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Alberta Ballet trying to recover from financial misstep


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As expected, Alberta Ballet is struggling with the poor Alberta economy. I recall saying to others that when Joni Mitchell canceled, it would be a real blow to Alberta Ballet. I further doubted that Alberta Ballet would collaborate with her again in the future, despite the warm and fuzzy statements that were issued. I am not surprised by comments in the article surrounding this issue.

Alberta Ballet was never rich to begin with. Now, with the recession, times will be even more interesting. If there is any good news it is that Alberta's economy should be in the process of bottoming.

Calgary's Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Alberta Ballet trying to recover from financial misstep. There is also a seven minute audio segment that accompanies the written article.

Alberta Ballet is struggling to recover from a financial stumble that started three years ago with a canceled Joni Mitchell ballet.

Since then the company has slid into a substantial deficit, been forced to borrow to cover shortfalls and is now pre-spending a rising proportion of money raised against future productions before it ever mounts those performances.
It's a problem that has led to staff cuts, fewer dancers on shorter contracts and a big fundraising campaign.
The ballet ran an accumulated deficit in 2014-15 of close to half a million dollars on a budget of about $14 million.
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Calgary Herald: Alberta Ballet looking for help from supporters with ambitious $1-million fundraising campaign

The Lightfoot production suggests that the cancellation of Mitchell’s ballet in 2013, which was to be based on the singer-songwriter’s love songs, has not dissuaded the company from these sorts of collaborations. They have had success with Balletlujah!, an original collaboration with k.d. lang; Love Lies Bleeding, done in partnership with Elton John; and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, done in collaboration with Sarah McLachlan. The Fiddle and the Drum, the first collaboration with Mitchell in 2007, was a great success for the company, Grand-Maitre says. In fact, he says he hasn’t ruled out revisiting a second production with Mitchell based on her love songs at a future date. Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in March of 2015.

“Joni Mitchell did wonders for this company,” Grand-Maitre says. “That ballet is one of the finest we ever did in the history of Alberta Ballet. It went around the world. We had people here in our studios from the New York Times, from the BBC. She opened the doors to Elton John directly, and that opened the doors to k.d. lang and Sarah McLachlan and now Gordon Lightfoot. So it’s been an extraordinary legacy she left for our company.”

Grand-Maitre says he is still in contact with her and is hoping to one day resume work on a new production.

In this latest article, Alberta Ballet once again leaves the door open to working with Mitchell.

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Joni Mitchell suffered a major health 'collapse' in 2015, and it still remains unclear if she will ever return to a normal state. There have been very few details released around this episode, but here's a quote from July 2015:

'Last month, a Mitchell representative acknowledged Mitchell had a brain aneurism, not a stroke. Solid factual information about her condition has been difficult to verify, with Mitchell's representatives only releasing information after other sources have reported on her condition. Her aneurism, for example, was only acknowledged by Mitchell's camp after singer-songwriter David Crosby told an interviewer last month that Mitchell had not had a stroke, but an aneurism.

Crosby also told Huffington Post: "(Mitchell) took a terrible hit. To my knowledge she is not speaking yet... She's going to have to struggle back from it the way you struggle back from a traumatic brain injury... She's a tough girl, and very smart. So, how much she's going to come back and when, I don't know and I'm not going to guess."

...(attorney) Thyne also indicated that Mitchell wants her current temporary conservatorship, which is overseen by the singer's longtime friend, Leslie Morris, continue. Thyne recommended that Morris be appointed Mitchell's conservator, after determining Mitchell does not have the ability to make informed decisions related to her medical care.'

The Alberta Ballet article doesn't really make clear why they were unable to choose songs for the ballet - and gets those cleared for usage by Mitchell. Was there originally a greater degree of involvement from Mitchell, in the first ballet? I wonder what that consisted of.

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, pherank said:

The Alberta Ballet article doesn't really make clear why they were unable to choose songs for the ballet - and gets those cleared for usage by Mitchell. Was there originally a greater degree of involvement from Mitchell, in the first ballet? I wonder what that consisted of.

