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Angel Corella Makes Staff Changes


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Angel Corella has made changes to the artistic, school, trainee and management staff: Zachary Hench and Julie Diana will become ballet masters, replacing Tamara Hadley and Jeffrey Gribler. William DeGregory, who was running Pennsylvania Ballet II is now gone, with the company planning for a replacement, as are Michael Sheridan, who was assistant to the director, and Phil Juska, the school administrator. Arantxa Ochoa will become director of the school. Not named were the marketing director and a development staff member.

Asked Wednesday about the reasons for the dismissals, Corella said in an interview at the company's headquarters: "I'm sure the people were great, but it was about the team you feel comfortable with. Energy is important in an arts organization. If you are comfortable, everything will fall into place."

http://www.inquirer.com/features/entertainment/20140828_Pennsylvania_Ballet_fires_longtime_artistic_leaders__administrators.html

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A lot of upheaval, but considering how long everyone had been there with Roy Kaiser, with their loyalty to him, a clean sweep could be less of a problem in the long run. It's not the kind of transition Boal had from Russell/Stowell at PNB, that's for sure.

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If there is going to be blood letting (much like in the change of most political administrations) it is, I think, better to do it in one fell sweep rather than through a drip feeding process where you may well kill with seeming kindness. This may itself prove to be an effective step of prudence for all concerned. At least Mr. Corella is showing himself to be a leader. Time will tell as to the effectiveness of his particular scope/style of leadership. For better or worse such leaders don't themselves grow on trees or they would be more readily pruned and picked. Moreover there is surely a board of trustees/governors/directors who will, I assume, have sanctioned such alterations in the name of overall responsibility.

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But Carter and Emma did "finish the season." I have to think that Corella had the backing of the trustees during his contract negotiations for such dramatic changes, both in programming and staffing. And the alternative -- the drip-drip-drip of letting people go one at a time over months -- would have been disastrous for morale, with everybody wondering who would be next.

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In the end, better for both Emma and the organization. Not at the moment for Emma, but in the long run. Even if it wasn't, Michael's responsibility was to the company, not to Emma.

(In that situation, it was two of them: Emma and Freddie, who was being paid by the performance.)

Corella, the interim ED, and the Board are responsible to PA Ballet.

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I thought staff change announcements usually come after the first year... Everyone expects changes and most have a pretty good idea of who will be cut and this leaves time for those likely to be leaving to have a chance to find a new gig. This very sudden change is a shock.

How many decades of their lives have Hadley, Gribler & DeGregory given to build the health of this institution? (If I can count, based the press articles about their retirement, they all joined the company in 1975) One would think they deserved a little better treatment than this. They all have strong qualifications to find work, but in September? Where will they find work and health insurance on such short notice?

Of course Corella will want a handpicked team, but this hacking away at the institution's soul lacks diplomacy.

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The people who are replacing Hadley and Gribler have institutional ties: they are a leading Principal couple in the company. No one has replaced DeGregory as head of PA Ballet II yet.

All of the people who left would qualify for health insurance under COBRA, paying the cost of the insurance plus a small admin fee, as PA Ballet employs more than the minimum needed to obligate them to offer COBRA. There are also many more options under Obamacare.

Are ballet masters offered year-to-year contracts? Or are they like administrative staff or faculty staff members (not contractors), hired when there's an opening and on a continuous at will contract?

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Well I do hope there is a safety net. I have never had to pay COBRA, and perhaps it has changed under the Affordable Healthcare Act, but from what I understand from those who have, it is mainly there so that insurance companies cannot deny an individual insurance due to pre-existing medical conditions but that the cost is more than what they could afford when they had a job, not what can be paid with an unemployment check. I hear the Affordable Healthcare Act has helped some people get insurance, but not everyone as had been the goal.

It seems callous.

Should they all have assumed their employment was doomed the day they learned Roy Kaiser was resigning? Should they all have jumped ship immediately?

I am not saying Corella should not be allowed to put in his own team, I'm just saying this is a poor way to handle a transition.

I believe you strongly agree with Ballet Alert's "no politics" policy and ask that you consider that calling the Act by the politically driven nickname "Obamacare" is incorrect.

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I believe you strongly agree with Ballet Alert'a "no politics" policy and ask that you consider that calling the Act by the politically driven nickname "Obamacare" is incorrect.

Although "Obamacare" was initially used by political groups that did not want the plan to succeed, the term has been generally adopted across the political spectrum, is more widely recognized, and its use no longer connotes disapproval.

Just my two cents...

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Should they all have assumed their employment was doomed the day they learned Roy Kaiser was resigning? Should they all have jumped ship immediately?

