Joffrey Ballet’s fall season up in air

July 5, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


If the Joffrey Ballet and its dancers can agree on working hours and wages by July 23, the company’s fall season can still be salvaged, the company’s executive director said Monday.

The dancers were locked out of their studios over the weekend in the wake of a letter from the company that stated the season would have to be canceled because no contract had been settled with the dancers’ union, the American Guild of Musical Artists.

“We told the dancers, who are currently on hiatus and who were expected to begin rehearsals on July 23, that we would not proceed with the fall season without a contract agreement,” said the director, Christopher Clinton Conway.

“We also told them that we are now the only AGMA company in the U.S. with a 25-hour rather than 30-hour-per-week contract, something that is absolutely necessary if we are to continue attracting world-class choreographers to work with the company.

Tickets for the fall season at the Auditorium Theatre are still being sold, and Conway said should the worst occur, all patrons would receive refunds.

The Joffrey also is scheduled to perform Aug. 20-21 at the Blossom Festival in Cleveland and Aug. 27 at the Pritzker Pavilion as part of the Chicago Dancing Festival.

“There has been a complete lack of communication with AGMA,” said Conway. “That is why we brought in a federal mediator [in April], but the mediator also has grown frustrated at the lack of response by the union. We have not heard from the union for five weeks.”

Attempts to reach Barbara Hillman, the dancers’ AGMA representative, who is with the law firm of Cornfield and Feldman, were unsuccessful over the holiday weekend.

“We are offering salary increases and a phase-in over three years of the hours changes,” said Conway. “Work on building the sets and costumes for our planned October production of ‘Don Quixote’ — a huge undertaking — will continue, as even if the fall season is canceled we will perform it in the future. But we are willing and available to continue talks and resolve all issues before July 23.”