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Should artistic directors be in the studio?

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This was suggested by mbjerk on the thread about Rehearsal Practices.

In the goodolddays, an artistic director was the balletmaster, and he had administrative responsibility for the company -- choosing dancers and repertory -- but also rehearsed the repertory and usually taught company class.

Today, in America, an artistic director often has to do fundraising, and the adminsitrative staffs have swelled so (many companies have as many admin people as they have dancers) that it takes real management skills to handle that.

Companies now usually have an executive director -- and in some companies, the executive director is gaining in power over the artistic director.

Some questions.

Is this trend for good or ill?

Should the artistic director be in the studio teaching class and rehearsing ballets?

Where are we headed -- what will the model be ten years from now?

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I think ist is a very important thing. The director should be in the studio's. i The result of the rehaersel is first of all the directors responsebility. Second of all; the dancers should see that heshe is still there, that there is an authority. They also see that he cares about what they do. He has to work with them, I think its the most important thing.

And I think the director should also teach ones in a while. The almost the only possebility to see in what kind shape the dancers technicly are.

I thing what I think can not be avoided is that the artistic director has to raise funds. If there are two directors maybe, if there is one its a busy job.

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IMO the ARTISTIC director should be wherever the ARTISTIC things are happening, and the business manager or executive officer or whatever they want to call themselves should be dealing with the money side of things. if the AD is the real or sole DIRECTOR of the company, then administrative staff and/or boards should be taking the lead on the money front, so that the AD may remain the artistic leader. there's only so much one person can do!

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Grace, I agree. The ARTISTIC director needs to be in the studio with the dancers and the choreographers making sure the ARTISTIC sdie of things are handled. Budgetary and business concerns should be left mostly to the business/executive director with the AD consulting. The ED should not be in the studio making decisions.

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In the late seventies and through the eighties, except for a period of six weeks (after a six month lay off) in which he taught company class every day, and while he was choreographing his ballet "Postcards", Robert Joffrey was not in the studio.

His presence was felt. He was in the building. He went on tour and was at all performances. He watched run throughs and sat in on rehearsals when people such as Michael Somes, Brian Shaw, Lynn Seymour, Georgette Tsinguirides, Glen Tetley, Vicky Simon, Sara Leland were teaching ballets. He held artistic meetings with dancers, and even presided over company meetings.

But on the whole, he left the day to day work, the rehearsals, to his staff. His staff was comprised of former Joffrey dancers whom he trusted to carry out his vision implicitly. Meanwhile he was free to travel when necessary to teach at festivals, so he could see the talent of America and Europe. He travelled the globe to see choreography, to meet with other Artistic Directors and designers etc.

The Joffrey Ballet was extremely successfull during this period. The majority of its Ashton, Cranko and Kylian ballets came into the rep with glowing reviews. Early works by Forsythe, Tharp, Dean and Morris were created on the company too.

Mr. Joffrey was there to back up the staff whom he trusted artistically and ethically. This was a system that worked.

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Originally posted by glebb

His staff was comprised of former Joffrey dancers whom he trusted to carry out his vision implicitly.  

How true! This was a glorius period for the Joffrey and greatly due to those ballet masters and mistresses who tended to the repertoire, classes and dancers. They learned from Mr. Joffrey and believed in his insistence on detail and stylistic perfection.

But as glebb states, Mr. Joffrey was always around somehow and the dancers knew that he and Mr. Arpino truly cared about all that went on.

But the key to this system, as glebb writes, was that the staff had grown up in the company and directly with Mr. Joffrey in the studio. As he became more of a international celebrity and needed to be doing things outside the studio, the staff kept us dancers together and artistically groomed.

Several of the dancers from that system are now excellent ballet masters, mistresses, teachers or directors.

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I think that glebb was using Joffrey as a model that worked where the artistic director was not in the studio on a frequent basis.

Does anyone have examples of where the artistic director does not plan the repertoire or hire the dancers (aside from Boston recently or Jane Herman at ABT less recently)?

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Originally posted by mbjerk

Does anyone have examples of where the artistic director does not plan the repertoire or hire the dancers (aside from Boston recently or Jane Herman at ABT less recently)?