 
From having attended several of Jean Grand-Maître's (Alberta Ballet's AD) preshow presentations, I believe he has mentioned Mitchell was very hands on. If I recall correctly, not only did she select the music, but she also played important roles in determining or shaping the dance steps. He further mentioned that her contributions always made the resulting performances stronger. Although my recollection is somewhat weak on his discussion, I seem to recall being left with the impression that although Mitchell was somewhat challenging to work with, he was profoundly proud of the final product.
 
I believe he was discussing how much involvement various artists had in the formation of "their" ballets. In Elton John's situation, JGM pitched him an idea for the ballet, got his permission to proceed, and then got permission to perform. In other words, John was very hands off. At the other end of the spectrum was Mitchell. Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang were likely in between somewhere.
 
JGM is a good public speaker and strategic thinker. He obviously wouldn't say anything that would reflect poorly upon the rock stars. Whether these performances are artistically good is open to debate; however, they do fill the house. And filling the house with additional performances is especially important to a small ballet company.
 
Myself, I don't really care for the Elton John ballet, for it seemed too saccharine. I am in the minority, though, because it receives the most thunderous applause of all his ballets. I did enjoy the McLachlan and lang ballets. During the preshow discussions, JGM sets up the ballet in terms of telling the audience about the artist and what is important about the artist. He tells snippets about their lives. Then, during those two ballets, there are visual effects that play along in the background that are surprisingly complementary. They add rather than distract from the ballets. In a sense, they help transport you to the location where the artists grew up or gained prominence. 
 
I hope that helps.
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11 minutes ago, pherank said:

makes me want to see what the original Mitchell ballet looked like.

It's available on DVD, but save your time, money and effort. It's unbearably trite, repetitive and obvious.

I have no sympathy for Alberta Ballet in these circumstances. It's been peddling this dross for years because it was lured by the siren song of popular media attention, but the process reduced its repertoire to a lamentable state. What can I say? They made their bed...

Former exec Martin Bragg is gone and good riddance. Now it just remains to jettison AD Jean Grand-Maître--a choreographer not without talent, but who completely squandered it--forget this whole regrettable period and rebuild the company into something that isn't toe-curlingly embarrassing.

BTW: Relatively recent productions of The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle and Don Quixote sold out--but never returned--and in some ways they would have been less expensive to mount because the physical productions were rented, and the music was in the public domain, although saints forbid that the company should pay orchestral musicians rather than pop stars.

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Being relatively new to ballet and having participated in this board for a while, I appreciate volcanohunter's knowledge and expertise. Often when I see a ballet at the cinema, I will have some questions or judgements about the ballet and volcanohunter will provide a review that explains my questions or confirms my judgements.
 
That said, I don't always agree with volcanohunter. Her latest response is one such case where we don't agree.
 
Let's look at a few examples.
 
"I have no sympathy for Alberta Ballet in these circumstances. It's been peddling this dross for years because it was lured by the siren song of popular media attention, but the process reduced its repertoire to a lamentable state. What can I say? They made their bed..."
 
This "dross," as she refers to it, happens to be the largest crowd pleasers. Whether all agree on the artistic merits is open to debate. According to Jean Grand-Maître, their strategy is to provide a little of everything during the year in hopes of growing a larger and more sophisticated audience base over time. I believe their data supports their strategy.
 
Although Canada is a large country geographically, it's really a tiny country of about 35 million people. It sports only two world class cities, Toronto and Vancouver, though Calgary along with the other two cities always fares well in the Mercer Quality of Living and Economist Intelligence Unit city surveys.
 
Calgary and Edmonton are relatively new and smaller cities that have difficulty supporting a wide variety of arts. By new, I am referring to the large number of new residents who come in recent years for work in the oil and oil related industries. Both cities are known for their strong support of their sports communities. Ballet support is more challenging.
 
Given that backdrop, I am happy that Calgary even has a viable ballet company. While there is always going to be room for improvement, I admire those that are dedicating their heart and souls into trying to make the company better.
 
Let's move on the next paragraph.
 
