Contract Dispute May Derail Joffrey Ballet's Season, Dancers Locked Out

July 5, 2011
Huffington Post

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Dance fans anxiously awaiting this fall's start of the new Joffrey Ballet season, which includes a new interpretation of the classic "Don Quixote," might be out of luck as the Chicago company's failure to secure a contract for its performers has forced a dancer lockout.

At issue, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, is a three-year collective bargaining agreement that expired at midnight on June 30 without being successfully renegotiated. Principally at issue, according to company director Christopher Clinton Conway, is the fact that Joffrey is currently the only American Guild of Musical Artists company in the country with a 25-hour-per-week contract, as opposed to a 30-hour one. The company claims it has been difficult to communicate with the dancers' union in order to make the changes they see as essential to their continued success.

"[It is] something that is absolutely necessary if we are to continue attracting world-class choreographers to work with the company," Conway told the Sun-Times.

While they have yet to arrive at a new agreement, a brief message posted on the Joffrey's website's front page indicated that "no part of the season has been modified or cancelled" by the company as of yet. The dancers are currently on hiatus and rehearsals are not reportedly scheduled to resume until July 23, offering a narrow window of opportunity for a newly negotiated agreement.

The company appears optimistic.

"In light of recent news reports, we would like to share that Joffrey’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the dancers’ union (AGMA) expired as of midnight on June 30th," the company noted. "We are hopeful that a new agreement will be reached soon and that the season may proceed uninterrupted … We will keep you updated and appreciate your understanding."

The company had issued a letter to the dancers on Friday telling the dancers to clean out their lockers and turn in their keys by this Thursday, as the Chicago Tribune reported.

The Joffrey was founded in 1956 and has been hailed as "America's Company of Firsts," according to their website. After being invited by Jacqueline Kennedy, they became the first dance company to perform at the White House, the were the first to appear on television and they were also the first American company to visit and perform in Russia.