I can't (although there may well be some) but I do think that in the past 10 to 15 years there's a trend towards hiring as artistic directors former dancers whose artistic direction is not their strong suit; they're more skilled at either business management or PR or board courting. At first, this was a stopgap (who else is there?) and now it's become de rigeur. I know of instances of people without the PR skills getting turned down, or not getting past the search committee, because "they're just an artist" or "but she can't fund raise." (I won't post names; I have to review them :) ) Editing to add: Fundraising is, of course, immensely important and a skill of its own. I don't mean to denigrate it. I just mean it's become part of the AD's job description, when there are many competent fundraising professoinals who can perform this function.

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i am a teensy bit confused by citibob's comment about 'mincing' terms.

to me, the artistic responsibilities of the director (AD) are NOT limited to "the studio" - so in that sense, what LMCtech adds (in his post which follows mine) overly narrows my 'definition'.

glebb's description of what happened at joffrey is an example of what i meant: the director DIRECTING the artistic side of things - not necessarily hands-on DOING all of them, or even much of them (allowing his artistic STAFF to do their jobs in the studio). of course - that distinction probably depends more on the size of the company and its staff, than anything else.

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It's really quite simple from the point of view of the dancer. Let me explain what I find to be an analogous situation.

Suppose you're a graduate student, embarking on PhD studies. You're considering two different laboratories.

Lab A: The head professor in charge is very famous. However, he's also so famous that he's rarely in the lab. He's always out consulting, giving keynote speeches at conferences, telling people about all his great ideas, and in general courting new funding sources. But that's OK; he has a big hierarchy of postdocs and senior grad students who can supervise the new grad students and get them going on the professor's projects. This is a great professor, and you will have the privilege of working on his projects; everyone will want to hire you after that. All papers from his lab bear his name, even if they were written by his students and he just glanced at them at the end. His lab is very well funded, in part because his activites away from the university help bring in those funds. If you study in Lab A, you will never go hungry. Moreover, you get a lot of nice perks. Nice furniture in the lab, free lunch, all the greatest new wireless toys to play with, luxury accomodations when you go to conferences.

Lab B: The head professor in charge only has a few grad students and takes an active role in every bit of research that bears his name. He is available for frequent consultation with his students on their research projects. He is away sometimes and certainly bears the responsibility of getting new research funded. But he still manages to spend the bulk of his time in the lab. Maybe he doesn't fundraise enough; at the end of the day, he's more interested in doing research than in finding money. His funding is sometimes spotty; that is why he cannot support very many grad students. Today, he can only promise you funding for the first year. Travel funds are limited, but he can probably squeeze you into a few conferences per year. But at least you know if you work with this professor, you will receive real mentorship. He does not seek to make his students into clones of himself, but rather to produce true independent researchers who can direct their own research and eventually find their own funding.

I have worked in Lab A and also in Lab B. I realize there are many graduate students who find the Lab A situation attractive. Unfortunately. Actually, the practices in Lab A cheapen the graduate experience. They smack of mediocrity and a desire for power, rather than a true interest in quality research.

The professor in Lab A told me how great my career would be if I continued to study with him because he was such a famous guy. I didn't need him; I figured I was pretty smart as well. I ran the other way and never regretted it. He has treated my independence as true disloyalty, refusing to ever talk to me again. I still don't regret it. I don't need this guy.

After all, you can't expect quality results from a mediocre process.

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I'm afraid I still don't get the idea of a "minced term". Is this cut into fine dice, sweetened and mixed, as in mince pie, or is it a survival of the obsolescent sense of the word, "to restrain language to remain within the realms of decorum"? The expression "mince words" is still with us, although the larger meaning of "mince" = "minimize" is archaic.

I think I may be in a unique position here to tell some of what Joffrey did in the conduct of his Directorship, and do so without betraying any confidences, which I still find binding upon me. Joffrey did not show up in the rehearsal studio very often, but then, he didn't show up anywhere in the many and various parts of his job terribly often. As with the ballets, he delegated the business part of the operation to the General Director, and the publicity to the publicity folk (when he made a personal appearance on a commercial for a building being built near City Center, I nearly fell over), and the intercompany relations to still other delegates who enjoyed his trust. He was spread thinly, but skillfully over his job, and the rightness of the approach was evidenced in the success of the company.

