The Joffrey Ballet Lockout

Pointe invited James Fayette to write about the current lockout situation at the Joffrey Ballet from the perspective of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represents dancers’ employment. As a former New York City Ballet principal and with almost six years' experience negotiating and enforcing contracts as a dance executive at AGMA, he has a unique perspective on the dance world.

In my experience, there are two ways that managements deal with AGMA: They work with us, or they try to marginalize us. Unions challenge managements; that is their purpose, to ensure that the employer is doing the best it can for the people who work for them. There is a strong temptation to avoid the union or build leverage against them, but working against the union always ends up in a dispute over something unrelated to the core issues that need to be addressed in order to secure a fair agreement and implement conditions that both parties can successfully work under.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Joffrey Ballet attempted to build leverage against AGMA and its dancers. The company and the union are in active negotiations with a contract that legally remains in effect until a new agreement is made or the parties reach the legal definition of an impasse. Neither of these has occurred, yet the Joffrey locked out its dancers and removed them from their website. First of all, locking out its dancers is illegal because an impasse was not reached, and second of all, the dancers are on layoff and it is silly to lock out dancers who are not even currently working. It is clear that the company is employing a strategy to make the dancers anxious about their jobs in an attempt to force a better deal in the current negotiations. The company is trying to marginalize the union instead of working with it to find a creative solution to the issues on which there is disagreement.

Negotiations at the Joffrey continue with a federal mediator, whose role is to help both parties make a deal. AGMA will take the necessary steps to counter Joffrey’s attempt to lock out its artists, and eventually an agreement will be reached. However, the Joffrey Ballet should be reminded that unlike other non-artistic management/employment relationships, the performing artists are the company. They are not the workers who make the product, but instead, they and their bodies are the product. A performing dance artist has deep personal ownership of their art and this entitles them to a partnership in how that art and their physicality is managed. The way that the Joffrey Ballet dancers protect themselves and what they do is through the labor/management relationship, and their management should refocus its energies on taking care of its artists rather than strategizing against them.

Latest Posts

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

2020 Stars of the Corps: American Ballet Theatre's Wanyue Qiao

When the curtain opens on Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room, there are two women onstage, wearing striped pants and tops, and sneakers. By the end, after almost 40 minutes of high-intensity dancing, they've stripped down to red leotards, their fists lifted victoriously. Wanyue Qiao danced one of these athletic superwomen last year during American Ballet Theatre's spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was her first major role, after three years in the corps, and she couldn't have been more fierce. "To be honest, I had never done this kind of dance before, and I wasn't sure if it was my style," she says. Tharp encouraged her, and helped her to find her warrior side. "She showed not just her strength, coordination and ability, but courage," says ballet master Susan Jones, who assisted Tharp in the staging.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Butternut Squash Takes Center Stage This Fall—Plus, 2 Easy Recipes

Whether it's cubed and roasted or puréed into a comforting soup, butternut squash takes center stage this fall. The flavorful seasonal favorite is an excellent nutritional choice for dancers. Here's what's packed into one serving:

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks