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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000204.txt from 2005/12

From: "Lelia Loban" <>
Subj: [kl] Nutcracker
Date: Tue, 27 Dec 2005 10:10:38 -0500

Jay Niepoetter wrote,
> the alternatives are close the orchestra down
> and use tape music. or close the whole show!
> radio city music hall (the strike did get resolved and the orchestra is
> back)
> washington ballet in washington dc. all performances canceled.
> is it worth NOT having a paycheck for so many musicians and dancers?
> the nutcracker puts people in the seats of the theater and musicians and
> dancers get paid! can that be so bad?

Yes, dancers and musicians want to get paid, but sometimes the price they
pay to get paid is too high. The Washington Ballet protest has nothing to
do with performing "The Nutcracker" too often. It's a job action demanding
better working conditions.

Ballet causes crippling injuries at a rate greater than that of any sport
except American football. The fairly new Artistic Director of the
Washington Ballet, Septieme Webre, has earned himself a reputation as an
egotistical martinet, a throwback to the old paternalistic tradition. He
requires so many rehearsals and such grueling work that the dancers are
getting career-threatening injuries at an even more appalling rate than

According to Eleni Kallas, the dancers' union representative, Webre's
particularly frequent, long and demanding Nutcracker rehearsals helped goad
the dancers' union (the American Guild of Musical Artists) to take action
right now. The other reason for the timing was to put the maximum amount
of pressure on management, since, according to Kay Kendall of the Board of
Directors, the Nutcracker season brings in 64 percent of the Washington
Ballet's annual revenue. (Sarah Kaufman, "Washington Ballet Cancels
'Nutcracker' Run," The Washington Post, Saturday, December 17, 2005, p. A1;
and Sarah Kaufman, "Dancers, Ballet Out of Step in Pas de Deux," The
Washington Post, Thursday, December 23, 2005, p. C1.) Another serious
grievance: the dancers also report that Webre and management retaliate
against dancers who are active in the union.

In the twenty years since Gelsey Kirkland and Greg Lawrence wrote "Dancing
On My Grave," a few things have changed, but not nearly enough. Dancers
are sick of being treated as if they were little children who should keep
silent, look exquisite and do as they're told. They're sick of the
love-worship-hate relationship with egomaniacal teachers and directors.
They're sick of the weird one-upmanship of comparing their bruises, their
X-rays, their scars, their blisters, their bulemia, their anorexia, their
doctors, their quacks and their fad diets. They're sick of being sick.
Musicians down in the pit can complain all they like about playing "The
Nutcracker" over and over and over again, and it's a legitimate complaint,
IMHO. (Personal bias: I like the Nutcracker, although I've seen it too
many times to want to see it again; but I think its unmerited domination of
dance companies' budgets reflects the dismal condition of the arts in the
U. S. A..) However, the musicians' stress is mild compared to what the
dancers go through.

The union at the Washington Ballet is determined not to back down this
time, even if management keeps the dancers locked out and cancels the
entire season, as may happen: management already cancelled "The
Bach/Beatles Project" and "The 7x7 Woman" and is threatening to cancel
"Othello" next. (Neely Tucker, "Ballet Announces '06 Cancellations," The
Washington Post, Saturday, December 24, 2005, p. C1.) Other ballet
companies had better pay attention. I think the dance community has
reached critical mass: This type of union action may become much more
common in the near future.

Lelia Loban

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