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[Note: This post is meant in general terms and does not relate to any current or recent post.]

On a newsgroup or unmoderated message board, Anything Really Goes, and someone can land from a far galaxy and post anything they want. "Did you know Maestro will only cast his mistresses in principal roles? Gee, too bad La Sublimova has Parkinsons Disease. Guess that's why her pirouettes were a bit shaky last night."

Every moderated message board has its own rules, and all of us, I think, are torn between letting the internet be a bastion of free speech and having a back-of-the-board view of who actually is reading this stuff and the damage it could cause. Because Ballet Alert! is the offshoot of a magazine, I try to use, as much as possible, rules that would work for a print publication.

What do you think should be off limits? If Everybody really truly knows that La Sublimova is really La Drekova, but is blackmailing Maestro because of his cocaine habit, and there's a thread where 25 people have said, "I just don't understand why everyone loves La Sublimova. My daughter, who won gold medals in 77 international competitions, is about to quit ballet and become an international property lawyer because she doesn't want to be in the same art form as someone so putrid who continues to get leading roles," is it ok to hint that there's something going on here that can't be spoken about publicly and for goodness sakes, tell her daughter to hang in there?

[Disclaimer: All of the characters in this post are fictional and any relationship to any persons, living or dead, is in the imagination of the reader.]

If a dancer is dancing on a sprained ankle/torn ligament -- in absolute agony, plucky little thing -- and is terrified for the driection to know it because it's her first season of getting solo parts, but she's getting panned, run over by a truck, in the reviews and your boyfriend knows her roommate, do you defend her?

If.... but you get the point.

What are your thoughts?

As a sidebar, a few of the people on this board are dancers, teachers, administrative employees, writers, or have some other connection with companies. What rules should apply to them? What fears do/should they have about posting?

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Where to start in on all these delicious options....

-- sex/drugs rumors. If I didn't shoot up with Sheezno myself, or reliably know the person who witnessed Heezno Nureyev hanging naked like a bat having sex in the chandelier -- no go. These are rumors that do deadly damage, are easily distorted particularly online, and beneath a serious discussion of an art form (my pinky finger is now arched around a teacup). Moderators seem to keep this at a minimum on BA and that's fine with me.

-- secret knowledge of injuries. What do dancers owe audiences? Your best. To step on stage knowing that you can't deliver the quality performance that earned you that spot to begin with means you deserve whatever critical blasts befall you. Of course dancers are on stage all the time taped, strapped, medicated and defying all kinds of injuries that would fell a football player but one hopes they don't step out of the wings already knowing they can't deliver.

If you post someone elses health/fitness data on line, I think it's inappropriate, even in defense of that person. And you may be doing more harm than good. Don't know how the moderators can/should handle such posts, however. It's not like dance companies publish injured reserve lists like sports teams.

-- On the obligation to state your role. This is tricky. If you are positng on someting relevent to your profession I'd say you have to state your appropriate credentials. Moderators should not have to worry about school directors recruiting or closet advertising, for example. Now, having said that, I don't want to pretend to dance expertise I don't have when I post my humble, semi-educated-but-none-the-less-firmly-stated opinions. I'm a feature writer, not a critic. So I don't want my professional work confused with my personal BA addiction. Neither do I want strangers -- even the nice BA strangers -- connecting my wacky ideas and personal prejudices with Kid-o-Samba.

[ 06-29-2001: Message edited by: samba38 ]

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Even if one does have proof, why would anyone post something that could ruin a career; or hurt it, or even potentially hurt it?

Perhaps if you really hate a person and want to do them harm and feel that you are justified in doing so OR if the person in question has a real chance to harm another AND posting it on a message board is the best way to get the word out.

Otherwise, even if you know that someone engages in behavior that could cause harm to himself or others there should be better ways to deal with it than BalletAlert.

[ 06-29-2001: Message edited by: Ed Waffle ]

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I'd echo Ed's post. It's one of the most harmful and potentially lethal aspects of the Net: that any idiot can post anything, true or false, and there it is. If an artistic director fires you, if your partner drops you, if you didn't get the role you wanted, you could, in theory, put up a web site (or, more craftily, have a civilian buddy do it for you) dedicated exclusively to attacking the Villain. For lesser offenses, head to a web site and post "La Sublimova sold her children to support her drug habit and has ball bearings in her toe shoes." Or whatever. Someone who's a bit more sophisticated can do the most harm by being less obvious: posting something that seems reasonable -- perhaps sadly lamenting the fact of X, Y or Z -- but is pure venom.

