BEJART BALLET LAUSANNE
Independent Organisational Review
C O N T E N T S
- Key Issues
report by Derek Purnell October 2008
The project brief as identified by the Bejart Ballet Lausanne Foundation comprised three principle aims.
- To review the current position of BBL artistically, financially and operationally
- To explore future options
- To draw conclusions and make recommendations to the BBL Foundation
This audit process was commissioned in July 2008 by the Bejart Ballet Lausanne (BBL) Foundation and comes following a period of enormous change for the organisation following the death of Maurice Bejart in November 2007. Inevitably the death of the company’s founder, choreographer and charismatic director prompted uncertainty and instability. Internal and external speculation together with opinions, accusations, claims and counter-claims covered by the media, fuelled the sense of unease and tension. These issues peaked towards the end of the 2007/08 season, with several dancers deciding to leave the company.
With these events in mind it was thought opportune to commission an independent consultant to undertake a review based on the remit above.
The project was undertaken by Derek Purnell (biography attached at appendix A) and began in September ’08. The project was conducted in four phases:
i) Review of documentation as available and appropriate.
Begun at the end of August and continued throughout the project.
ii) Gathering of opinions and views of company members, staff and other interested parties as appropriate.
Mostly gathered from face-to-face interviews during the period 1st – 9th September in Lausanne during the company’s rehearsal period, but supplemented by further telephone conversations, emails and additional interviews during the company’s visit to Lille between 7th – 10th October.
iii) Identify and consider options available to BBL Foundation
Undertaken following the analysis of information gathered in phases 1 and 2.
iv) Submission of report, to include recommendations, to the BBL Foundation.
Completed by 31st October ‘08
It was agreed with the BBL Foundation that given the nature and complexity of the project, a degree of flexibility in approach would be necessary. Intentionally the project will be undertaken in an ‘open’, relatively informal in style but conducted with totally confidentiality and professionalism. This approach appears to have been particularly successful with the company in that over 40 members volunteered opinions and views. It was agreed that those taking part in this process would not be named in the report – suffice to say that given the number of people spoken to, a range and balance of opinion was achieved.
4. Key Issues
4.1 Artistic policy/direction
Without doubt this is the most important issue facing the BBL Foundation. The very fact that a dance company has borne the choreographer’s name for nearly 50 years is a testament to the unique position, respect and regard for which Maurice Bejart is justly and famously held. For many audiences, particularly in Europe, the name ‘Bejart’ is synonymous with ballet. The company’s reputation for high quality performance is built upon the repertoire created by Maurice Bejart. His commitment to creativity and to communicating with audiences, together with a determination to develop dancers of technical and artistic/interpretative excellence, have been the core values of the organisation. It is apparent that these values continue to be central to the thinking of everyone concerned with BBL – therefore the question is how, following the death of Maurice Bejart, is this best achieved and sustained?
The strength of Maurice Bejart’s character and personality resulted in a situation where he was seldom questioned, often operated and behaved in a dictatorial fashion, yet was widely respected and inspired high levels of dedication, commitment and loyalty. He was often very demanding but was simultaneously worshipped and adored by many.
Inevitably the succession of such a charismatic leader was always going to be an issue. Comparisons and instability were inevitable, irrespective of who took over responsibility for BBL.
The conventional process of a successor being selected and appointed by the governing body (in this case the BBL Foundation) was not applied. Undoubtedly this is an indication of the relationship that existed between Maurice Bejart and the BBL Foundation. Generally speaking, it appears that the BBL Foundation and his colleagues at both the company and school, endeavoured to meet Maurice Bejart’s wishes whenever possible. In this case the judgement by the BBL Foundation to appoint Gil Roman as Artistic Director is based on that rationale.
As the organisation’s governing body, the BBL Foundation had (and still do have) three basic options when considering the artistic direction of the company. They are as follows:
4.1(a) Appoint a new Choreographer/Director
This is effectively the option that seeks to find another individual who will both lead the company’s creativity as a choreographer but also direct the company, i.e. a choreographer led company, a similar role to that enjoyed by Maurice Bejart. This begs several questions, most obviously the degree to which the company would continue to perform works by Maurice Bejart -which would in turn raise concerns in terms of identity and audience loyalty. Given that most dancers join BBL to dance works created by Maurice Bejart, a significant change in the choreographic emphasis would probably trigger a high turnover in dancers. To a large extent BBL would become a ‘new’ company with different dancers and repertory. If this option was chosen the issue becomes ‘Who?’ Finding another ‘Bejart’ is a daunting (and many would argue, impossible) task.This option clearly places the company as a vehicle for an individual’s creativity.
