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 Post subject: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2004 5:42 am 
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What do people think of this trend to "auction off" dancers as part of a program to sponsor individual dancers:

<a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/15/arts/dance/15KINE.html?ex=1093233600&en=8bc374a8c33cdf0d&ei=5006&partner=ALTAVISTA1 target=_blank>How Much Is That Dancer in the Program?</a>
By ERIKA KINETZ, NY Times


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2004 7:13 am 
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I moved on from full-time professional ballet after this Spring for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was the sense that as a ballet dancer, your job is to provide escapist entertainment for wealthy patrons. That gets old fast, I value my independence more than that. And I was dancing for a company that stays away from this kind of patronage.

The idea of having to schmooze with a particular patron who has "bought" me feels downright obscene to me. Classical ballet, along with all the crazy balletomane stories, already has overtones (and history) of being a kind of high-class prostitution. This kind of patronage system only encourages that attitude, which is ultimately bad for the dancers and bad for the art form.

Personally, I could never do it; I value my sense of freedom more than that. I would be the bad dancer that everyone hates to sponsor because once he IS sponsored, he refuses to do more than say "hi" to his "patron" at parties. Oh yes, I can already see the strained meetings with management, in which I'm reprimanded for not being more social with the patrons. I can see the veiled threats of being passed over for promotion if I don't "get in line". Sigh, life in the corporate world. I would gain a reputation as an audience-hater than fall into THAT line. So THIS is why dancers go into modern dance.

Not that I'm the total crab, mind you. I love the art of ballet and I love to share it with people. But the idea of sharing it "more" with someone just because that person has forked over $25,000 --- that is obscene. I will share ballet with anyone who is willing to come up with $100 for our 8-week Beginner I ballet class and actually come to it consistently. Anyone can walk in off the street and take my class. For those students who ask questions in class, I will share more with them after class --- for free. I have seen my students improve and I am quite proud of them.

For that reason, I don't think I'm distant or unapproachable, nor are most other dancers. Any sense of distance is created by management to increase the mystique and marketability of the company.

Case in point: Eva Evdokimova is one of the foremost ballerinas in America today. She was a prize hire of Boston Ballet's (as a teacher for the company), only to be let go after a year. She's absolutely at the top, but apparently she is also quite approachable. She teaches at least 5 open classes per week in New York, and one of those is an Advanced Beginner class.

The fact that such top people are teaching "on the ground level" in ballet tells us just how precarious the art form is. Why aren't these teachers all hired up by the big companies who can benefit most from them? On the other hand, it's sad that there are so many patrons willing to bid thousands of dollars to "buy" a dancer, but not so willing to invest their own time and bodies in experiencing the art of ballet for themselves. That is one reason why the art of classical ballet is dying.

On the other hand, I have nothing against endowed positions in the ballet. Whoever endows a position can have his or her name printed next to the position in the program. The key difference here is that the POSITION is endowed, not the DANCER. That leaves at least some sense of freedom and independence on the artistic level.


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2004 8:09 am 
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Location: The Bronx is up; the Battery's down
I have nothing against the sale of dancers, per se (I'll have three cygnets and a 6-pack of Wilis, please), but it's a little confusing when the company's website has a listing such as:

Joe Blow, John Doe Artistic Director.

<small>[ 15 August 2004, 10:09 AM: Message edited by: salzberg ]</small>

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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2004 9:46 am 
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
As the artist for sale, I can understand Citibob's viewpoint. However, coming from the administrative side I can see the value in marketing the talent as a commodity.

The first time I saw this was during the ABT's last visit to Orange County Performing Arts Center. It was a surprise to see dancer "X" sponsored by patron "Y" right there on the bio. Yet people josttle for position in the programs all the time. Donors at even small levels get their names mentioned, why not allow them to bid for better positioning in the program. And, aside from a few meetings a year and a possible dinner now and then, this is what it really comes down to, the ego gratification of the sponsor.

The history of performing arts is repleat with examples of companies, directors, talent, etc. "hiring" themselves out to the highest bidder to attain financing to produce a show, support themselves as a painter, while writing and so on. The film industry has the notrious "casting couch," which did not become a catch phrase without some semblence of truth behind it. At least sponsorship of dancers has less negative connotations attached.