At the very least they should have been prepared for a shakeup given that Roy Kaiser's departure followed relatively quickly on the heels of the PAB Board's adoption of Michael Kaiser's turnaround plan. I haven't been able to find a copy of M. Kaiser's report, but I gather from this Philadelphia Inquirer article that it was critical of the company's artistic planning in addition to its marketing and development.

The same thing happens routinely at corporations and sports teams.

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At the very least they should have been prepared for a shakeup given that Roy Kaiser's departure followed relatively quickly on the heels of the PAB Board's adoption of Michael Kaiser's turnaround plan. I haven't been able to find a copy of M. Kaiser's report, but I gather from this Philadelphia Inquirer article that it was critical of the company's artistic planning in addition to its marketing and development.

Thanks for that link. The Kaiser report was brutal and a complete shake-up does seem necessary to rejuvenate the major donor class in the region.

Although less important than big donors (but still important), attracting a regional audience (New York, Baltimore, DC) seems likely with these changes, especially Corella and the new programming. When I saw the revised program for October, I thought - darn, if I were planning to be on the east coast in October, I'd find a way to work that in. Very nice program! I'll keep an eye on their site from now on, when I haven't in the past.

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COBRA is a simple plan: the employee can continue receiving health insurance at the same rate that the employer pays plus a small % administrative fee for up to 18 months. If the employer has an expensive and/or generous plan, that amount may not be affordable, based on unemployment benefits for the state, and based on that person's individual financial and family situation. Pennsylvania's website states, "Typically, you'll be paid about half of what your full-time wage was before you became unemployed." (up to a maximum). This article states that Pennsylvania chose not to create a state exchange, and Pennsylvanians must use the Federal exchange instead, were the person to opt out of COBRA. In addition, many companies allow their employees to adjust the plan for COBRA, for example to go from family to single, to drop dental coverage, and/or to switch to a less expensive plan among company offerings if available. It usually doesn't make sense for a family to spend thousands to purchase a plan when a spouse already has family coverage, since one of the two plans pays only a percent of what the other plan doesn't cover. For those covered by the AGMA contract, PA Ballet doesn't pay for family coverage, but allows them to pay for it, if they choose.

Since the terms of the firings were not disclosed, whether there was severance and/or medical benefits were offered and for how long is not public. The US is not a place with universal health care for those under 65. Nor is there a lifetime employment guarantee, except in rare circumstances like tenure.

When upper management leaves, his or her staff is vulnerable, regardless of competence, particularly the assistant to the director. The PNB transition was remarkable in its stability, but that was an exception. Many orgs go for the slow leak approach, but those jobs turn over with little or no public acknowledgement; in fact, this one was leaked and the information became public not through a press release. Kathleen's point is critical: when an outside expert's analysis and recommendations are accepted by the Board and put into action, it shouldn't come as a shock that the Board will fire people/not renew their contracts. I would imagine that one of the important things that Corella brought to the table was being on the same page with the board and the new plan, and the company's firings along with his selections to replace them did not come in a vacuum, for better or worse.

None of the people fired are covered by the AGMA contract, since ballet masters are not assistant stage directors who are hired on a one-off basis, but are staff. Everyone else affected is management or non-artistic staff. (PA Ballet dancers with a total of five years are entitled to severance if they're notified their contracts won't be renewed.) For those covered by AGMA and have a guaranteed employment period, PA Ballet is responsible for paying medical premiums during layoffs, if the employee works for at least four weeks in the yearly period (August 1-July 31) period, providing coverage at least equivalent to an AGMA health plan, according to the most recent contract I can find online from 2009-2012.

http://www.musicalartists.org/agreements/PennsylvaniaBallet.2009-2012.pdf

There was also a memo, but it didn't affect these provisions.

Edited to add: I found the latest contract,for 2013-2016. Health benefits are provided for the full year with a minimum of a 20-week contract, except where the employee requests and is granted a release or is fired for just cause:

http://www.musicalartists.org/agreements/PennsylvaniaBallet.2013-2016.s.pdf

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Nor is there a lifetime employment guarantee, except in rare circumstances like tenure.

As tenure is such a controversial topic in the news nowadays, please allow me to make one correction: tenure of academic faculty does not guarantee lifetime employment. Rather, it guarantees a right of due process before removal, i.e., tenured faculty cannot be fired "at will." In California, at public colleges and universities, tenured faculty can be dismissed for many reasons, after due process:

California Education Code

Section 89535. Any permanent or probationary employee may be dismissed,

demoted, or suspended for the following causes:

(a) Immoral conduct.