"Former exec Martin Bragg is gone and good riddance. Now it just remains to jettison AD Jean Grand-Maître--a choreographer not without talent, but who completely squandered it--forget this whole regrettable period and rebuild the company into something that isn't toe-curlingly embarrassing."
 
I don't know much about Bragg, though I do recall that his leaving seemed abrupt and without a smooth transition to a permanent replacement. However, I will remain silent on the loss of Bragg, for I simply don't have a strong command of the facts. As far as JGM is concerned, I am somewhat at a loss of words to respond to volcanohunter's comments.
 
Without knowing all the facts or having intimate knowledge of a situation, I would not call for the dismissal or removal of someone trying their hardest to create a strong viable company.
 
If I wanted to call for the removal of JGM, I would have to able to answer at least the following questions:
  • Why?
  • What has he done wrong?
  • Who would you replace him with?
  • What would he or she do differently?
  • Would a new candidate ensure the financial success of the organization?
At present, I can't answer any of those questions.
 
Let's move on to the last paragraph.
 
"BTW: Relatively recent productions of The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle and Don Quixote sold out--but never returned--and in some ways they would have been less expensive to mount because the physical productions were rented, and the music was in the public domain, although saints forbid that the company should pay orchestral musicians rather than pop stars."
 
From her comments, volcanohunter appears to have a stronger grasp of the inner financial workings of the company than most. However, I do know that McLachlan raised money for the Alberta Ballet by approaching donors in Calgary to have fundraisers. In other words, by merely having her on board, the Company's finances were strengthened.
 
My impression is that these "pop ballets" are the vehicles through which Alberta Ballet has been increasing its attendance. Having season's tickets, I know that these ballets enjoy the strongest crowd support. Typically for most ballets, Alberta Ballet has four evening performances in Calgary and three in Edmonton, which is not very many performances for two cities with a combined population exceeding two million. With the pop ballets, often matinee performances are added.
 
I believe that most of the pop ballets have been "reasonable" in terms of costs, with the exception of the Elton John ballet. I believe it was expensive because of the stage sets and costumes, though I could be corrected.
 
As far as having orchestral music, that would be great--if only the company could afford it. It already has a large debt, has laid off a substantial portion of its staff, reduced the number of dancers, and reduced the dancer's number of work weeks. So I remain puzzled where the Company will find the funds to pay for orchestral music.
 
As we look out across Europe and North America, we see strong waves of populism cropping up. Both our federal and provincial governments have alarming deficits that we hope are temporary. However, should Canada's and Alberta's current financial situation prove more enduring, then governments' support for the arts might be reduced further. Earlier volcanohunter stated that it was "good riddance" that an executive was gone. With both Edmonton and Calgary suffering with higher than average unemployment and both levels of governments under financial duress, many citizens might say "good riddance" to funding of ballet companies, or at least to reducing their funding substantially.
 
volcanohunter has a wealth of artistic knowledge, which we see displayed through her comments. As mentioned, I am a newcomer to ballet and don't possess that same level of artistic knowledge. With my engineering and financial backgrounds, however, I do possess a strong appreciation for processes that are supported by logic and numbers. That is, when looking at difficult situations, I like examine how all the elements of a strategy support one another through logic and are validated by numbers. In Alberta Ballet's situation, I simply don't have an understanding of its background information.
 
I do trust that those who are charged with that responsibility have examined different alternatives. According to the CBC article, turn around consultants have been hired to further reduce costs and reshape the strategy.
 
Earlier this year, I received several invitations to attend Alberta Ballet sessions aimed at soliciting advice to help make the Company economically sustainable. Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me to attend. I remain reasonably confident, however, that the Company remains open to suggestions on how to improve so that it can remain sustainable and, we hope, thrive in the future. Whining on a ballet board will not effect positive change. Instead, I invite volcanohunter to meet face-to-face with Alberta Ballet to provide her input. I am more than willing to assist in helping to coordinate a meeting. volcanohunter already has my personal contact information.
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I think part of the difficulty here is grounded in the changing nature of ballet for the last 50 years, and in identifying the kind of ensemble the Alberta Ballet wants to be. 