To be fair, though, the same thing is happening in the print world. Once upon a time, editors could catch this kind of thing. "Hmm. Isn't Makarova generally considered one of the great ballerinas of our day? Then why would you write that she'd obtained her present prominence by...." fill in the horror/lie. Today, the editor of a general interest publication or newspaper may not have heard of Makarova, or Whoeverova. (The converse is true, as well. I could probably get someone to write that *I* was the great ballerina of the day and no one would question it -- before it was printed, of course :D )

We've only had one episode of this, thank goodness -- the infamous Nasty Poster, who obviously had a Huge Ax against three or four individual dancers and chose to grind and chose to grind it here, but luckily I found the posts within an hour of posting (late on a Saturday night) and got them down before many people saw them. There's no way to prevent something like that, of course; one can just react.

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Thank you for this topic. These concerns are of the utmost importance to a field which struggles to survive in our culture. It does need to be discussed, rumor or fact, we should all think before we speak of things which perhaps interest us but of which we know not enough. Many peoples livelyhoods and the development of classical ballet could be effected due to ignorance,fear and perhaps just plain sensationalism.I enjoy freedom of speech, but we must respect the rights of others.

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Using Alexandra's filter of "what's good for print media is good for Ballet Talk", it may be fair to recall the landmark case of Times v. Sullivan in which the principle of "the truth is proof absolute against libel" was upheld, but also added that "malicious or wanton use of information, particularly untrue, is not protected speech" - by extension, the Court created another safeguard against runaway gossip campaigns, even if the information were true. I think it works pretty well. :D

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How about this: the other day I heard that a couple of people were fired. I didn't post anything on this because: (a) given the source, the information was at least double (and likely triple or more) hearsay; and (B) my supposition is that if word gets around (whether correct or not) that you were fired, it might make it more difficult to get a new job. On the other hand my source has been accurate in the past and a post might lead to an interesting exchange along the lines of "Why in God's name does he fire X, while keeping Y?" Any thoughts on this?

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Let's be accurate: firing is when a person's employment is terminated prior to the end of their contract. What has happened to the dancers in question, as in the case of the Boston Ballet Dancers, was that their contracts were not renewed.

Non-renewal of contract can happen for many reasons: lack of development on the part of the dancer; change of focus within the company, and the dancer doesn't "fit" the new profile; the dancer has been there for a number of years, is just "so-so" and the director wants to hire "fresh blood", or the AD wishes to start a stylistic change within the company or wishes to hire more dancers with specific talents; "artistic differences" with the director - which may include anything from not liking the roles he/she is to be given/wanting roles the director doesn't want to give to him/her to not wanting to be paired with a particular partner/not being allowed to dance with the partner of choice, etc. Not all of these reasons imply that the dancer is either incompetent or difficult to work with or not versatile. Sometimes the dancer him/herself is willing to discuss the reason(s) he/she is leaving and sometimes not. In any case, all we really know, unless we have inside information or the dancer him/herself wishes to discuss it, is that the dancer is leaving - whether voluntarily or not. I don't see why, if the dancer is talking, we can't. It can't be kept a secret for long. Directors of other companies have their own informants and would know if someone had been let go (or, strictly speaking, not have his/her contract renewed).

I do think what would be bad is to say things like: "Sheezno and Heezno have been fired because - well, just look at how awful they are. Thank heavens the AD decided to get rid of them!"

As far as ABT goes, the list will be out soon enough. I know about a few more than the people already mentioned on this list as leaving. :rolleyes:

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Interesting comments, all. Keep 'em coming.

Stan, your example is a very good one. I'd feel uncomfortable if that were posted, unless it were confirmed, especially if it provoked the kind of discussion that we'd all probably love to have in the privacy of our living room -- He fired HER? WHAT was he thinking?

felursus, isn't this "They weren't fired, we just didn't renew the contract" the new way of firing people? A close cousin to, "Gosh, we'd love to have you next year, but we're just not doing your repertory!" Or the sneakier, yet popular, "Great news! You can teach for three months next year -- October, February and May. Oh, not enough income for you to maintain an apartment in New York so you'd have to leave? Who'da thunk it. We're so sorry to see you go."

