- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dancers of the Washington Ballet did not pirouette or cabriole or entrechat yesterday.

They walked the picket line.

The 20 dancers of the ballet company refused to take the stage at the Warner Theatre and perform “The Nutcracker,” a holiday staple, because of a contract dispute.

It was the first time since the Washington Ballet was founded in 1976 that the company has canceled a show over a labor dispute.

The quarrel also forced cancellation of tonight’s performance of “The Nutcracker” and is costing the company tens of thousands of dollars each day because the ballet accounts for two-thirds of annual ticket revenue.

Management of the Washington Ballet “knows exactly what it would take to get a deal and they just don’t want to do it,” American Guild of Musical Artists Executive Director Alan Gordon said.

Dancers did perform yesterday afternoon for an audience of students before staging a demonstration in front of the Warner Theatre.

The dancers are protesting the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. They voted 18-2 in February to join the American Guild of Musical Artists, a small union representing 8,000 members. But they haven’t reached an agreement with management on a contract in the 10 months since the vote.

The two sides have met just seven times since October.

On Monday, union negotiators abruptly threatened not to perform unless they had a labor agreement with the Washington Ballet, a threat that seemingly gave the dancers leverage because the action comes amid the lucrative run of “The Nutcracker.”

Performances began Dec. 2 and are scheduled to run through Dec. 24.

In 26 performances over 22 days, “The Nutcracker” was expected to generate $1.9 million in income — more than $86,000 a day.

But the union’s decision not to perform hasn’t forced management to concede.

“We remain hopeful the dancers will call off the strike. Not to would be devastating for the company,” Washington Ballet Executive Director Jason Palmquist said.

Labor and management negotiators yesterday attempted to overcome differences in time to take the stage tonight, but negotiators failed to reach agreement and announced the second cancellation late in the afternoon.

No talks are scheduled today, so Saturday’s performances are in jeopardy, but management negotiators still hope to salvage the ballet company’s run of “The Nutcracker.”

“We have to take it day by day,” Mr. Palmquist said.

Dancers say they are rankled over health and safety concerns and management’s refusal to offer greater job security.

In response to the union’s concern over job security, the ballet company has included in its proposed contract a pledge to retain all dancers next year and 90 percent of them the following season.

Mr. Palmquist said the ballet company needs latitude to determine the number of dancers it retains and how many nonunion, student dancers it uses in its productions from its affiliate, the Washington School of Ballet.

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