CriticalDance Forum

How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Tue Dec 17, 2002 3:30 am ]
Post subject:  How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

We are grateful for this introduction by Dean Speer, whose experience as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, administrator and dance lover provide an excellent basis for addressing this topic:

"How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future and support
their development? Can we build structures for training and development
of the dance workforce to develop and support better equipped, empowered,
and confident individuals?"

I believe ballet as a medium and art form is really reaching a peak of
maturation and we are seeing the results of this in an ever-shrinking
world. I think this maturation is a good thing and can have the net
effect of gaining good results for the art.

Sharing, as the business world likes to say, "best practices," is one way
for current and future Artistic Directors to grapple with and grow with
today's changes. This is not to suggest that companies would lose their
respective indentities and become franchises -- a kind of balletic "Subway
Sandwich," but rather to take today's fabulous resources, such as the
Internet, and use them as tools to share what they have learned that works
from experience.

We already see a pattern of the dance world becoming more mature as it
parallels the opera and music worlds with things like sharing productions
and other resources. Yes, this has been long-happening in some degree and
the past fews years have see this kind of expansion really take hold.

There is currently no real training school or course for Artistic
Directors such as "Becoming An AD 101" or "ADs for Novices!" But there
could be. I remember being asked several years ago in a live television
interview if there was some place that Artistic Directors could go to
learn how to do their jobs (I was the AD of a ballet company at that
time). On the set with me was the Music Director and Conductor of the
symphony (who also, BTW, conducted our Nutcracker). After we stopped
laughing, the answer was an emphatic, "No!" I recall explaining that
while there was really no course or specific schooling (although is must
be pointed out that conductors CAN study conducting in college or at a
music conservatory), we did bring all of our experiences to bear in these

There are workshops and seminars given of many types for those new to
their positions. Some of these include newly-elected officals such as
state representatives and senators, deans of college departments, and
teachers. Why not something like this for folk who head artistic
enterprises? For heads of dance schools, regional "pre-professional"
companies, managers, and so forth. Some of this could be natural
outgrowth of workshops and seminars that are already being held for
teachers worldwide.

There could also be a network organization of ADs (NOAD) that could meet
internationally every-other-year and nationally in alternate years and
regionally every year. Dues could be structured on a sliding scale, based
on the organization's size and budget. All would be welcome.

A paper and on-line newsletter would ably keep everyone abreast of the
times and could include a readership beyond that of the membership.

Some topics for meetings and the newsletter might include: "The Board and
You;" "Vivacious Volunteers;" "Your First Annual Meeting;" "Budgets 101;"
"Meeting the Press;" "The Unwritten Rules;" "Long-Term Artistic Planning;"
"Building Teamwork;" "Supporting Diversity;" "Production Sharing 101;"
"School and Company Follies;" or "We Got 'There' -- So Now What?!"

Similarly, meetings could be organized for peers to chat. During one of
of PNB's early Teachers' Seminars many years ago, I arranged for our
school registrar to meet with their counterpart and it was one of the best
things we ever did. Our registrar came back with not only tons of new
ways to better run the school, she also came back more energized and
enthusiastic than ever.

"Knowledge is Power" and the more we work to educate ourselves and ably
assist our co-workers and colleagues, the stronger each of us becomes,
collectively and individually. Our cultural institutions then become
virtual perpetual motion machines, able to not only withstand change but
to embrace it.

Some possible discussion themes:

- Do Artistic Directors need to be trained?
- If so, what are the key elements that need to be included?
- Is there also a place for update courses, which most professionals attend on a regular basis.
- Should any preparation come after a dance career or is it better to start the process at an earlier stage
- Is it a good idea that ADs have regular contact as well as one-off seminars like Rural Retreats. If so, what are the merits of the different delivery methods?

Author:  librarian [ Wed Dec 18, 2002 5:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

I don't think preparation is a bad idea, but I will say that care ought to be taken that it doesn't become a process more rooted in overly complicated Human Resources-type criteria, "business model" and "psychological profile" type paperwork. I know it's a business, and I think an AD ought to act in a fiscally responsible manner, but I am wary of drowning one in a pile of term paper-type paperwork. Forest for the trees sort of thing and far from the actual meaning and purpose of the work, in my humble opinion.

