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Musicians to Protest Texas Ballet Theater Gala Tonight
by Jerome Weeks 12 Sep 2008

If you’re going to the Texas Ballet Theater’s season-opening gala tonight, you will probably see protesting musicians holding pickets and handing out flyers at the Majestic Theatre. The Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association (local 27-147 of the American Federated Musicians) is protesting the decision by the TBT to cancel its contracts with the Fort Worth […]


If you’re going to the Texas Ballet Theater’s season-opening gala tonight, you will probably see protesting musicians holding pickets and handing out flyers at the Majestic Theatre. The Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association (local 27-147 of the American Federated Musicians) is protesting the decision by the TBT to cancel its contracts with the Fort Worth Symphony and the Dallas Opera Orchestra. They provided live pit orchestras for the TBT’s performances (the FWSO played at Bass Hall, the DOO for The Nutcracker at the Fair Park Music Hall).

The decision in favor of canned music was made by the ballet, TBT officials say, because of the financial constraints the company faces. The TBT has been raising $2 million to stave off bankruptcy and continue its new season.

“We’re very disappointed that they would want to do that,” Margo McCann says of the decision to protest the performance. McCann is the interim managing director of the TBT. “We’ve always used live music when we could. At the Majestic, we’ve never used a live orchestra. The only reason we’re not [using a live orchestra at other performances] is purely financial. It’s the choice between a ballet with taped music or no ballet at all.”

But letter-writer Jennifer Garner (see comments section below), a member of the Dallas Opera Orchestra, and musicians’ union president Ray Hair, have said that the taped music that the TBT will use for Rimsky-Korsakov’s Cleopatra was recorded in China — and that the TBT had been planning to replace the live orchestras with taped music months ago, before the current financial crisis struck.

McCann denies this.

“When we were planning our tour [to China], the [Shanghai] festival was going to provide the orchestra. When that changed, we were forced to have a recording made. Ben [Stevenson, artistic director of the TBT] choreographed that piece, it’s a particular arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Cleopatra. There was no recording of it available.”

“it was pure coincidence,” McCann says that when the TBT cancelled the Texas musicians’ contract to perform Cleopatra in the spring, the dance troupe had the China recording to replace them. “It was never planned that way.”

The sudden need for an additional $70,000 to pay for the TBT’s China tour precipitated the revelations in August about the TBT’s perilous financial circumstances. The tour was canceled, and the TBT went into crisis mode to raise the necessary cash and pledges to perform the gala tonight and open its new season.

In August, the TBT announced its decision to kill the $350,000 contract with the Fort Worth Symphony. But the Garvey Foundation stepped in to underwrite the symphony’s rehearsals and four performances of Mozart’s Requiem with the TBT October 17-19 at Bass Hall.  The dance company still owes the FWSO $100,000, though, and the cancellation of the week-long contract for the DOO to perform The Nutcracker in December remains in effect.

  • Angela Interrante

    I would never consider watching a professional ballet company without a professional live orchestra. A live orchestra is half of the ballet experience. A major part of enjoying a ballet is watching the interplay of the dancers movements with the live music. I do not pay money just to see the dancers. I feel very very very cheated! I will never buy a ticket to watch the TBT again, unless they bring back the Dallas Opera Orchestra. TBT is cheating everyone out of the entire performing arts experience. How dare they!

  • Christy Price

    I was very disappointed to hear that the Texas Ballet Theater will not have live music at their performances. Listening to real professional musicians perform while watching the ballet has always been a great joy and probably one of the main reasons why I supported the TBT in the past. Due to TBT decision to have the dancers perform to a radio (recorded music) is a disgrace to the musicians and to the dancers and I will not support TBT as long as this is going on. As far as I am concerned TBT should shut their doors until they can raise enough money to bring back the musicians.

    • There would seem to be a simple way to settle the charge that the TBT planned to use recorded music for months, even before its Chinese tour: Look at the contract with the FTWSO. If the TBT contracted with the FTWSO to play “Cleopatra” next spring, then it’s plain that the TBT planned to use live musicians. If the accusation is that the TBT wanted to use recorded music all along, and the contract was always a sham, then why sign such a contract in the first place — knowing that changing it or canceling it would only get them unpleasant publicity and anger from union musicians? It makes more sense that something serious had to drive the ballet to make such a decision — like a financial crisis.

      As for the charge that the TBT really does have enough money: I seriously doubt, given the historic financial struggles facing dance troupes in North Texas, that a ballet company would cancel a prestigious, attention-getting tour to China (especially on the heels of the Olympics) and that its artistic director and board chairman would then offer to resign in the face of the resulting financial embarrassments — all so they could, say, cancel a week’s contract in Dallas. The accusations of bad faith seem farfetched.

