The Ballet Shake Up of 2017

This year has been a whirlwind. Four years ago we had a shake up in changes in the Artistic world of Ballet as dancers and directors shuffled among the companies. But, this year, dancers and directors are being removed from the picture. Between the hustle and bustles and crazy sh!t storm that is the Nutcracker… This morning American Ballet Theatre put out their press release regarding international superstar Marcelo Gomes. He is no longer with ABT. This is just on the tailcoat of Peter Martins at NYCB. If you haven’t been following ballet news, allegations have been put out there, left and right… Most of them surfacing from the past. But, no one in ballet is really that surprised, and they aren’t being quiet about it on social media. Everyone has something to say, or a story involving one of the accused… and dragging un-accused people into the light.

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This isn’t that big of a surprise for those of in ballet. We have heard the rumors, we have seen how directors act, and we see how egos get inflated… very quickly. A Ballet Education has been demanding change for the past three years, and unfortunately it is taking the press, and victims of abuse to come forward to start a radical change in ballet. Directors at a ballet company, are literally, one step away from God himself. The power a director has, and if the board supports this director, gives them unlimited power within a ballet company. There are all of these unspoken things that dancers fear: contracts being renewed, insurance, injury, their personal life, etc. Ironically, most of these directors have been in the other position… So most of them, don’t even see anything wrong with their behaviors. For a lot of the European directors their justification is that they are treating the dancers nicer than they were treated… Thus, it isn’t that bad, and we all should be thankful we have a job….

(Marcelo Gomes is currently choreographing on his friend Julie Kent‘s Washington Ballet and has a movie set to preimiere.)

It is this mentality that proliferates and continues the cycle of abuse, ego, and demand in the ballet world. But this starts at the student level, when students are expected to put in 8-10 hour a days, without pay, and be happy about it. There is no child ballet union to protect children from the wrath of a director, nor are there child psychiatrists monitoring the children growing up at tier one ballet schools helping them cope with injury, reality, and mental capacity it takes to be a ballet dancer. They grow up in this mindset of abuse is normal, and you are lucky to be a part of this industry, so you should be silent. Again, not something new. And the obsession over women in ballet has always been there. They are goddesses and at the same time directors and choreographers view them as clay; to be shaped and to be formed into something of their own desires.

The allegations surrounding Peter Martins might be called karma by some… And for others, they are completely shocked. It is just like this HW, Meryl Streep scenario where some people truly didn’t know or witness anything but a demanding director. All of this is just days away before companies go on break, which could be a good thing… The demand for change is here… and for someone like myself, who is a qualified AD or ED, it makes me wonder if ballet is really worth it?

 

From left: Justin Peck, Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford and Craig Hall. Photo by Erin Baiano, via The New York Times. (City Ballet’s “temporary fix” to the Peter Martin’s Scandal…)

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It is making me think, that kids shouldn’t leave home alone until they are 18. That the structure of ballet is breaking because no one will listen to a younger generation like myself. I have had numerous conversations with some of the most respected people in ballet, and I am laughed at. I am told that what I am asking is impossible, and that I should find my place in ballet… Which I have… Ballet doesn’t have to be this art form of beauty surrounded by suffering, abuse and ridiculously expensive.

It is sad to see my colleagues suffering… Even dancers at Boston Ballet, not being able to settle their contracts. They signed mid December. It isn’t a secret that Boston proper is expensive to live in, so as a company it is your job to adequately pay the dancers. Unfortunately, this either means the executive staff needs a pay cut, or dancers need to be let go so that others can be paid. There has to be a time where we draw a line in the sand and say, “This is it.”

Change has to happen in ballet. And it has to happen rather soon. Questions comments or concerns: email me.


 

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NEWS: Los Angeles Ballet Fails…again

After talking with a few anonymous sources, I can finally confirm a few things… Rumors and stories have been circulating the ballet world about Los Angeles Ballet’s shocking news. Los Angeles Ballet just laid off a handful of dancers, 5 to be exact… and a ballet mistress due to the lack of budgeting… or lack of funding… This news was delivered less than 48 hours before their season contracts were to begin… New Contracts that were part time or hourly were given to the remaining company members. Additionally, the fourth program was pulled from their season- making their season go from September to March. I am not 100% sure, but legally I think these dancers are entitled to more than a the $1,000 severance they were given (less than two weeks worth of corps pay)… but now these dancers are unemployed until next season- most dancers will not even be able to audition until January… They also had a contract for someone from Italy, but laid him off as well…. So good luck getting out of a Los Angeles lease, well if he can’t find another work visa ASAP… I guess being deported works…  right?