It is really only the past few decades companies have enjoyed the luxury of being able to produce art without worrying too much about appeasing certain patrons or bastardizing their art to make ends meet. State sponsorship allowed companies to flourish, assured that most if not all the bills would be paid. The last few years have brought us back to the reality of doing whatever is necessary to pursue our chosen art form. We've had it real good. I'd love to see the days of fat donations without too many strings attached return. Reality is artists and management enjoyed a nice, long, extremely creative run and those days are waning.

There is another side to this. Performers who acheive a level of success are no different than athletes in that many of them hope to find a big pay-off through merchandizing. Baryshikov has his dance-wear line, Hugh Jackman appears in Japanese commercials, I would venture to guess that somewhere in the hearts of major name dancers is the hope they can parlay their fame into some form of return, be it advertising, acting, or product endorsements. If they hope eventually to trade off their name, why is it so bad the company use it while they work for them?


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2004 2:23 pm 
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Location: New England
2 left feet has described exactly why I would not want to be used this way. I'm not interested in even a couple of dinners a year to send someone on an ego trip. As I said before, I'd rather pay my own bills if that is what it comes to.

Why is this? I feel it's unprofessional and degrading. How can we emphasize how ballet is a PROFESSION when we allow ourselves to be treated like children and concubine? Engineering, medicine, law, academia --- all the "real" professions expect their members to act like real self-actualized, empowered professionals.


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2004 11:01 pm 
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I can see why companies do this. It is indeed a lucrative way to encourage patrons to give. But it does scare me. There are all kinds of sexual connotations that come with it. I have seen some of the worst of it.


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 2:49 am 
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Well, what happens to the dancers who fail to attract a sponsor? Do they get fired -- not because of their dancing ability, but because they weren't "sold"? Will we sell parts of choreography, with a surtitle telling us that "This glissade courtesy of the Sweeney Widget Company"?

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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 3:15 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Frankly, any ballet company should feel priviliged to be associated with my widgets.

<small>[ 17 August 2004, 07:37 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 6:11 am 
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Not to make light of what's really a serious issue, but I've been thinking about possible corporate sponsorships of certain dance pieces (with apologies to our non-US readers):
<pre>
The Green Table..................Ikea or Pier One

Jewels...........................DeBoers

Nutcracker.......................Planters

Fall River Legend................Case Cutlery

Sleeping Beauty..................Nyquil

Liebeslieder Waltzes.............Andersen Windows

</pre>

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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 6:32 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Personalising donations is an effective way of persuading people to give at all or to give more than they might otherwise have done.

- My Aunt used to sponsor a student at the National Ballet School of Canada. But this was a nominal sponsorship, with the student allocated by the School and the individual not given preferred treatment. Letters wereexchanged and the student accompanied my Aunt at Open Days. It was effective in maintaining my Aunt's interest in the institution and also gave the student some insights into the ways of fund-raising.

- Various aid organisations have "sponsor a child" schemes which have come in for criticism, as one child is often favoured ahead of its peers. I believe some schemes give a half or whatever to general local projects. In any case, again they do seem to have been successful in personalising the donation process.

Given the problems of financing dance in the US and the key role that individual donors play, I think it is not unreasonable that dancers are expected to play their part in marketing and fund-raising and using their aura to interact with donors at group functions to maximise donations. I would draw the line at obligatory 1 to 1 dinner dates and similar.

For dancers like citibob who are adamant that they don't want to be part of such a scheme, it is important that the company is up front about marketing responsibilities as part of the job description, so that a dancer can pass on that company, just as you would with any job that had unacceptable aspects.

I am relaxed if a sponsorship scheme is like the NBoC School case and is really a general donation with a nominal dancer focus.

I can see that things could get tricky as Azlan says. You can hardly have a set of bye-laws including:

4.3.2 The sponsor should not expect sexual favours from the sponsored dancer.

In a Sadler's Wells programme I once saw the name of a business contact under sponsorship of a dancer. This came as a pleasant surprise and made me reconsider my image of him. After a business lunch together some months later, I asked him about this and he said: "No, no - not me. Hang on. Oh yeah we were at this charity party and we were all drunk and I bought a ballerina."

<small>[ 17 August 2004, 08:56 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 9:47 am 
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Location: Stouffville, Ontario, Canada
As a fan of ballet and subscriber I feel very uncomfortable with the notion of sponsoring a specific dancer and in general agree with the well-written comments by Citibob. This opens up a veritable Pandora’s Box of potential issues. The National Ballet of Canada provides many extra perks to those who give like watching class, rehearsal, or dinner with the dancers. I have never heard of sponsoring dancers before this. I do know dancers are encouraged to encourage patrons to keep up their donations. I shall keep this anonymous but I recall just at the beginning of last season witnessing a dancer approach a well-known patron and asking them why they could not keep up their same level of membership. The dancer approached him after he had left his seat during the intermission and from what I could see, the experience must have been an uncomfortable one.