Looking at their upcoming season, they've got a Nut, a couple of narrative works (Dracula and Alice in Wonderland), three guest companies (Trocks, Pilobolus and Ballet Boyz), and an anniversary commission, a mixed bill to Gordon Lightfoot. With the exception of Nut and the historical material the Trocks bring, this is all 21st century work.  It may incorporate classical technique, but these are not historical works, nor are they recreations of historical works. 

Like many smaller companies, they're acting as a producer of their own work and a presenter of others.  I don't know what other dance events are usually available in Calgary or Edmonton, but this isn't an unusual structure.  As a presenter, they may feel they need to appeal to a broad audience -- as a producer, their rep looks very much like the Joffrey used to.  While both Joffrey and Arpino used classical technique, their works were often very contemporary in tone and content.  The difference here is that Joffrey would also program heritage works in his mixed bills.  The company brought all those facets of their repertory along at the same time, and brought their audience with them as well. 

 

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4 hours ago, Stecyk said:
Although Canada is a large country geographically, it's really a tiny country of about 35 million people. It sports only two world class cities, Toronto and Vancouver, though Calgary along with the other two cities always fares well in the Mercer Quality of Living and Economist Intelligence Unit city surveys.
 

I would add Montreal to that list, myself  ;)

I think that you will find that on the forums most of us have strong opinions, and it's best to just take them in stride, since the motivations behind these opinions can vary considerably from day to day!

These financial problems, and the 'artistic choices' that can result from them, are hardly limited to Alberta Ballet. Most companies in Europe and North America are required to perform a balancing act between the purely popular (they hope) and the more risky presentations that may push the art form forward (we hope). If the company is making a sincere effort to straighten out their finances, and they have community support behind them, then that may be the best one can hope for. Nothing beats having a community that actually cares about a dance company - that is central. May it all work for the best.

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29 minutes ago, pherank said:

I think that you will find that on the forums most of us have strong opinions, and it's best to just take them in stride, since the motivations behind these opinions can vary considerably from day to day!

These financial problems, and the 'artistic choices' that can result from them, are hardly limited to Alberta Ballet. Most companies in Europe and North America are required to perform a balancing act between the purely popular (they hope) and the more risky presentations that may push the art form forward (we hope). If the company is making a sincere effort to straighten out their finances, and they have community support behind them, then that may be the best one can hope for. Nothing beats having a community that actually cares about a dance company - that is central. May it all work for the best.

pherank, I have no difficulty with strong opinions--in fact, I embrace them, especially when they are supported with facts. Never let cold hard facts get in the way of a really good story, though.

Where I have difficulty is when others suggest jettisoning those that are working especially hard under trying circumstances to make a company viable. If that's truly how a person feels, then great. Make your voice public with full disclosure (provide your name) and be accountable. If one feels that the company should be burned to the ground and then started from fresh, then one ought to be willing to meet with those who can shape the future. It's no big deal. Typically, those in charge want to exchange ideas with their audiences. That's why the Company opened itself up to solicit ideas to help make itself sustainable.

I am sure that there have been several people who have pored over every detail in trying to make this year and future years' experiences even better. In Alberta, times are very uncertain. The ballet company relied heavily on corporate donors and large donations. Much of those donations have disappeared or been reduced, for it is difficult for a corporation to provide large donations when it has laid off one-third of its staff and itself is struggling.

So for those that have strong feelings, especially those that believe that Alberta Ballet is heading in the wrong direction, speak up. Meet with Alberta Ballet executives and voice your opinions. Tell them where they, their donors, their volunteers, and their consultants have gone wrong.

Edited by Stecyk
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50 minutes ago, sandik said:

Like many smaller companies, they're acting as a producer of their own work and a presenter of others.  I don't know what other dance events are usually available in Calgary or Edmonton, but this isn't an unusual structure.  As a presenter, they may feel they need to appeal to a broad audience -- as a producer, their rep looks very much like the Joffrey used to.  While both Joffrey and Arpino used classical technique, their works were often very contemporary in tone and content.  The difference here is that Joffrey would also program heritage works in his mixed bills.  The company brought all those facets of their repertory along at the same time, and brought their audience with them as well. 

sandik, I believe that's largely Alberta Ballet's goal--that is, the bring their audience along with them. Another part of its goal is to increase its audience. In a perfect world with more resources--time, people, and money--Alberta Ballet would offer a stronger program.

