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Attitudes.

Journeys are fascinating, if only because you are never sure what awaits you at the end of them. The other day I left for Salt Lake City, invited by Jonas Kage to see Ballet West dance Donald Mahler's restaging of Tudor's great ballet Echoing of Trumpets. When I arrived I discovered that Ballet West was there; a splendid and faithful remounting of Echoing of Trumpets was there; even Salt Lake City itself, complete with surrounding mountains and fresh-faced citizenry, was there. But Kage, Ballet West's longtime artistic director, was not there. Odd.

That's not literally true (few things in life are). Jonas was there--I had the pleasure of dining with him--but he had been fired as artistic director a day or so earlier. Well, not precisely fired? But the final year of his 10-year contract was not being renewed by the company's civilian (i.e., not dance professional) board of directors. Even though his detailed plans for the forthcoming 2006-07 season were already announced, later it was stated officially that Kage had resigned (see "Dance Matters," Sept.). No one was encouraged or permitted to make any further statement.

Splendid stuff. I have always envied the ability of lawyers--on any side in any matter--to shut up everyone except themselves. And they are always as silent or as voluble as suits them. Great people, lawyers. Shakespeare had the right homicidal attitude towards them. However, it would make sense to assume that Kage must have been, to say the legal least, surprised at the turn of events.

I notice that recently an increasing number of artistic directors have been surprised in that same sorry fashion. Everything appears to be going along swimmingly and then--crash, bang, alakazam!--they are out on the sidewalk dusting off their wounds like cartoon characters on the wrong side of inevitability. I don't mean fired, I mean resigned and replaced. You obviously never let yourself be fired unless your lawyer, in an unlikely turn of events, recommends unemployment benefits over some kind of silent cash settlement.

Over the past few years, just off the top of my head, I can think of Anna-Marie Holmes from Boston Ballet, Ben Stevenson from Houston Ballet, Martin Fredmann from Colorado Ballet, Alison Chase from Pilobolus, all of whom have, euphemistically, been "let go." In the case of Eldar Aliev of Ballet Internationale in Indianapolis--well, his entire company was let go and disbanded. All of these moves were signed off by the board of directors of the companies, and in a few instances I hear rumors that these changes were made with the acquiescence, sometimes even with the contrivance, of the executive directors.

Change is part of the human condition--most of us are going to get fired (or offered a fictional opportunity to resign) during our working lives, and it's a painful process. But these changes aren't always for the worst. X may be more suitable than the Y he or she is replacing, and in the end even Y may find herself or himself better off. It is the way these things are done, and the authority of the people doing them, that offers a cause for concern.

In our consumer-oriented economic system it is an honored maxim that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Directorial boards of arts organizations--nonprofessional, philanthropic men and women altruistically devoted to the art form they are supporting--have just one function. Helped by the company's various levels of management, they are responsible for either donating or raising the actual money with which that piper is paid. That's basically the job. The actual tune should be called by the professionals, having been given the money to pay and play.

Of course, throughout the performing arts every artistic decision is, ipso facto, a budgetary decision. The value of everything must go hand-in-hand with its price, every idea and hope balanced against its viability. It's all the crafty art of the possible. So the money and moneyed people must here have their say. And they often find it easier to talk with executive directors than with artistic directors--sometimes with unfortunate results for the latter.

But, when all is said and done, who should do the hiring and firing of the head honchos in the arts?

It's not a simple question, and there's no simple answer. And--to be honest--Eve been sitting here fiddling with my computer (I call it editing) for nearly four hours trying to think of one. When a company is on a steep and obvious downward curve (obvious to box office, dancers, and even critics alike), the board has the right, perhaps duty, to step in. Then ... who hires? An even trickier question, but presumably some kind of inspired and informed headhunting, objectively searching out needs and possibilities, must provide the answer.

All the same, ideally a board of directors should have neither opinions, prejudices, nor egos, but only fiscal sense, love, and money.

Senior Consulting Editor Clive Barnes also covers dance and theater for the New York Post.
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Author:Barnes, Clive
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:832
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