4.1(b) Appoint new Director (who is not a choreographer)
This option determines a role that focuses more on making programming decisions and developing dancers than providing any creative input. In order to achieve the creative input, it would be expected that works by other choreographers would be either acquired or commissioned. This option provides the mechanism to ensure the legacy of Maurice Bejart’s works – albeit with an element of risk if the individual concerned does not have an intimate knowledge of the Bejart repertoire.
4.1(c) Appoint Gil Roman
The appointment of Gil Roman as Artistic Director is based on the BBL Foundation’s understanding and interpretation of the wishes of Maurice Bejart, but this appointment begs several questions and raises some issues. There has been no public articulation by the BBL Foundation or by Gil Roman regarding the future artistic direction of the company. There can be no doubt of Gil Roman’s knowledge of the Bejart repertory but his vision for the company has neither been requested nor questioned by the BBL Foundation. There have also been questions about Gil Roman’s suitability for the role in terms of his leadership and management style. The unusual circumstances surrounding the current appointment i.e. with no transparent or ‘open’ appointment process, has, understandably, prompted some speculation, suspicion, jealousies and resentment within the dance sector. This lack of clarity and openness has fuelled the negative media coverage experienced by BBL during the summer 2008. The situation has not been helped by the lack of consideration given to the wider management structure of BBL following the death of Maurice Bejart. These issues are addressed as part of this report.
4.2 Style of Leadership
Dance companies historically have tended to be run with a hierarchical structure, often with dictatorial leaders. In many respects the companies led by Maurice Bejart in Paris, Brussels and most recently in Lausanne are no exceptions. Many people who met and/or worked for Maurice Bejart considered him to be a genius and therefore a privilege to work for. The relationship between the ‘leader’ and those being led was completely consensual – most were content with their roles and an unspoken, informal acceptance of this ‘contract’ was understood and mutually agreed. It was a common theme widely reported during interviews held in preparation for this report that “we did it for Maurice”, “he got away with it because he was Bejart”, “we put up with it because it was Maurice”, These sentiments were applied to a huge range of events, circumstances and requests – last minute set design/costume changes, mood swings, lack of information about future plans, changes in casting, etc etc. In his pursuit for creativity and excellence of performance he could be very demanding and on occasions ‘pushed’ dancers very hard. He had moments of rage counter balanced with extreme sensitivity and tenderness. He was a maverick thinker and an artist who inspired and stimulated those with whom he came into contact. The task of succeeding such a charismatic and respected leader is often problematic and the task’s difficulty should not be underestimated.
Bejart’s style of leadership and relationship with his company evolved over many years – people have likened this as the role of a ‘big brother’ evolving into a ‘father’ and ultimately a ‘grandfather’. But as Bejart changed over time, so too have expectations of dancers. This undoubtedly reflects wider social changes in attitude and a more questioning generation who are less prepared to accept situations and decisions without explanation.
There is no denying the devotion that Maurice Bejart enjoyed from his company, however his leadership style was personal to him and arguably more appropriate to a bygone era. For these reasons any successor will fail if they try to emulate Bejart’s leadership style.
Successful and respected directors of dance companies, whether choreographer or not, base their ‘style’ on fairness, dialogue and explanation. This then forms the consensual contract which allows them to lead and a willingness amongst staff and dancers to be led.
4.3 Role of Bejart Ballet Lausanne (BBL) Foundation
Given the comments above about the charismatic personality and leadership style of Maurice Bejart, it is perhaps not surprising that to some extent members of the Foundation were in awe of him. The degree to which the Foundation either wished or attempted to exercise control or influence over Maurice Bejart is debateable.
Following Bejart’s death, the legal and financial responsibilities of the BBL
Foundation are unchanged. However the operating style has had to adapt to new
pressures and to respond to unfamiliar issues. The role of governance of the organisation now clearly rests with the BBL Foundation.
