Who knew that ballet was a blood sport? During the last couple of days, local arts sites have been abuzz over the stepped-up rhetoric between Texas Ballet Theater and the DFW Professional Musicians Association union over the use of recorded music during TBT’s shows.
I’m not a dance critic, though I have seen a number of professional dance performances, especially in my early years as an arts writer. Many of those were internationally renowned touring companies brought to North Texas by TITAS. They were staged at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium in Dallas to the accompaniment of recorded music. The best of them were absolutely thrilling – the kind of kinetic beauty that engaged me so much I was only barely aware of moving in my own seat, unconsciously trying to project my body into those of the soaring onstage artists.
I’m a big enough “dance rube” not to know what I’m missing when a great live orchestra accompanies a great ballet company. However, my bullshit detector is also discerning enough to hit the red zone at some of the rhetoric being used by musicians union spokesman Ray Hair. Accusations that TBT is swindling arts patrons and “fouling” an art form sound very high-minded, and yet…
Here’s the reality: Good ballet can be performed – indeed, is performed, all over the world – to recorded music. Ballet artists don’t need live musicians the way live musicians need the ballet for gigs. Somewhere deep in their hearts, Ray Hair and his fellow musicians know this, and it really rankles. Because of this – and this is just my opinion — they want to destroy a nationally accomplished ballet company that routinely earns great reviews and audience praise even with canned Tchaikovsky.
To be sure, Texas Ballet Theater is not an innocent victim. Their financial woes – which remain murky and questionable even after considerable press scrutiny – appear to be self-inflicted, and have made them vulnerable. In the end, they may turn out to be their own worst enemy. But TBT’s core audience, especially the season ticketholders, should determine if an imperfect ballet experience – that is, one with recorded music — is good enough for the forseeable future. Unfortunately for the DFW musicians union, I suspect many local ballet fans would rather have a TBT with compromises than no TBT at all. As long as Hair et al are essentially saying, “If you don’t employee us, then we want to make sure a bunch of other artists — in this case, dancers — are unemployed, too,” they won’t get much public sympathy for their cause.