 

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1 hour ago, pherank said:

Most companies in Europe and North America are required to perform a balancing act between the purely popular (they hope) and the more risky presentations that may push the art form forward (we hope).

It would be a mistake to believe that Alberta Ballet is taking any sorts of artistic risks. Those are now very few and far between. It's important to remember that the company has been around for 50 years, and that there were four other artistic directors prior to Jean Grand-Maître, not counting those who directed Calgary City Ballet prior to its merger into Alberta Ballet. If his predecessors worked first on building up the company (Ruth Carse and Brydon Paige) and then expanding its repertoire (Ali Pourfarrokh and Mikko Nissinen), Grand-Maître primary "legacy" has been a colossal dumbing down of the repertoire. I'm not saying that Alberta audiences were immeasurably enriched by, say, witnessing the early choreographic efforts of Jorma Elo, but at least it reflected an interest in developing genuinely new repertoire. This is a company that once presented rarities like Balanchine's Glinka Pas de Trois, Tudor's Continuo, Cranko's Pineapple Poll and Butler's Othello. It had built up a respectable Balanchine repertoire and had a smattering of European standards like Rudi van Dantzig's Four Last Songs. That is all long gone, replaced by the poppy-schlock epics of a choreographer who translated his fleeting fame from a Joni Mitchell ballet into a commission to choreograph the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics--and that's about it. It's not as though any other company is interested in performing his works.

That the pop epics have built up Alberta Ballet's audience is patently false. The pop ballet fans are fair-weather friends, who turned in their tickets en masse when a second Joni Mitchell ballet failed to materialize, rather than go see the new work that replaced it, because clearly they were not really interested in ballet or the company's dancers, much less Grand-Maître's choreography. That this junk-food diet is not leading the new audiences to more sophisticated repertoire was further demonstrated last season when the company recycled not one, but two of the pop ballets. (In a five-program season that also included a poor Nutcracker, that was an awful lot of bad choreography to endure.) Evidently the company doesn't really believe it can persuade its audience to come see something more substantial. So it goes about producing another pop epic it can't afford. To what end? It hasn't worked thus far.

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It's interesting reading volcanohunter's response. It's completely devoid of numerical support. Does she know how the attendance has trended over the past several years? Does she know which productions are money-makers and which are not? I doubt it, other than the Nut is a staple money-maker. The revenues and costs associated with a typical "pop epic" it "can't afford?" How about the financial condition when JGM took over?

Up until recently and with the exception of the Mitchell screw-up, how has Alberta Ballet done? Did it increase the number of dancers? Become stronger financially?

The answers to these questions and many more remain a mystery. Instead, it's better to start calling for people's heads. Yeah, hip-shooting behind a veil of anonymity is fine, especially when others' reputations are brought into the mix.

 

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It’s time to close this ugly thread. Once again I am reminded that the internet is not always a friendly place, for some people will hide behind a veil of anonymity to write things about others that they would never have the courage to say to them face-to-face.

The ironic part is that I posted this information largely for volcanohunter’s benefit. We’re the only two on this board that I am aware of that live in Alberta and that have an active interest in Alberta Ballet. Because the links I posted were from Calgary sources, I thought she might have missed them.

In looking back on this thread, Martin Bragg’s name was raised. None of us here know how he performed his duties. Celebrating a person’s loss of employment or career is one of the worst forms of Schadenfreude, with only the celebration of death or divorce being worse. Me, I just hope that he is doing well in his new role.

Next, of course, we have Jean Grand-Maître (JGM). To assess his tenure, we would need more information. Although I am positive there are a greater number of relevant questions, below is a brief list of questions that I can think of:

·         What was the state of Alberta Ballet when he began his role?

·         What were the Donor’s and Board’s direction?

·         What were the annual objectives and did he meet them?