More Irony? Well, not irony, but straight out bull$h!t… they let go of promoted apprentices and corps members but hired 6 new dancers… one being their daughter…. *super side eye* Family Nepotism Plays Again* And I get that new hires are cheap labor… buuuuuuut still, this is a load of poop being dropped on you at the last possible minute. (Not the most professional visual, but as I sit here I am like dumbfounded. Honestly, I didn’t even want to believe it…)  But, everyone in management must have known what was coming because the Artistic Directors’ son went to Boston last minute. *side eye* well, some major serious side eye* How he got into Boston Ballet, that is another major question because I have seen the men in BB corps… and I have seen Erik dance…  I really do wonder how he got hired, truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if a back deal was cut for Colleen to set Balanchine Ballets for cheap. But, that is just me speculating…

So, where did this come from? Los Angeles ballet was unavailable for a quote. They referred me to their PR company, whom which I spoke to someone but she was on vacation playing tennis…

Let’s review… Los Angeles Ballet is going now have to give back money to season ticket holders… So that is another expense from cutting the third program (Coppelia) and pushing the Balanchine Program up. Instead of pulling weekends from theaters, they pulled a show. Well, that may be super great but doesn’t matter  because it is a huge cost to cut. They could have easily restructured the company and re-arranged the priorities for their budgets. While most ballet companies gain debt over each season, it is usually also traded from loan to loan. SFB and ABT are pretty stellar at that. You can read their financial reviews, because all non-profits usually are required transparency. But, I do wonder how much the ADs of LAB make… Seriously- I’m dumfounded… Because when ABT was going through a financial struggle, the entire company, staff, etc took salary cuts to afford not laying off dancers… I couldn’t find their financial report on their website… which is funny because most major companies makes it readily available… If I were a donor… I would ask to see it ASAP/

So- how does an established company like Los Angeles ballet go from being a rising new company to a crumbling establishment? The simple answer: Money Management. It is extremely costly to run a ballet company, especially when it competes in the Los Angeles dance scene against other major established ballet schools… Ballet schools support the company… and well frankly, there is better training in Los Angeles then LAB School. So, not having a strong school structure is difficult…

They also took on a massive season last year with staging all new full-length ballets that cost. (ie: costume rentals, set rentals, extra hours of rehearsal etc) They should have stuck with the Balanchine Ballets they are good at… No costumes, no sets… They don’t perform with a live orchestra so they don’t have that major expense… but they do pay for a music director… maybe to speed up or slow down the CDs? Not sure… When a ballet company goes under there are a few people who are to blame… The easiest to blame is the board of directors… It is funny because most Boards are made up of non-ballet community members… They are either well connected within a community, or they can afford to be patrons of ballet… A good board also has extremely smart business savvy people.

The Artistic Staff usually tries to blame the regular staff… ie: development (aka fundraising), the box office (ticket sales), or other managers because they do create the budget in which the ballet company works… And though it might seem like their fault, it really boils down to the Artistic Director… (I know, I seem to beat up a lot on this position) but it is their job as the head to guide the entire company. While the Regular staff might be the legs of a company, and the dancers are the heart and blood of the company… The head leads the company and usually endorses new ballets, new innovative works, and pushes for their own personal choices… Ironically, most artistic directors don’t have a degree in business or know how to run a business… Their current executive director is Julie Whittaker- who has had the position since the inception of LAB.

So… a little bit about LA BALLET…. Founded in 2004 by Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary… the ballet company was primed to be a rising star… but like most ballet companies in Los Angeles, it seems Los Angeles has fallen to the Ballet Curse of LA. Every ballet company in Los Angeles results in folding…. While I don’t think LAB is going to be folding this season, their choices have cost them senior corps members. So, when you think loyalty matters… money matters more at LAB.

Here is something to think about… and I hope the board of LA Ballet reads this… 
While you all might think ballet is beautiful and wonderful… at the heart of it all, ballet is a business… And you have to be business savvy to be an Artistic Director… This was not like PA Ballet’s cleaning house because a new look was being developed… This was just pure stupidity and poor planning… Not to mention bad marketing… And while I have tried in the past to partner with Los Angeles Ballet… their lack of communication is awful… But just remember… most Artistic Directors are to blame when a company folds… I mean look at Silicon Valley… they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the company alive but they insisted on staging a brand new Giselle…. I hope you consult more… and consult with people who know ballet inside and out… as well as know business inside and out. Before you go out and let go of dancers… You should really ask yourselves… Who is really to blame? And from an outsider looking in… I think I can safely point the finger at the Artistic Directors of Los Angeles Ballet…

If you are one of the dancers from Los Angeles Ballet who was let go… contact me, and I will let you know of any job openings I hear of… I’m sorry that this BS happened to you, and once again #balletpolitics strike again…

All of my sources have asked to remain anonymous.

(Photo from Los Angeles Ballet’s Media Hub:  LAB in Giselle (2016 season); Photo: Reed Hutchinson http://losangelesballet.org)