answer and I wanted to have some time to think about it. The short answer to your question is (you guessed it) it depends. On many different things.

Ownership in the dance world is a different situation than it is with art forms that have a universally recognized notation system (like music and theater), or where the work itself is a corporeal item separate from the artist/creator (like most visual art) Paintings and bought and sold all the time -- ownership confers rights of usage and attribution. I don't know where you are, geographically, but if you've ever been to the Frick Museum in New York City you've probably seen the Holbein portrait of Henry VIII. It's one of the most familiar images of the king around -- I've seen it in cheap history books, expensive journals and everywhere in between, and almost always it comes with its little caption ("courtesy of the Frick Museum" or something similar)

A play or a piece of music is usually copyrighted to the author or composer (or their estate), but those rights are often administered by a publisher. Dramatists Play Service is the home for Thomas Babe, J.M. Barrie, S.N. Behrman, Samuel Beckett, Lee Blessing, Eric Bogosian, Carol Burnett (yes, the comedian -- she co-wrote a play with her daughter), and a specific translation of Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro. And that's just a few of the 'B's. Not all authors use a service, and some works are in the public domain (though certain translations might not be) But as US and international copyright law keeps extending the duration of the protection public domain is becoming much less common.

The control that the service administers can vary widely. In many cases it is simply a matter of royalty payments and credits -- you sign a contract that agrees to a specific fee and a specific kind of credit in programs/promotions. In exchange, often the service will supply the scripts (the official version of the text). Other artists have a more complicated set of requirements attached to the work -- they may govern the logistics of production (kind of theater, size of orchestra).

When we get to dance, we automatically step to the complicated side of the street. For most of its history, dance has been passed down person to person rather than through a text or other recording. Aside from the difficulties that makes in accuracy, it’s very hard to establish authorship/ownership. This is why we put so much emphasis on the antecedents.

I wrote about this a few years ago, in a review of Jardin Animee that was reconstructed from notation for the Pacific Northwest Ballet school. This posting is already pretty long, so I’ll just put a link to the review


if you want to take a look.

Because ownership is so tentative, many choreographers are very protective of what they can actually claim. Living choreographers often handle their contracts by themselves, have the right to refuse a work to someone for whatever reasons they choose, can require any one of a number of elements in a staging, and can make very specific limitations on how often (and where and for whom) a company can perform a work they have staged. Our local company is in the middle of a run of Jerome Robbins “Dances at a Gathering,” and many people have commented about Robbins’ protective nature. Peter Boal (the artistic director here) says that you “earn the right” to perform “Dances” by proving yourself in other Robbins works. Before his death, Robbins was the one who controlled this -- now it is done by his estate managers. Some choreographers willed their intellectual estate to a foundation which acts in their absence -- for others it’s usually a family member or close friend. Some works are very hard to acquire, others are relatively simple, some choreographers are very particular about who will stage the work and others are more flexible, but it’s almost always about a direct, personal contact.

Getting back to your original question (about Pharoah's Daughter) I don't know any particulars about this specific ballet or the Bolshoi's production, but yes, I imagine that the rights to the work remain with Lacotte unless he's signed them over to someone else. His agreement with the Bolshoi might include limitations/guarantees about which other companies might perform the work, how the work is maintained in the Bolshoi repertory, which dancers might be able to be cast in the work, etc. Since this is a fairly contemporary production, there may also be a stipulation about how many performance the company can do altogether -- just because a group buys a staging, or even commissions a new work. It's not necessarily the case that they get unlimited rights to all aspects of the ballet. (though I'm sure that they feel they should!)

Looking back over this it seems really long, and I'm not so sure I answered the question you've posed. If this makes no sense, don't hesitate to ask - I promise to be more succinct next time.

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Very enlightening sandik. Thanks for taking the time to do it (not to mention the excellence of your writing skill).

One thing......please don't ever apologize for the length of any of your postings :clapping:. It is for us to thank you for doing them :thumbsup: . Frankly, I can't imagine a post of yours that would be too long not be worth reading all of it.

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Yes indeed, Sandik, I am very grateful for your reply. I was recently able to ask someone at the Australian ballet whether they could do Pharoahs Daughter and they said that they would have to ask Lacotte and that it would cost a great deal.

(they also said that the Aust ballet could not field the cast of thousands that the Bolshoi can command.) Your reply makes me begin to understand the immense cost of staging ballets.

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Yes indeed, Sandik, I am very grateful for your reply.


Your reply makes me begin to understand the immense cost of staging ballets.

I'm glad to answer questions when I can.

And the costs really do vary significantly. During his life, Balanchine sometimes charged a very nominal fee for his choreography (as little as $1) if he felt the company asking for it was ready, and would benefit from the experience.

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I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last 24 hours trying to discover answers to this question, but I find that to be too short a time to demystify the entire subject for a member of the lay public . Any guidance and correction would therefore be hugely appreciated as I attempt to consolidate the little I do know and build upon that foundation!

According to my best, but shaky understanding of the subject, most choreography created prior to 1923 (sometimes I have seen 1926) is usually in the public domain within the United Sates, but not always. I have not learned what those exceptions might be and why.

After that year, if the choreography was recorded either through notation or through video then that marks the point of copyright registration in the US. So, I was looking at Leonid Lavrovsky's choreography for Romeo and Juliet. That work first appeared in the Kirov in 1940. However, since this was first created outside of America, I assume that we cannot take this as the starting date for any copyright in a US jurisdiction. I believe that the work was taped in the mid 1950s and therefore assume that to be the point when copyright would register for this work within the US? If copyright started in 1940, then under US copyright law it would have to have been re-registered in 1968 in order to avoid being in the public domain today. Lavrovsky died in 1967, but could have willed it to his estate. However, he may not even held rights to it and those may have belonged to the Kirov. However, since he brought it to the Bolshoi a little later, then I assume he either must have retained some rights to its use, or the Kirov transferred them to the Bolshoi? If copyright for the work began in the US in the mid '50s then the work would almost certainly fail to be in the public domain today. How works from overseas interplay with US laws is a topic I haven't resolved yet.

I would dearly love for some amazing soul to establish something useful, like an electronically available list of choreographic works available within the public domain. However, having been unable to find such a thing, I assume that the only way to establish what (for works created before 1978) is owned by whom, and under what conditions can it become available to another company or individual, is to search the copyright catalog in D.C. or pay for a remote search at $165 per hour, then have a copyright attorney verify all one's assumptions from that search.

Would those that know about this, say that all the above is fairly accurate, or am I entirely off course with all this? The reason I embarked on all this in the first place was because someone has asked me whether I could help them find which versions of Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night's Dream may be legally available for them to use, and they need to know soon. The list I came up with was very short, since I intuitively think (based on comments I read here and there) that Fokine and Ballet Russe productions are probably off limits too, despite falling in the 'safe' zone. But again, it is hard unearthing information on that and so I can only imagine that the Library of Congress would be the only sure way of finding that out.

Thank you for bearing with me while I try to mentally sort through all this!

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