·         Did Alberta Ballet grow stronger during his tenure?

o   Were there more dancers?

o   Did the dancers have longer contract periods?

o   Did attendance to Alberta Ballet increase?

o   Did audience satisfaction increase?

·         Did the overall health of the Company increase?

None of us here know the answers to those questions. I do know, however, that JGM did not work in isolation. Like most people, he works within the direction set by others. That is not to say he lacks influence. I am sure his recommendations carried a lot weight when the Board provided its direction.

Next we have volcanohunter’s disparaging statements concerning the ballets. While I can’t speak to the artistic merits, like volcanohunter, I can say that as a season’s ticket holder and watching all the performances throughout the year, the year end “pop ballets” were always the crowd favorites.

How many “pop ballet” performances did you attend, volcanohunter? I am guessing that it is close to zero, because these ballets fell woefully short of your highbrow expectations—fair weather friends, indeed.

With regard to the “affordability” of these “pop ballets,” rather than being a drain on the Company’s resources, I suspect that they sustained the Company.

Furthermore, none of us here know where the company earned and lost most of its profits. As outsiders, we simply don’t know. This paragraph should be reread for emphasis.

volcanohunter went on to say that when the second Mitchell ballet collapsed, the patrons left en masse. When I look up “en masse” in the dictionary, I don’t know whether that means five percent, twenty percent, fifty percent, seventy-five percent, or one hundred percent. And, neither does volcanohunter.

Furthermore, did those patrons buy just one ticket to one performances, or several tickets to several performances?

What I can say is this: I noticed almost no change in the number of patrons watching the replacement ballet. I have opening night in Calgary and I believe it is largely sold out to season’s ticket holders. Obviously, there were others who did receive a refund.

Now as far as the conversion rate of “pop ballet” fans to regular attendees, none of us know the answer. However, I suspect that Alberta Ballet does have some idea. If there was zero conversion and the ballets were a cash flow drain, I doubt that the Board would have endorsed more “pop ballets.”

If the negative comments about JGM and his “pop ballets” are true, then I am surprised that any of the pop artists chose to work with Alberta Ballet. Who would want to be associated with Alberta Ballet? Artists who reached their level of success are usually fairly shrewd. Before committing to a project, they or their teams have done their research. Perhaps these “pop ballets” are not as bad as some purport them to be?

Words matter. Reputations matter. If you’re in doubt as how just a few words can have a significant impact on reputation, just ask Justine Sacco (link to New York Times article -- How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life – subscription might be required).

Anyway, I am disappointed by this thread. Negative comments based on half-baked truths were presented as facts without any supporting logic or documentation. Worse, disparaging remarks were made in regard to those who are earnestly trying to make a positive difference to not only to Alberta Ballet but also to the larger community.

During times of crisis is the greatest opportunity to make positive changes. If volcanohunter wants to provide positive, constructive assistance, now is the time. While I have no idea how much weight will be given to one individual audience member’s suggestions, this is time to provide input in hopes of creating positive change. If she doesn’t like the current program, she should provide reasons and rationale why and how it should change.

 

Edited by Stecyk
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On 8/19/2016 at 1:22 PM, Stecyk said:

Where I have difficulty is when others suggest jettisoning those that are working especially hard under trying circumstances to make a company viable. If that's truly how a person feels, then great. Make your voice public with full disclosure (provide your name) and be accountable.

If one feels that the company should be burned to the ground and then started from fresh, then one ought to be willing to meet with those who can shape the future. It's no big deal. Typically, those in charge want to exchange ideas with their audiences. That's why the Company opened itself up to solicit ideas to help make itself sustainable.

I am sure that there have been several people who have pored over every detail in trying to make this year and future years' experiences even better. In Alberta, times are very uncertain. The ballet company relied heavily on corporate donors and large donations. Much of those donations have disappeared or been reduced, for it is difficult for a corporation to provide large donations when it has laid off one-third of its staff and itself is struggling.

So for those that have strong feelings, especially those that believe that Alberta Ballet is heading in the wrong direction, speak up. Meet with Alberta Ballet executives and voice your opinions. Tell them where they, their donors, their volunteers, and their consultants have gone wrong.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  That people are trying very hard, which is difficult to quantify, doesn't mean that what they are doing has any artistic value or that their administrative efforts have been sound.