Author:  LMCtech [ Wed Dec 18, 2002 1:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

Though I think it is important for an AD to have working knowledge of the business aspects of running a company, the ADs most important job is as decision maker on ARTISTIC issues. I think any dancer who becomes an AD will be completely influenced by his/her own training, experiences and tastes (which is good), but they shouldn't become too hidebound, and that may be where training could be most effective. Kind of a "how to stay relevant" seminar.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Thu Dec 19, 2002 7:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

The Vilar Institute of Arts Management is one place where future ADs could learn aspects of their trade. Our interview with Bruce Sansom, ex-RB Principal, was an attendee in the first year and talks about the experience in our interview with him. He also talks about the value of his year at San Francisco Ballet for on the job training. As far as i can see, the combination of the two represents probably a good option for Arts Administration training.

<small>[ 12-19-2002, 08:18: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Joanne [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 4:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

In an ideal world it would be good for AD's to only concentrate on the artistic side of running a dance company and have specialists beneath them negotiating finance, legal, human resource issues etc. Very few companies apart from the largest can afford this luxury. In this day and age red tape and paperwork grows larger and larger for any company in the entertainment sector - look at insurance and health and safety for a start. Artistic Directors for smaller companies/venues have to concern themselves with these issues to survive and have to have a working knowledge of these non-artistic areas. Training and experience therefore has to reflect this to some degree? I suppose we are asking the question how do we maiantain a balance?

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 1:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

I agree Joanne - it can be a nightmare combining the two roles as many have to. Tiit Härm, the AD of Estonian National Ballet told me recently, in an interview for Dance Europe, that he combines both jobs at present and looks forward to the day that he can budget for an Executive Director to share the load in running this 60-strong Company. He recently had to combine both roles while choreographing a new production of "Swan Lake".

English National Ballet, as with most western major, companies have good people in both roles. However, the programme gives equal standing and publicity to both Matz Skoog, AD and Christopher Nourse, Managing Director. Perhaps this indicates the importance that the Company gives to both roles, which seems sensible and should make it easier to allow the MD to make key decisions.

One "administration" area that I feel can't be handed over by the AD is the question of career developing for the dancers and it seems to me that this requires knowledge of the human resources management, including the legal framework. At its worst, ignorance in this area can be very damaging and expensive for a company, as the National Ballet of Canada/Glasco affair showed. Good career management should have avoided this situation.

One dancer told me that her annual interview with the AD consisted mainly of him complaining about all the problems he faced. Another UK dancer returned from injury and thought she was doing quite well until a fateful interview when she was given the push. Yes, careers must come to an end, but with planning the trauma can be minimised and making decisions in haste about new directions can be avoided.

Training in this area for ADs seems essential to me. I wonder how many actually get it?

Author:  Joanne [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 2:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

Well Human Resource training is important for any manager or director of any company but I suppose particularly in the fragile world of dance where careers can easily be interupted or ended by injury. A good AD needs to be able to manage and reassure dancers of their stature within a company. I think they also have to be able to show the way with career development and also with other options once the dance part of a dancer's career is over.

I do think that some of skills to be able to deliver the above i.e tact and diplomacy are in built and perhaps cannot be taught.

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 03:27 PM: Message edited by: Joanne ]</small>

Author:  librarian [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 2:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

One thing I've always wished Artistic Directors could remember that I feel could help a great deal would be, "Remember how it felt." It wouldn't fix everything but it would help a lot. It might also help if all staff understood ballet a little better. It would be good for a director to understand business practices, as many have pointed out, but I don't see the point of a human resources director if he or she has no understanding of the particular circumstances that dancers face every day. I don't see why a public relations director shouldn't understand marketing as it relates to ballet and not to sitcoms, and that they don't necessarily translate. My feeling is that in the increasingly business-model-driven method of running a ballet company, the artistic facet of it, and all those involved in it, are sometimes considered as a byproduct by those overseeing the books, or as a necessarily evil rather than a governing principle, and I think this attitude is to be entirely, completely and assiduously avoided. If the task of learning new people skills or whatever phrase of the moment is to be applied to the job of the artistic director, is to be placed on prospective applicants for these positions, then I think the other side of the fence should shoulder an equal responsibility for learning about those whose lives they would so deeply affect.

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 03:53 PM: Message edited by: librarian ]</small>

Author:  Azlan [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 8:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

More and more I believe the three very important areas that make a company great, by order of importance, are:

1. Quality of dancers;

2. Quality of staff;

3. Quality and variety of repertory.

Often times I have seen a company described as great due to its first-rate dancing, production and marketing even when the work performed was weak. So, it would seem that by rank of priority, the Artistic Director's job is to first ensure s/he has good dancers and then good support staff before creating good choreography.

