ABT dancers, stage managers threaten strike

Swan Lake by Kevin McKenzieOn Friday, January 19, The New York Times reported that American Ballet Theatre  (ABT) is experiencing internal conflict between its management and its dancers and stage managers. The latter group voted Thursday to approve a strike should management continue to fail to grant more to the dancers’ and stage managers’ retirement plans.


The escalation comes right as the company is gearing up to tour nationally and abroad. ABT has plans to tour beginning late January, heading to Washington; Detroit; Lincoln, Neb.; and Chicago. In March, it’s scheduled to tour Asia.


The issue began last July when dancers’ and stage managers’ contracts expired. Negotiations have been slow as the artists insisted that they receive an increase to their retirement plans. A higher rate would bring them closer to what company artists were receiving before the recession many years ago.


Michael Cooper of The New York Times reported, “Leonard Egert, the national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents Ballet Theater’s dancers and stage managers, said that retirement benefits had emerged as a key sticking point. He said that after the last recession hit, the company eliminated its contributions to the workers’ defined contribution retirement plans for a year, and then restored them at half their previous level — at 3.75 percent of their income, down from 7.5 percent. He said that the dancers were seeking modest increases to get back to the old level.”


This news comes shortly after other bad news for the New York dance world. New York City Ballet (NYCB) recently lost its longtime leader Peter Martins, lurching the company into a major transition season. Martins, who led NYCB for over 30 years, announced his retirement amidst sexual harassment and abuse accusations. Plus, ABT star Marcelo Gomes recently resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct. Both Martins and Gomes are being investigated.


Photo: ABT dancers as The Swans in Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.