We don't have a double-standard here where people need to post with their full names if they have something to criticize, and I, for one, don't presume to know what Ballet Alert! members have done in their real lives.  

On 8/19/2016 at 2:32 PM, Stecyk said:

And your solution is what?

I believe volcanohunter already made some suggestions upthread.

We don't close threads because they are critical. Nor do members have to footnote their comments or conform to anyone's standards except to follow the basic rules of the board.  If someone says something that is factually wrong, other members are welcome to point out why. 

We're all welcome to count or discount each other's opinions.  That is just as true in face-to-face situations as it is over the internet.

 

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It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

 

Theodore Roosevelt
Citizenship in a Republic
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

 

 

Thank you Helene for your comments this weekend. I hope you enjoyed the Rio Olympics and its closing ceremonies.

I’d like to touch upon some of your comments.

With regard to your comment on closing threads, thank you. What I should have started with was, “Now that there have been no comments in the last day or so, please allow me to provide my concluding comments.”

You also mentioned that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Paraphrasing, you further stated that efforts don’t necessarily translate into successes, artistic or otherwise. I agree. But, before addressing “successes” or “accomplishments,” I’d like to discuss “artistic” first.

I am going to provide a riff of rhetorical comments and questions in the next paragraph concerning “artistic.” I do not expect nor want any answers. Instead, the purpose is to demonstrate that there is no easy definition for something considered “artistic.” (If others want to explore or debate the definition of “artistic,” I encourage starting a separate thread where they can do so without my participation.)

How do we define something that is deemed to be “artistic?” Is defining it similar to defining pornography, where Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart wrote, “I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964)? Do all critics agree that any one work of “art” is, in fact, artistic? Is artistic artwork automatically recognized by all when it is created? Can artistic success be defined by how much someone is willing to pay for it? Are the most artistic creations always the most valuable? In other words, does value define artistic? Does the perception of what is artistic change over time? Does the perception of what is artistic change depending upon who is judging? Does everyone on this board agree or speak with one voice with regard to the quality of Misty Copeland’s artistic attributes, or any other artist for that matter? Just as Olympic athletes are at the very pinnacle of their individual fields and are usually able to perform at a high level in other sports—indeed, some athletes have participated in both Winter and Summer Olympics—can artists who have achieved both critical artistic and commercial success in one field appreciate artistic accomplishments in a different field, or are they forever constrained to judging works of art within their own narrow swim lanes? In other words, are Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang capable of recognizing works of artistic merit outside of popular music? Would those who have studied, practiced, and performed classical music all their lives be able to recognize and appreciate the artistry in a Rolling Stones performance at Copacabana Beach?

Having briefly discussed how difficult and nebulous an “artistic definition” is, I am going to turn my attention to accomplishments or success and respect, dignity, integrity, and admiration.

Regardless of their station in life or their accomplishments, I respect those who work hard, are accountable, and conduct themselves with dignity and integrity.

Ethics courses teach us that if you’re in doubt about a course of action, ask yourself how you would feel if you were identified in the front page of the New York Times or your local newspaper with a thorough and complete vetting of your words and actions.

Having subscribed to Alberta Ballet for several years and having met Jean Grand-Maître, I know that he is hardworking, accountable and conducts with himself with dignity and integrity. His words and actions as well as successes and failures are chronicled in our local media. Therefore, he has earned my respect and admiration.

Regardless of whatever path Alberta Ballet might follow in the months and years ahead and regardless of whether I agree with his decisions or am critical of some of his ballets, I will continue to respect him and treat him with dignity, for he has earned it. It’s the honorable thing to do.

Alberta’s arts and culture are less refined than those in New York. We don’t have your population, history, and depth of talent. However, we know You Can’t Always Get What You Want (But if You Try Sometimes, You Get What You Need) (Link to a Rolling Stones performance at Copacabana Beach on YouTube.). We here in Alberta will continue to survive and thrive—we always have.

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