All of these are, to me, firings. There is a distinction, I'll grant you, between calling someone in in March and saying, "Because you haven't been to rehearsals in a month and have violated eight other terms of your contract, as proven by the administrative hearing required by union rules, we regret we will have to terminate your contract" and "We're not going to renew your contract next year." But in reality, the latter is, I would argue, a firing.

Another cousin of these is the, "Since you've totally blown it, we want to get rid of you, but that would make us look like total fools, so we're going to give you three years severance pay and allow you to resign."

I think what frustrates internet posters -- as it has always frustrated journalists -- is that, to take the last instance -- the "did she jump or was she pushed?" question -- often people know the behind-the-scenes story but no one will corroborate it. This is when leaks happen. In frustration.

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So how much gossip are we entitled to?

Consider the complex and volatile situations such as last summer when Villella abruptly fired Jimmy Gamonet de los Heros in a multi-layered political/personal dispute eventually detailed in print and on line.

What exactly are we entitled to know? After all, if MCB gives the audience a fine performance -- with or without a Gamonet piece -- does it matter? If Gamonet has a fine career elsewhere, do we need to know if Villella was a scoundrel? Likewise, while we all remain fascinated with every blip and burble of Balanchine's life and nearly ever dancer whose fanny he patted has had a book out of it, does it matter? This reminds me of my husband's reason why he never goes to hear even his most favorite authors give a talk at a bookstore 3 blocks from our house: "They already gave me all they owe me, good books. Who cares what they say."

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Well, but if Director X is a scoundrel and is well-known only to give roles to a) his lovers B) girlfriends/wives of his friends (vv. for a female director), c) girls who at 5'6" weigh less than 100 lbs, d) buxom blondes - or whatever and LOATHES a) anyone with a Russian-sounding name even if born in Chicago and whose parents were born in Chicago B) anyone brunette c) anyone over/under a certain height d) married women/men e) married women/men with children - then it might be helpful to aspiring company members to have an idea about this in advance. I mean, if a 17-year-old brunette has a burning desire to join the brunette-hater's company, it might be helpful for her to know that he hasn't hired a brunette in the last 10 years (at 17 she could hardly know that), so maybe she should either consider a visit to a hairdresser with a view toward changing her hair color or start thinking about another company. :eek:

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As one of the administrative employees to whom Alexandra refers, I'll respond to her query. For me, self-preservation plays into this situation. I generally avoid saying a lot here simply because I am not always 100% certain how much of what I hear at PNB is public knowledge, and I prefer to err on the side of caution. Since our Olivier is a frequent poster here and has firsthand knowledge of what company news is for the public ear, I leave it to him to post what is appropriate.

I'll also add, as a humorous aside, that I frequently see information posted to various sites by members of the public which causes PNB administration to ask "How do they KNOW this stuff?"

[ 07-03-2001: Message edited by: Dave ]

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Dave, your self-preservation concerns are quite valid :) In answer to the "how do they know this stuff?" Check under the stairs in the prop room; there are people who live backstage, I think, wired, with boom mikes :)

Seriously, the problem of professionals on the internet is a very knotty one. I've been almost frightened by some of the things that the few dancers we have here occasionally post -- don't you know your boss will read that? So some post anonymously and only a few people guess who they are. Then what to do if you're dancer/administrative employee of Company X and someone posts: "I hate company X. They're awful. And besides, they're racist and mean to women." Do you defend them? If so, do you "come out"?

Dancers are the one group left out of the internet. While it's been a terrific outlet for other voiceless groups -- fans who never get to write reviews and finally have a chance to ask the famous "Where were you sitting????" question -- dancers/choreographers can't. They can't refute gossip. They can't say, "Actually, I'm a very good dancer most days but my bum knee was acting up last night and my regular partner had the mumps and because of the power failure, we had no rehearsal time." They can't even say, "I did NOT steal half of those steps from Maestro II and I do too like women."

So the internet is an imperfect tool. But it's fun anyway :)

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