- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Washington Ballet yesterday canceled all remaining performances of “The Nutcracker” because of a contentious labor dispute that led its dancers to stage a historic protest this week.

The decision to end the run will cost the nonprofit ballet company about half of the $1.9 million in revenue it would have made from 26 performances of the holiday show. Dancers performed 14 of 26 shows before refusing Thursday to work again until it reached a resolution with management negotiators on a collective bargaining agreement.

When the two sides still couldn’t agree on a contract yesterday, the ballet company ended the run of “The Nutcracker.”

“We were hoping up until the last minute that we would get a compromise we could live with,” said Kay Kendall, president of the board of directors of the Washington Ballet.

She said it is not likely the ballet company will recoup the thousands of dollars in revenue it will lose, and the company may cancel performances of future productions if the labor dispute is not resolved.

Dancers continued picketing outside the Warner Theatre yesterday, and the decision to cancel the rest of the run of “The Nutcracker” took them by surprise. The company’s 20 dancers joined the American Guild of Musical Artists in February but haven’t negotiated a contract with the Washington Ballet.

Canceling the run removes the union’s main source of leverage in negotiations because “The Nutcracker” is such a lucrative production.

“There’s no motivation for the company to bargain now. The only thing that mattered was ‘The Nutcracker,’ ” Alan Gordon, executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists.

Labor and management negotiators have been unable to overcome a handful of issues.

Dancers want greater job security and argue their health and safety concerns are overlooked by management. In response to the union’s concern over job security, the ballet company included in its proposed contract a pledge to retain all dancers next year and 90 percent of them the following season.

Washington Ballet Executive Director Jason 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.

Ms. Kendall yesterday said she thinks the union’s hard-line stance is behind the failure of negotiators to reach a deal.

“Frankly I’m angry with the union, not our dancers. I believe in their right to have a union. It’s not the principle we’re against. It’s the details,” she said.

But Mr. Gordon said the union has softened its stance on the number of dancers the company must retain each year. The dispute continues because the ballet company doesn’t want its dancers to be in a union, he said.

Canceling “The Nutcracker” also poses a financial problem for the Warner Theatre, but the theater’s general manager, Barrett Newman, said he had not quantified the loss.

“Obviously we take a loss on our bottom line. But as much as that, we feel for the patrons who won’t be able to see the show,” Mr. Newman said.

The theater doesn’t make money on ticket sales, but it generates revenue through the sale of food, beverages and shirts.

The 1,900-seat auditorium will remain dark until its next production, Evita, begins Dec. 27.

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