Governing bodies of arts organisations often struggle to reconcile the ‘business’ requirements of the organisation with the artistic and creative desires and expectations. On one hand there is a requirement to reduce ‘business risk’ whilst on the other, in order to retain the organisation’s creative energy, there is a need to take ‘artistic risks’. Without Maurice Bejart, this question of balance is more directly asked of the Foundation. As a result, the terms of reference are being re-established and a more pro-active stance is being taken. The commissioning of this report is an example of a change in thinking and approach.
The membership list of the BBL Foundation is attached at appendix B.
4.4 Role of City of Lausanne
The relocation of Bejart’s company to Lausanne following the City’s invitation in 1987, was due, not surprisingly to the regard with which Maurice Bejart was held. The company gladly adopted Lausanne into its title and a cultural/artistic coup was claimed by the City. It appears that in Lausanne, both audiences and politicians, quickly succumbed to the Bejart spell, and the company established itself there with great success.
Bejart’s creativity and the calibre of performances has developed a loyal and enthusiastic audience in Lausanne, providing a strong home-base from which the company then tours extensively bearing the City’s name.
Inevitably the funding to BBL from the City has come under scrutiny at various times during the last 20 years, but never more so than following the death of Maurice Bejart last year. The questioning of the City’s support of BBL has added to the sense of instability and uncertainty that the company was already experiencing.
Quite rightly the City has to justify its investment in BBL and in order to do so is keen to gain a better understanding of issues facing the company.
4.5 Relationship with Maurice Bejart Foundation (MBF)
The Maurice Bejart Foundation (not to be confused with the Bejart Ballet Foundation) is an independent charity formed to support the training of young dancers and to safeguard the integrity of choreographic legacy of Bejart. Currently there is an agreement in place between MBF and the BBL that allows the continuing performance of the works of Maurice Bejart by the BBL without payment to November 2010 (i.e.for a period of three years following Bejart’s death).
The membership list of the MBF is attached at appendix C.
4.6 Relationship with the school (Rudra)
Rudra shares the same building as BBL and is run (as requested by Maurice Bejart) by Michel Gascard, a former distinguished dancer in the company. The operation of the schools falls outside the remit of this report, but it is apparent that there is an effective and strong working relationship between Rudra and BBL. The shared parentage binds the two together and there appears to be a mutual respect between the BBL and Rudra directors.
4.7 Management structure
During the lifetime of Maurice Bejart everyone in the organisation’s senior management team reported to him. All decisions were referred to and approved personally by Maurice Bejart. He dominated the decision-making process and had control over every aspect (artistic or otherwise) of the company’s operation. This structure was clearly understood and accepted by all those concerned.
The structure since November 2007, arguably has not changed other than the
absence of Maurice Bejart. However this has lead to a lack of clarity about roles,
levels of responsibility and decision-making.
4.8 Activity levels
Annually the company gives approximately 100 performances each year of which 15 – 20 performances take place each year in Lausanne, split between a December season and a spring season. The remaining performances are scheduled predominantly through tours in Europe (France, Italy, Belgium and Spain) with additional regular tours to Japan. By touring regularly to many of these venues, the company has built a strong audience base, the envy of most European dance companies. The degree of activity/touring undertaken is driven by the need to generate box office income which currently contributes approximately 25% of the company’s income.
Historically the company seems to have operated on a relatively short planning cycle. Little commitment or enthusiasm to engage with long-term forward planning, either in terms of venues or repertoire, is apparent. A rather spontaneous, almost opportunistic view of planning seems to have been Bejart’s style. This attitude is reflected in the fact that even the daily schedule for the dancers rehearsals is not decided upon until late the previous day – even then, it may change during the course of the rehearsal day itself.
Broadly speaking the BBL’s (both company and Rudra) current annual operating costs can be summarised as shown below. Income
City of Lausanne
Personnel – salaries and expenses
Other Income – e.g. grants, donations, sponsorship etc
Fixed costs – e.g. insurance, premises, legal and financial etc
Earned income – Box Office
Performance related costs.
4.11 Conditions for dancers
On recruitment to the company dancers enjoy continuous full-time employment. In addition to salary, a performance fee is paid to dancers. On tour, hotels and per diems are provided. Dancers work a six day week. There is no collective union membership or agreement in place. At the rehearsal studio a subsidised canteen is available to company staff and Rudra students and staff.