I could certainly see sponsoring a child in an underdeveloped country to provide them with food, education, and other life essentials, but a dancer? Me thinks that is in bad taste. Like it or not, many governments are cutting off or drastically reducing bottle-feeding to ballet companies. One day, they will have to find creative ways to increase attendance, souvenirs, and funding or shut down.

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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 11:52 am 
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Even though as I stated beforeI understand some of the rationale behind sponsorship of dancers I do not necessarily think it is a great way to go. For larger companies, especially the ones with multi-multi-million dollar budgets, I would think they could be a little more creative. Seeing the sponsorship listed in the OCPAC program did make me feel a little repulsed at first. Michael G mentioned souveniers. I've only seen two companies in the last four years come thtough southern California and offer souvenier programs for sale. What ever happened to this as a fundraising mechanism? The sale of these programs on one tour alone should cover the costs of one dancers sponsorhip for a year.

Presuming this has not become an issue overseas as yet, I'm not surprised that that this would pop up here in America. Comsumerism drives decisions here. It was only a matter of time before dancers for sale was destined to pop up.

I am curious though. What is the difference between sponsorship of a dancer and, say, a dancer participating in an auction event? Is there a difference? Is one less repugnant than the other? What makes one worse?


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 12:00 pm 
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Many interesting things are being said here.

The three ballet companies listed as resisting the "sell a dancer" thing are the three in the best financial shape. No matter what higher motive they might cite, their good financial picture definitely plays a role. I'll bet that if ballet were better funded or cost less, then many fewer companies would be looking into this kind of funding.

I see distinct groups in the world of dance, each with its own interests:

1. Patrons: want to see performance dance happen, and they're prepared to pay for it.

2. Casual audience: enjoy watching the show that is supported in a large part by the patrons. The casual audience probably pay enough to justify their seat in the theater (a marginal cost), but not enough to keep the company afloat.

3. Choreographers / Artistic Directors: want to make dances. For this they need dancers. To get dancers, they need money. Money from patrons and audience is justified by presenting public performances. Some choreographers want to be well known, and public performances are essential to that as well. Therefore, choreographers have a need to present public performances, just as patrons have a need to make public performances happen.

4. Dancers: want to dance. Some want an audience, some couldn't care less.

Maybe this makes my position clear. I'm a dancer who doesn't really care that much whether there's an audience there or not; either way I'm going to find a way to dance. Dancing is so costly for the dancer that my life is saner/easier/wealthier when I'm not doing a show.

If some patrons and a choreographer get some money together and want to hire me to make a dance happen --- well, that's a happy point where their interests coincide with mine. If I have a lot of respect for the choreographer, I will go out of my way to take on the show. If there's no show because of no interest on the part of peole who might fund it, then I'll do something else. It's dance management, not the dancer like myself, who absolutely cannot survive without funding.

I have felt thankful for patrons who sustained my company, but never have I believed their contribution helped support me personally; I would have had to be paid a lot more for that to be the case. Given that approach, one can see why I will only go so far in trying to get patrons to commit funds.

As mentioned in the article, academia has a long history of endowing positions, leaving it to the university to appoint whomever they see fit into those positions.

<small>[ 17 August 2004, 10:02 PM: Message edited by: citibob ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 1:33 pm 
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You left out:

5. Administrators: the good ones of these (and I know many) understand that theirs is a supporting role. They won't do anything that they believe might compromise the aesthetics. The bad ones (and, again, alas, I know many) believe that theirs is the primary function. I've known arts administrators who honestly didn't care if the productions were any good or not. Actually, that's not entirely accurate; they cared, but their definition of "good" was "sold lots of tickets". In the context of this discussion, these folks would consider a good dancer to be one who brought in sponsorship.

<small>[ 17 August 2004, 03:37 PM: Message edited by: salzberg ]</small>

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 Post subject: Re: Dancers for Sale
PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2004 8:01 pm 
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I thought about administrators, and see how essential they are to the organization. And I appreciate them for that. But honestly, I can't see what motivates them, other than a love of seeing the art happen --- maybe like the patrons. Arts administration is such a thankless job.


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