- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

The Washington Ballet dancers and its management finally have reached agreement on a contract more than a year after the dancers voted to unionize by joining the American Guild of Musical Artists.

The past year has been full of strife, including cancellations of a tour to Italy last summer and of half the lucrative “Nutcracker” run in December, cancellation of several important engagements here and in New York this winter, and finally a last-minute resort to federal mediation. The mediator, Joel Schaffer, met with both sides in marathon sessions that began Wednesday and concluded late Sunday night.

The Washington Ballet board and dancers are scheduled to meet separately tomorrow to ratify the contract.

Mr. Schaffer reportedly said he had never seen a contract negotiation go on so long with people who already had lost so much.

The ballet’s artistic director, Septime Webre, and several of the dancers gathered at the company’s studios on upper Wisconsin Avenue Northwest yesterday, admittedly exhausted but relieved that the year-long ordeal was over. Details of the contract will not be released until it has been ratified by the dancers and the ballet’s board of directors. Both groups will vote tomorrow.

Mr. Webre indicated that he was looking ahead. “I had conversations this morning with several key funders and foundations, and they all indicated because we’d reached an agreement last night [that] they would continue to support us at the level they had in the past,” he said, noting that the company would be performing its Bach-Beatles project in May at the Kennedy Center and its yearly “7 by 7” in June at its studios.

Jason Palmquist, the troupe’s executive director, described the sessions with Mr. Schaffer as “incredibly fruitful, helping each of us come to a clear understanding of issues and fears so that we could address those together and find a way to compromise that was mutually beneficial.

“It was not an easy process,” he added. “We spent over 60 hours in active negotiation with him.”

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