(b) Unprofessional conduct.

© Dishonesty.

(d) Incompetency.

(e) Addiction to the use of controlled substances.

(f) Failure or refusal to perform the normal and reasonable duties

of the position.

(g) Conviction of a felony or conviction of any misdemeanor

involving moral turpitude.

(h) Fraud in securing appointment.

(i) Drunkenness on duty.

I personally know of several tenured faculty terminated for one or more of these reasons. A few were sufficiently scandalous that they made the news. Most are quietly resolved through settlements, with an agreement not to sue the University. But all had a due process proceeding to defend themselves and, if they lost, they had a right to file suit in state court.

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Just saw the news and I'm a little shocked. Jeffrey Gribler is very loved at PA Ballet and will be missed. If Angel is cleaning house, then I suppose doing it all in one fell swoop is better. I did think his comments were a little odd; he seemed to be justifying his hires based on personal connections.

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We are pretty close to this situation, since my daughter is a student at the School of PA Ballet. From our point of view we were very surprised by the scope of the changes, but we feel very very secure with Arantxa at the helm of the school. Mr. DeGregory will be missed (he was a lovely person and an excellent teacher), but I have complete confidence in Arantxa. I will be very interested to see who takes over PA Ballet II.

I was also very excited by the changes to the October program and will be eager to see it! I am curious about what the reaction will be from longtime donors and the city of Philadelphia. We tend to be very conservative about change and reward loyalty - but the cost can be a kind of complacency and lack of excitement. I know that all of the dismissed dancers were extremely well-loved and that the dance community will be reeling for a while. I truly hope that they were given excellent severance terms, and I personally would like to see some sort of acknowledgement of their service to the company. But I am quite excited to see some shake-up and hope everything goes well.

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The company is trying to change direction on several fronts, and while broad sweeps have their own risks, unintended results, and change management challenges, but, since they are in response to report made by one of the handful of big-scale turn-around experts in the arts, being tepid telegraphs lack of commitment. The Board is putting its money where its mouth is and choosing to "Go big" over "Go home."

My question about Corella's reasons for hiring Diana and Hench were not that he already has experience with them -- that's a good sign, because it indicates how well people adapt to stress and new environments, and they passed that test in his eyes -- but that he talks about how nice they are. While being a (good) ballet master requires exceptional people skills, he doesn't say anything about the other job skills: scheduling, planning, analyzing, motivating, negotiating, giving unpopular corrections, having the talent for seeing the big picture but learning the details and purpose of every role, working with the corps extensively, being able to explain and transmit what the choreographers intend, being able to adjust the teaching approach to how individuals learn, not just the way s/he learns, just to name a few of them. While most ballet masters do come from the ranks, it's a rare combination to find, and not every Principal Dance has the knack. It's not a given. It can also be a challenge when a married couple dominates a role.

Making a transition from one role to another, socially and professionally, especially to another a high visibility position, is by no means easy, especially when it means the mental transition from performing. Alicia Mack Graf said in her recent Ballet Initiative podcast that she's more interested in becoming a business administrator rather than on the artistic side, because if she's in the studio, she'd want to dance. Peter Boal has described the difficulty in transitioning from teacher/mentor to Boss, although he made his transition from performing easier by having a second career as a teacher. Hadley, Gribler, and DeGregory had to do it, but in the context of another administration under another AD with a different management style and priorities. Now Diana and Hench have to find their own way, and, happily with Corella's support and confidence in them; presumably they are on the same page as he.

With Ochoa, he's also chosen another PA Ballet insider. It's pretty standard in Europe to hire from the family, literal and chosen, but that rings badly to North American ears.

Edited to add:

He refers to creating new "energy" which in my book is usually meaningless double talk. Is he implying that the people who already there lacked energy.

He's saying directly that they don't have the kind of energy he wants. That doesn't necessarily mean the old energy was bad, although it could have been. He wants to establish a different corporate culture. In one of his books Anthony Boudain describes how he likes to work in a testoterone-fueled, loud, profane, insulting kitchen. He then describes going to a friend's great restaurant, where the kitchen is quiet, the staff works with intense concentration, and the people are polite and considerate of each other, which would have driven him up the wall. (I know for whom I'd prefer to work, but that's why "fit" is neutral.) On the other hand, changing that culture might have been part of the recommendations, and, without getting into details, he characterized what needs to change in that way. We don't know.

Energy has always been a big thing for Corella. In one of the ABT videos he said that the reason he loved dancing with Paloma Herrera is that they were both young and gave 110%. Hopefully he's learned in the meantime that giving 110% for the long term can break bodies, that great professionals learn to moderate their efforts and pace themselves, and that not all great commitment requires constant extroverted confirmation.

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Even allowing for the fact that new administrations usually make changes, sometimes sweeping (and needful) ones, these mass firings seem callous at best. Like Amy, I'm surprised that this is happening so swiftly; it is entirely possible for an organization to let people know which way the wind is blowing, and give them time to begin preparing, and many do. I also hope with Amy that these people who have served the company faithfully have decent severance packages.

I regret to see so little mention here of the human pain and humiliation involved in getting the sack, especially under these circumstances. There is no good way to get rid of a lot of people at once, but some ways remain better than others.

COBRA is very costly in most cases and unless you have a substantial financial cushion most unemployed people can’t make those payments for very long on their own. Nor is the ACA anything like a cure-all for those without work in every state, although obviously it is far better than nothing.

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Of course it's hurtful and hard for the people on the receiving end. We don't know if they knew which way the wind was blowing, if they were in denial about the way the wind was blowing, if they thought their long tenure and the feelings about them from their public would shield them from change, or if they thought the board was all talk, no action, among some possibilities. The Kaiser report came out last summer, and, after more than half a year of an attempt, Roy Kaiser resigned this past April. Everyone in the company had months knowing that a new AD was coming in, with a mandate to make changes. Everyone in the company knew that they were, essentially, auditioning for their jobs from the moment Corella arrived. To expect nothing to happen is short-sighted in a workplace where the report card the previous year had been scathing.

How much more notice should they have been given? How would you propose to make sweeping change that would be less hurtful to the people involved? A slow drip, with everyone on edge? A year to find another job -- a luxury not many people have -- with the subsequent leaks, depression, hard feelings, having one foot out the door? That's not hard to do with one or two people, if the organization is willing to take the morale hit, but it's extremely difficult to do in a sweep. For a staff to work together in an organized way, they have to be in sync with each other. That doesn't work very well when there's resentment or hurt at a long-time colleague being replaced.

With a grand sweep, there is built-in face-saving: it's not about you, it's about me. One-at-a-time, it isn't about me, it's about you. Of course, the leak that they were all fired didn't help. Without it, there were two ways the story could have been told in smaller pieces: introducing the new hires and stating it as a fact that newer, star PA Ballet people were taking on new roles from older star PA Ballet people, with subsequent tributes and thanks to the old, star PA Ballet people, or, if it happened sooner, when the old, star PA Ballet people got new jobs, the new company would say they had come from PA Ballet, and someone would note it in the PA Ballet forum (and there might be an article for Links.) Usually the only people who care about or track anyone on the administrative side lower than an ED -- unless s/he's married to the AD -- are business journals.

As far as COBRA goes, the cost depends on the plan. Obviously in states where unemployment is generous, and the larger the number of people on the plan with at least an average distribution of health needs, the more affordable health insurance is. Pennsylvania's maxes out at $573/week (based on salary of $60K/year or more), which is not a fortune ($2292/$2865 for a five week month), and if severance is granted in a lump sum, severance doesn't impact unemployment benefits that start after the initial waiting period.

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Even allowing for the fact that new administrations usually make changes, sometimes sweeping (and needful) ones, these mass firings seem callous at best. Like Amy, I'm surprised that this is happening so swiftly; it is entirely possible for an organization to let people know which way the wind is blowing, and give them time to begin preparing, and many do. I also hope with Amy that these people who have served the company faithfully have decent severance packages.

I regret to see so little mention here of the human pain and humiliation involved in getting the sack, especially under these circumstances. There is no good way to get rid of a lot of people at once, but some ways remain better than others.

Well, if it needs to be said, I will say it: it sucks to get laid off and it especially sucks when it's splashed all over a newspaper before a formal (and gracious) announcement has been issued by the company. That to me is the real shocker: someone from the company's administration should have had an announcement prepared and in Corella's hands and ready for the press before the laid-off staff members were told they were being let go. A professional organization does not let its new leader say something dismissive like "I'm sure the people were great, but ..."; it coaches him to say something along the lines of "Jeffrey and Tamara (always names, and always first names) have served this company with distinction for many years, as our wonderful dancers and ambitious repertoire make abundantly clear ... yadda yadda yadda" In fairness, we don't know what else Corella might have said during the interview nor what the context of his comment was, but as printed it sounded as if he'd barely met Gribner, Hadley, and DeGregory before he decided to replace them.

I don't know much about how a ballet company works: it may be that telling someone at the beginning of the season that you're going to replace them before the end of the season so sours the relationship that little good work can get done. A swift departure -- with a generous severance package -- might be better for all concerned.

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