11 dancers from NYCB laid off

From the NY TIMES

(This seems a little over dramatic to me. People all over are losing their jobs and the jobs in the arts are in an even more volatile position! I mean, as a modern dancer in a steady, salaried company position, I have about half the pay and half the benefits that ballet dancers do. I have lots of training including 20 years of ballet. There just isn’t as much corporate support behind modern dance and therefore, it usually pays less and tends to have fewer if any benefits compared to ballet. In this country, we are taught that you only really can stay an artist if you love it. You don’t dance because it pays the bills or even necessarily feels good. So great if some of these dancers found themselves walking down the path that came easiest and were able to see a new light by the unfortunate events. The rest of NY cities dancers have been facing the facts since before the economic downturn. In fact, my company had to lay off two dancers and I was lucky to not be one of them. These bunheads just seem to fall into the entitled category and the fact is that if in fact, they do love it and do want it, they can achieve it. Just having NYCB on your resume is notable. It may be bad for others trying to stay on top in other cities such as Miami City Ballet among others, but I can’t feel so sorry for them. Only to advise them that putting all their eggs in one basket is dangerous. Anyhoo, read on and form your own opinion for goodness sakes!)

Sudden Finale

Kyle Froman

Sophie Flack warming up in 2006.

Published: July 22, 2009





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Kyle Froman

Briana Shepherd, right, with a fellow dancer at a Saratoga rehearsal.

AS a sulfurous smell from the nearby mineral springs drifted past, a half-dozen dancers looked into the waning light of a cool Saturday night here recently and took their final bows as members of the New York City Ballet.

They were among 11 members of the company’s corps de ballet, some barely in their 20s, who have joined the swelling ranks of laid-off workers nationwide struggling to find new ways in the recession. They were told in February, shortly before the deadline for new contracts to be issued, that their employment would not be renewed, mainly for economic reasons. Some left soon after. Others gave their final performances the week ending July 18, as the company closed its summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The layoffs have produced a complicated set of responses among these dancers, who, since childhood, have endured grueling hours of cloistered study to achieve a remarkable level of artistry, a position at the pinnacle of the ballet world and then, suddenly, unemployment: anger mixed with grief but also a sense of new possibility and youthful optimism.

The emotions are especially acute because, more than many other workers, ballet dancers define themselves and their self-worth by their profession. Losing a job is like losing one’s identity.

“You’re just erased, as if you were never there,” said one of the dancers, Sophie Flack, 25 and an eight-year veteran of the corps. “It was the end of the life I knew since I was a little girl.”

Some, like Ms. Flack, have decided to quit dancing and go to college. Others will audition for other companies, a task made all the tougher by hard times at performing-arts institutions around the country. One, a recent mother, is moving back to Ohio, where her husband will look for a job. Another, a 21-year-old woman, plans to study costume design.

Those leaving their cosseted sphere are moving into a scary world where they have to learn about financial-aid packages and job training. They are receiving severance pay and an extra three months of union health coverage, and are generally eligible for unemployment insurance.

The layoffs, though part of the company’s cost-cutting strategy, produced a round of questioning for each individual: Did I have too many injuries? Too many outside interests that made it seem dance was not my top priority? An inability to attract the ballet masters’ favor? Was I not attending class regularly?

In short, why me?

“Everyone’s asked themselves that question,” said Darius Barnes, 21, who was let go after only one season in the corps. “You can’t possibly know.”

Mr. Barnes said he had auditioned for several companies and for Broadway shows, “but no bites yet.” He did receive a job as an understudy for a Metropolitan Opera production of “Aida” next season.

Some of the dancers also questioned why new members were being added to the corps when they were been dismissed, and why other companies had managed to find cost savings without resorting to dancer reductions.

For some, the way the layoffs were handled only reinforced the anonymity of their existence.

The corps, like the chorus in an opera, is the body of workhorses who provide the backbone for most of the repertory. Individual members often have featured roles and some may nourish hopes of achieving principal status someday. While listed in the program, they rarely receive the spotlight of soloists and principal dancers, who are often showered with flowers and recognition when they retire.

In this case City Ballet tried to keep a lid on information about the dancers, refusing to release their names or even to ask them if they wanted to be interviewed, for what it called reasons of privacy. The ballet master in chief, Peter Martins, who was the subject of grumbling by the laid-off dancers, declined to be interviewed, although when he announced the layoffs he called the decision “the hardest thing I’ve done my entire professional career.”

City Ballet’s general manager, Kenneth Tabachnick, agreed to make limited comments on the nonrenewals. They were determined by “an extremely difficult process for everyone,” he said, and they came in the context of a $7 million deficit this year on a budget of $62.3 million and an expected $5 million deficit next year. The reduction, he said, would save $1.2 million. He said the size of the roster would drop from an unusually large 101 — a result of relatively little attrition in recent years — to about 90. The company has also cut staff salaries, imposed a staff hiring freeze and reduced administrative spending.

Mr. Tabachnick confirmed that an undisclosed number of new corps members would be promoted from the ranks of eight apprentices, but he said the promotions would be part of a renewal of company talent vital to keeping City Ballet artistically healthy. The apprentice spots will be filled by members of the School of American Ballet, the company’s feeder, thus creating openings for new students. So the talent pipeline will continue to flow.

“Everything happens in the context of managing our business,” Mr. Tabachnick said.

Claudia La Rocco contributed reporting.

Sign in to RecommendMore Articles in Arts »A version of this article appeared in print on July 26, 2009, on page AR1 of the New York edition.

Merce Cunningham’s legacy

Unfortunately today was another sad day in the dance world. Merce Cunningham passed away. He was one of the frontier men in modern dance and his company’s future and his life’s work seems rather uncertain. This weekend his company will perform shows in his honor.

read more about him and his legacy

and yet more

and to see his work

This is a forward from my ol roomie and Cunningham dancer Emma DesJardins. I just know she is going to be beautiful! highly recommended.

I’m very excited to let you all know about my next NYC performance. This summer the Merce Cunningham Company gets to be part of NYC’s myriad array of free outdoor events. We are performing on August 1st and 2nd in Rockefeller park. Its and outdoor concert in a great location with views of the water and its FREE!! Check out the link, forward it to all your friends, bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the show! Happy summer everyone. -Emma