      On the other hand, that the TBT should have handled its finances better seems plain. I am not opposed to the union’s concerns. My points concern common sense.

    • Michelle Taylor

      Maybe all the complainers should SHUT UP & PAY UP! Good grief what a bunch of whiners! They are narrow minded and selfish, in today’s economy and with disasters happening all over (not to mention right there in their own sweet Texas backyard) why would they wish the hardship of lost jobs on others by closing the doors? If they want the live music then they should help pay for it either by digging deeper in their pockets or helping to fundraise for TBT and make a difference for others in need instead of whining! Furthermore the muscians are speaking as if the ballet is their only venue, give me a break! As to the claim of fraud, it would be fraud if you sold a ticket to a symphony and had only canned music. We are talking about the ballet, last I checked there WERE dancers on that stage last week. Comments like the ones above just smack of sour grapes.

    • sara croissier

      I would like to ask why, if the TBT wanted cheaper, pre-recorded music, why they did not
      record the music of the Dallas or Ft.Worth Symphonies….?

  • Cyndee Weeks

    This claim that the cost of a ticket to a TBT performance covers live music and that it is fraudulent to sell tickets without providing it doesn’t quite add up. Ticket sales account for 50% of the cost to operate the ballet. Which part of that 50% would the musician’s union like cut? The dancer’s salaries? (which is already much less than the average musician) The stage hands? The rental of the venue in which they perform? The rental of the sets and costumes? The rental for their studios where they rehearse? Sell a ticket to the ballet and fail to provide a dancer on stage now that is fraudulent. Are the people of DFW truly this ignorant about what it takes to maintain a professional ballet company in their community? Thankfully ballet companies do not make us pay for what we get. If that were the case only the very rich would be going to the ballet. Lavish traditional ballets, such as Sleeping Beauty and Dracula, (which this community has proven they have a taste for by showing up in droves for the performances) are expensive. TBT is facing serious challenges and its leadership is working hard to make financially responsible decisions to ensure their survival. They are not alone in temporarily replacing some of their live music with recordings. Some companies, such as Atlanta Ballet, one of the oldest and most established ballet companies in the US, has had to permanently cancel their use of live orchestra. At least the FWSO hasn’t completely abandoned the ballet. They understand that all of the arts organizations are partners in providing quality arts to the metroplex and have proven to be a true friend by extending a helping hand rather than kicking a dog when it’s down. In spite of the hardships that TBT is facing this season, the patrons who support the art of dance will be there through thick and thin and enjoy every minute of the artistry that the TBT dancers are so capable of displaying regardless of the music they are dancing to.

  • aby

    A legal contract should be clear and same perception for two both sides.

  • Fran Hamlin

    My daughter is a student at Texas Ballet Theater School in Fort Worth, and has been part of the production of The Nutcracker.
    When we heard about the news that there will be no live orchestra for this year’s production of The Nutcracker, we were all very sad. Then we heard the reason why we were not having the live orchestra.

    Besides not having the orchestra, what frightened her the most, was the fact that the company members may not be dancing or teaching their classes anymore. (Yes, the kids at TBT really look up to the Company members and love them dearly)

    My 9 year old girl, immediately asked me, how we can help to keep the orchestra and to help the company. We love our family at Texas Ballet Theater, and we will go to extents to help keep it alive.

    Please do not bash TBT just because they are trying to manage their financial problems better. Instead, ask yourselves how you can keep the Arts alive in the DFW area.

    We all go through some tough times, especially financially. This is a Professional Dance Company that produces classy, respectful, quality dancers, from all over the United States. They deserve nothing but the best.

    Although the recorded music is not what they deserve to dance with, (Who would not want to dance with a live orchestra that they have gotten so accustomed to?)
    This is why our Company members are so well respected, they do what they have to, with all their hearts because they love what they do, TBT has class act Dancers.

    TBT dancers work very hard to give them us notch performances when we go to see the ballet.

    We, the parents of TBT will stand behind our Company Members…and keep the Arts alive right here in this place we call home.

    • talfonso

      As a former musician in school, as well as a budding musical theater writer, I have been blessed with many instances when live music is involved – from Carnival Cruise Line shows, the early stage shows of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, a visiting woodwind quintet in my old school, and so forth. I have attended two ballets, including one for THE NUTCRACKER at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn (NJ), both of them with a live orchestra. I’m keeping the issue at hand on a latter Hubpage, since I oppose canned music.