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Here's what I meant by "mincing".

A board of directors can hire whomever it likes and call that person "Artistic Director". But if that person is truly doing little or nothing artistic, then it seems inappropriate.

Similarly, if you've delegated the job of direction, then you're no longer directing the company. The board of directors also delegates the job of direction, but that doesn't make them the Artistic Directors.

Thus, the question could be framed more as "is it appropriate to call someon artistic director if that person is not in the studio" instead of "should artistic directors be in the studio".

The Martha Graham company recently had an extreme example of someone who was called artistic director but wasn't.

The Joffrey Case is interesting to me in that Arpino, who did not have an artistic title, seems to have choreographed some of the ballets.

Incidentally, I don't think that the SymphonicAlert web site is discussing this issue regarding musical directors. They are expected at the very least to make public appearences with their orchestra as they conduct most performances.

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citibob, i enjoy reading your posts.

thanks for explaining about how you believe the words should be used. that was all i was getting at - i didn't 'get' your point clearly, first time around.

your lab story is interesting to me.

mel: "Joffrey did not show up in the rehearsal studio very often, but then, he didn't show up anywhere "...sounds like there's a story there, but i don't expect you to tell it!

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I must, however, correct any lingering assumptions that may exist that he was a laissez-faire director. He did show up in a great many places, some of them unexpected, all of them on company business, but just not any one place with a lot of regularity. Beyond that, I don't think I should say more, as the essential part of secretary is "secret" and there are still ramifications to work that was done nearly thirty years ago now, that could affect people working today.

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I would like to clarify my above post to explain that I also agree that an AD shouldn't be ONLY in the studio, but shoudl have a major presence there either physically or in the spirit of the people s/he puts there as proxy.

I also think that fundraising is a big part of an AD's job, but the artistic functions should be foremost. I think it does a company a disservice to hire an AD that is only a good business man because what is seen on stage (the part that really matters after all) starts to suffer. On the other hand, if the AD can't manage or fundraise, there is no money to put anything on stage. There must be a balance. Of course, easier said than done.

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With that said, I still don't really understand what people talk about when they talk about fundraising as the AD's job.

What I've observed is like the difference between sales and marketing. The AD does "marketing", in the sense of showing up in places that will raise the profile of the company. That does not directly raise funds. The GD does the "sales" and actually gets the funds, and is much better at it than the AD could be.

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I still don't really understand what people talk about when they talk about fundraising as the AD's job.
i agree with you, citibob. DO people talk about fundraising as one of the AD's jobs? even if the answer is 'no', i think the american AD may have a slightly different job description, to that of other countries, just as i believe the baords of american companies are quite different to boards in other countries.
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citibob, I agree with you. It seems to me that the AD's participation in fundraising in usually simply face time (meet the board, shake their friends hands, thank them nicely for their contributions). I don't think they do most of the "leg work" and phone calls or grant writing. However, in a small company that doesn't have a General Director or a Development Department, the AD is probably doing all of that and more.

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It seems that the artistic responsibilities involved grow with the size of a company.

In the smallest companies, the AD might take on many director roles.

In a medium-sized company, the AD can still take on artistically-related roles (teacher, choreographer, etc) but leave non-artistic jobs to other managers.

In a large company, the AD must designate most artistic jobs (teacher, choreographer, ballet master) as well as most non-artistic jobs.

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This is a tougher issue than most realize, If you separate the business duties from the artistic, you will get the classic AD vs. The Board situation, and noone ends up happy.

If the Chief Executive and the Artistic director can agree on responsibilities, it could work like great partners do.

Money does not grow on trees and Quality does not come cheap!


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It seems that many ADs are hired for their star status -- that their presence at fundraising events, involvment in courting potential major donors, being the company's public face, etc., are expected to send people to their checkbooks.

All that is fine and good, as long as they are competent in tending to the artistic matters (including dancer morale), either directly or through able underlings. Ultimately, the success of either feeds the success of the other.

Just as the failure of either portends the failure of the other.

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