Texas Ballet Theater's Managing Director on "Heartbreaking" Decision to Ditch Live Music

Maybe you heard: Texas Ballet Theater debuted its Nutcracker at the Winspear on Friday, much to the displeasure of the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association, since the TBT isn't using, you know, musicians. It's a money-saving move necessitated by TBT's being close to broke, and, truth is, it's been going on for more than a year: The musicians' union protested the start of last year's season as well, held at the Majestic before the company's move to the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Nonetheless, the DFWPMA has stepped up its outrage: The union's site now features a "call to action" in which it asks users to sign their name to a letter that says, in part, "By presenting classical ballet without live orchestra, TBT has fouled the art form, damaged its credibility, ripped off arts patrons and robbed musicians of their jobs. We believe it is in the public interest for Dallas-Fort Worth to have a great classical ballet company - with great live orchestral accompaniment to give it breadth and depth. Which is why, moments ago, Margo McCann, TBT's managing director, sent to media outlets a lengthy statement in which she explains the "heartbreaking ... decision to temporarily suspend live music accompaniment." The entirety of McCann's missive follows.

Texas Ballet Theater faced a financial challenge in August 2008 that required firm action and difficult decisions. In response, the Board of Directors and staff adopted new initiatives to increase fundraising and ticket sales, cut administrative and operations expenses, and restore the fiscal stability of the organization.

These initiatives included the decision to temporarily suspend live music accompaniment by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Opera Orchestra at our productions. This represented an immediate savings of over $450,000 in production expenses during the 2008-009 Season, and a projected $650,000 for the 2009-2010 Season.

This was a heartbreaking decision for us to make. We cut our expenses to the bare bones before we made this decision. Had we not done so, there would be no Texas Ballet Theater. We would have closed our doors in Dallas and Fort Worth forever.

Here are some important things to know about this issue:

  • Texas Ballet Theater's decision to temporarily suspend live music accompaniment is supported by the leadership of both the Fort Worth Symphony and the Dallas Opera.
  • Texas Ballet Theater has no contract with the local musicians union.
  • We work directly with the Fort Worth Symphony and Dallas Opera to contract musicians to play at our performances.
  • No musicians for the Fort Worth Symphony or Dallas Opera have missed a single paycheck or been laid off due to the suspension of live music at Texas Ballet Theater productions.
  • Texas Ballet Theater dancers earn less than half of the average first year salary of a Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra musician. Our priority is to support our dancers.
  • To reduce expenses in the 2008-2009 Season, contracts for Texas Ballet Theater dancers were cut from 38 to 35 weeks. They have suffered more financial loss than any local union musician.
  • Live music accompaniment averages between $10,000 and $16,500 per performance. It is approximately 30 percent of Texas Ballet Theater's production expense (sets, costumes, labor, etc.).
  • American Ballet Theater, TITAS and other national dance tours have performed in Dallas and Fort Worth using recorded music with no protests or demonstrations by the local musicians union.

Other major ballet companies including The Washington Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Atlanta Ballet have been forced to make the same difficult decision. Even the New York City Ballet has performed "The Nutcracker" to recorded music. During tough economic times, dance troupes such as ours have had to temporarily suspend live music in order to provide the highest quality ballet productions. The only other alternative would have been to close or lay off dancers. We exist to provide beautiful ballet performances on stage, which we will continue to do.

Our goal is to bring live music back. We miss it too. But our first responsibility is to restore the financial stability of our organization so we can provide the quality of dance our audiences expect and deserve.

Margo McCann
Managing Director
Texas Ballet Theater

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Robert Wilonsky
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