How nauseating it was to observe the self-satisfied smirking of ABT’s chief financial officer, William Taylor, as he ticked off one false statement after another as justification for ABT’s secret “Star Strategy” during a taped interview on the campus of Babson College last October. The video of the interview, uploaded to YouTube in December, was abruptly yanked from public view this past week after being discovered by the dance community. A spokesperson at Babson College confirmed that ABT demanded that the video be removed from YouTube. The company clearly wants to cover up what Taylor had to say. Fortunately, Haglund and others had the opportunity to watch the whole thing and make notes before it was yanked down.
Taylor, speaking on behalf of ABT during Babson’s Arts and Business Conversations series, disclosed that in 2008, ABT made a conscious decision to force a business strategy upon the artistic model that would ultimately reduce performing opportunities for the company’s own artists and result in truncated careers and lower incomes. He called it ABT’s Star Strategy, a strategy that would become a secret plan to replace the company’s own artists with other dancers from other companies who ABT deemed had benefited from recent media attention that they believed could automatically be converted into enough ticket sales to justify sacrificing the careers of the company’s own dancers and destroying the company’s future artistic vessels. Taylor claimed that there were only a handful of these “stars” around who could drive ticket sales and that all the top companies vied for them – none of which he substantiated. Paris Opera Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, and New York City Ballet are considered the top companies – all of them well above ABT – and none vie for, beg for, or otherwise need any of the guest artists that ABT claims it does.
ABT made the conscious decision to go out and buy artistic product created by others rather than replace the failing artistic and executive directors and the fumbling stumblebums who call themselves ABT’s marketing professionals. It was a conscious decision to save the captain of a sinking ship and his 1st mate while allowing the passengers to drown. It was the signaling by the members of ABT’s board that their friendship and devotion to Kevin McKenzie outweighed their sense of responsibility to the institution.
There is evidence everywhere on the internet (videos, published interviews, etc.) that confirms ABT never disclosed to the dancers that their reduction in stage time, loss of opportunities, loss of advancement and corresponding income were all part and parcel of a meticulously designed strategy by management and board to do just that – to create and reinforce a public perception that ABT’s own dancers were little more than the wall paper behind a few guest artists who were imported because they had managed to acquire a media following. In fact, ABT aggressively promoted the guest artists themselves while barely lifting a finger for the company’s own artists.
At approximately 11:24 into the interview, Taylor misrepresented that in the previous season, Diana Vishneva had opened a new production on a Monday night which saw sales of 105% while on Tuesday night a dancer who Taylor claimed “doesn’t quite have that star quality” only sold 40% of the house. Taylor emphasized the words Monday and Tuesday while widening his eyes to suggest how amazing it all was. But what a bald-faced lie.
The only new productions in the previous season were Cinderella and The Tempest, neither of which had Vishneva in the cast. In the preceding 2013 Met season, the only premiere was two-thirds of the Shostakovich Trilogy which opened on a Friday, not Monday. In addition to Vishneva, the opening cast included Semionova, Gomes, Cornejo, Messmer, Salstein, Hallberg, Boylston, Kent, Stearns, Osipova, and Vasiliev. Given that cast, what fool would conclude that it was Vishneva who filled the seats to 105% - if, in fact, they were filled with paying customers? What fool would expect that the premiere night of a production, regardless of the night of the week, would not automatically sell better than the second night? ABT could put Vishneva in a cast on a Monday premiere night and again on Tuesday night, and the premiere night would automatically sell better. What fool doesn’t know that a Monday night premiere would draw additional audience simply because New York City Ballet doesn’t perform across the Lincoln Center Plaza on Mondays?
At around 13:51 of the tape, Taylor told his audience that Osipova & Vasiliev departed ABT and went to the Royal Ballet. Yes, he clearly said that Vasiliev went to the Royal Ballet. Taylor then said that the following Met season ticket sales didn’t do as well; now “ we’re trying to bring them back,” he said. The 2014 season omitted Osipova, but we still had Vasiliev’s hams in Don Q, AND ABT imported Smirnova, Tereshkina, Shkylerov, Kotchetkova, Cojocaru, Jackson, Muntagirov, Matvienko, Watson, Lendorf, and Nedak. Cojocaru and Matvienko withdrew because of injury, but ABT still employed 10 so-called star guest artists and still couldn’t achieve sales as good as the year before. Why were any of these people invited back? Taylor didn’t volunteer any explanation as to why his secret star strategy with 10 so-called stars, including Vasiliev, didn’t maintain sales. Based on his strategy, one would have expected sales to actually improve over the previous year.
In discussing the so-called stars that ABT hires, Taylor explained how they had already built up their reputations through the media and he said that ABT didn’t have anyone like that. He quickly added with throat giggling glee and a knowing nod of the head “except for Misty.” Clearly, Taylor and ABT’s board and management fully approve of Copeland’s methods of attracting attention - from her book full of undocumented accusations, aspersions, and lies about her circumstances and accomplishments, to her provocative photos including those of her bare tits and ass that she distributed to her underage minor fan base on Instagram, to her full-blown exaggerations about her own importance, to her disrespect of her colleagues whom she calls underdogs, to her campaign that is designed to take the focus off of her actual dancing ability. ABT is so enamored of Copeland's ability to flaunt herself that they continually engage her personal agent to run the media for the ABT galas. For every gala, Copeland is featured prominently whereas the other soloists with whom she must compete are blacked out from media coverage or given a minimal appearance. The agent invites celebrities to the gala who have a financial or social investment in Copeland to further raise her profile on the occasion. In addition, Copeland's agent has wormed her way onto the advisory board for ABT’s Project Plie and has unfettered access to both artistic and administrative management for promoting her client. “Oh, Kevin, you have to promote her. You don’t understand what she means to our community. Please, please, please…” – (add tears, promises of contributions, maybe even a peek under the blouse.)
It just doesn’t seem to matter how badly or how un-star-like Copeland’s actual dancing is. The bar has been set so low for her by ABT, by the media, and by a few supporters that anything she does correctly is deemed miraculous. It just doesn’t seem to matter that she is and always has been the weakest dancer in the soloist ranks. It just doesn’t seem to matter that choreography has to be dumbed down for her. It doesn’t seem that she has the will or the smarts to accomplish her goals honestly, nor does it matter to her. Sadly, she pursues media coverage instead of pursuing the balletic technique and aesthetic that elude her.
But let’s get back to Taylor who admitted that ABT couldn’t make its Nutcracker at BAM financially successful. The moderator pointed out that nearly every ballet company has a Nutcracker and that they are always cash cows, but ABT’s lost money. Taylor replied that it was because they could not charge the prices in Brooklyn that they needed to charge. He didn’t explain, however, why so many $20 and $30 seats stayed empty. He offered that ABT was moving the Nutcracker out to Orange County, California which he described as a very wealthy community where they will be able to charge the prices they need to charge. Yes, and it's 74% white and 2% black whereas Brooklyn is 42% white and 34% black. So much for ABT’s dedication to its vaunted Project Plie.
Taylor stated multiple times how he had the numbers, the statistics, to prove that the secret “star strategy” worked. But he offered no explanation as to how his numbers accounted for the popularity of company dancers cast alongside the so-called star, or the effect of what is concurrently on the stage at NYCB, or the actual programing content, or the effect of the day of the week, or the effect of the company’s own advertising of guest artists and its corresponding absence of advertising of its own dancers. In short, it’s all a secret because the strategy would not stand up to independent scrutiny nor would it conform to the type of care and nurturing that a board of directors of a non-profit is responsible for delivering.
ABT has become a cesspool of corrupt influence and bungling business practices all simmering under a cover of secrecy.