However, boards of directors (and audiences) are sometimes wooed by the talents of a choreographer. Equating a good ballet company to a good choreographer, they are tempted to appoint a talented choreographer as Artistic Director, even when the choreographer is focused on promoting his/her own choreography and has limited talents in managing dancers and working with support staff. In addition to eroding the quality of dancing and staff, ego sometimes also prevents the nurturing of other choreographers from within.

The modern Artistic Director has to balance so many things, the biggest of which is artistic vision versus budget, which as eluded to above by others, has the tendency to overwhelm the artistic aspects of running a company.

Hence, to survive artistically companies know they need to have strong Executive Directors. Kevin McKenzie, when asked to take over the artistic helm at ABT, insisted he would take the job only if the company also hired an Executive Director. Otherwise, the Artistic Director is so overwhelmed as to not be able to conduct the artistic business of the house, which afterall is the primary reason for the company's existence.

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 09:40 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>

Author:  librarian [ Wed Jan 08, 2003 8:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

Would things be any different if an Artistic Director didn't feel that s/he had to make a "stamp" on a company within the scope of his/her contract, whether 2 or 3 or 5 years, because s/he might not have that contract renewed and therefore might have trouble getting another job and glorifying his/her name? How refreshing it might be to find someone who wants a company to survive, who knows what it had and what it needs, who will compromise when necessary and not when possible, and is more willing to let something that is good be good, without feeling compelled to tamper with it! I don't speak of never doing something new, but rather allowing things to develop rather than forcing chicks out of the eggshell before they're ready. I really think that can be done regardless of financial constraints, if the mad desire to be new at all costs or shocking or unusual or insert whatever word at all costs, is tempered with taste and patience.

Author:  citibob [ Wed Jan 08, 2003 1:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

More and more I believe the three very important areas that make a company great, by order of importance, are:
1. Quality of dancers;
2. Quality of staff;
3. Quality and variety of repertory.
Azlan, I will have to disagree with you. Recognize that this stems from my own experience, in which roles as Choreographer and Artistic Director are not clearly distinguished from each other.

In my experience my AD/Choreographer (Jose Mateo) can make just about anyone look great on stage. If you don't look great in one step, he just changes the step. I've been amazed now many times. I see a bunch of dancers at the beginning of a project and think, "this is going to be a disaster". Then I'm very pleasantly surprised when I see the finished result. This is especially true with students. I have a deep level of trust that (except in an emergency) Mateo would never, ever let me out on stage unless I look great at it.

As for the choreography itself, that is what keeps me dancing. I'm presenting the choreography more than myself; I am the messenger. I am fascinated by the choreography. I realize that there are many dancers out there who do not respect the choreography are just presenting themselves, but I'm not one of them. There are also many audience out there who don't care about the choreography, they just want to see accomplished dancers. Well, I hope to win them over. It is in learning and thinking about and performing the choreography that I come to a deeper understanding of what we're saying, of human interaction, and of life itself. To me, there is no point in working so hard to present something well if the content of what we're presenting is vacuous. It would be like publishing a fancy engraved version of the latest pice of pulp fiction.

So I think that quality choreography, which in my mind is inextricably linked with quality direction and coaching, is really number one. If those two are good, you can do well with a wide variety of dancers. And if you're a good teacher as well and have time, you can develop your own talent in-house. I come into every season expecting that I'll leave a better dancer, with more to offer the company and the audience in the next season.

Author:  Azlan [ Thu Jan 09, 2003 12:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?

I thought I'd quote from Toba Singer's interview of Bruce Marks for

I asked Marks what lessons could be learned from Boston Ballet's experience over the past three years. “What's happened in America is truly that boards are making the decisions, hiring on 'hired hands' to do the work, as opposed to when companies were started with the vision of an artist.
It's a little reminder that Board of Directors have a huge role in dictating the future of Ballet and that Artistic Directors may not have the influence we think they do.

For more of the interview click here.

Author:  bliss [ Sun Jan 11, 2004 1:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How can we develop the Artistic Directors of the future?


Admin: Post moved to What's New forum.

<small>[ 11 January 2004, 09:12 PM: Message edited by: Admin ]</small>

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