The PR and Communications function is managed internally by Roxane Aybek. She operates with limited internal resources and therefore is dependent on support from external agencies, promoters and individuals. Current arrangements appear to work reasonably well but without additional resources there is no capacity to develop this function. Little (if any) research into the Bejart audience has ever been commissioned and this might merit further investigation. Inevitably the more one knows about your audience the more one is able to target resources.
The BBL premises are effectively rented from the City of Lausanne through an agreement with Beaulieu. The details of the lease agreement are such that BBL is responsible for the internal decoration and cleaning. Cleaning is undertaken through the appointment of a part-time janitor. Security, regarding entrance/access to the premises is poor – it is possible to enter without any request for identity or reasons for entry.
External repairs and maintenance are the responsibility of the landlord.
4.14 Information Technology
Similar to many arts organisations, the use of computers at BBL has evolved in a haphazard way, hence there is no functioning complete internal network. Consequently several individuals work on stand-alone computers and various small ad hoc networks have been created in some departments. Little formal IT training occurs.
5.1 Artistic policy and direction
The options available to BBL are discussed in 4.1, but to a large extent the moment for making choices based on these options has passed. Effectively the option to appoint Gil Roman has taken place and to reverse this decision is considered unwise, in that it would further destabilise the company and add greater uncertainty internally and externally. In any case, in the circumstances surrounding the succession, this option is considered to be the most effective and the most sensible course of action. It is impossible for the succession not to involve an element of risk, however the option to appoint a new Choreographer/Director (4.1a) would, without doubt, be the highest risk. An attempt to ‘find another Bejart’ would be a futile exercise and would make nonsense of the company’s name and identity. Effectively it would be creating a new company and the legacy of Bejart becomes uncertain.
Given that BBL wishes to retain its links to the legacy of Bejart, the options of appointing a Director (who is not a choreographer) – option 4.1b, or appointing Gil Roman (4.1c) merit consideration. In either case the BBL needs to establish the balance between honouring the works of Bejart and how that is best achieved, together with the need for creativity. Either option is possible, but on balance, the decision to appoint Gil Roman is considered to be well judged. He is widely recognised as one of a handful of people who have an intimate and deep understanding of Bejart’s choreographic style and intent. Also having worked alongside Maurice Bejart as Assistant Director for many years, he has an understanding of the issues involved in directing a company. This ensures a degree of continuity and retention of knowledge for BBL. This option also represents the most cost effective option given that the calibre of artistic knowledge and skill is already effectively ‘in-house’.
When considering alternatives to Gil Roman, given that a knowledge and understanding of Bejart’s choreography is a pre-requisite, amongst the few people who claim to meet this requirement, there is precious little experience of being in a management and/or leadership position. Being ‘popular’ or ‘well-liked’ as a repetiteur, teacher, ballet master/mistress or successful as a choreographer, does not, in itself, prove the ability to direct a company. The issue for many then becomes the style of leadership and the character and personality of the director.
Whilst these are important attributes for a director, they are not substitutes for knowledge and practical experience.
5.2 Style of Leadership
For anyone following Maurice Bejart as (artistic) director, comparisons are inevitable. When someone is held with such affection, understandably and rightly so, memories focus on the positive aspects with difficulties and frustrations fading into the background of one’s recollections. Irrespective of who was appointed, the challenges of succeeding Bejart were (and still are) considerable – not least the difficulties of leading a company through a period of ‘mourning’. Many interviewees in the preparation of this report commented on the difficulty they had as individuals in coming to terms with Bejart’s death. Reference was frequently made to the degree in which individuals were able ‘to turn the page’ and accept the company’s new situation. In this regard it is impossible to gauge a speed ‘of turning the page’ that suits everyone. Unavoidably, actions will invite criticism from some individuals/groups.
A similar situation occurred with New York City Ballet following the death of Balanchine. Peter Martins was subjected to a great deal of criticism when appointed as the company’s director. But consider how much more difficult his succession would have been if Balanchine’s name featured in the company’s title and there had been no Jerome Robbins also creating work for the company. This puts into context the uniquely difficult issues for Gil Roman (or anyone else) succeeding Maurice Bejart. The most obvious parallel is the succession of Judith Jamison as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – proof that, with a strong support structure, continuity and creativity can be achieved beyond the lifetime of the founder of the company that bears his name.
For any director, a style of leadership develops over time due to various factors. An individual’s instinct, personality, character and personal experiences are fundamental but so too is the ability to learn and observe from other leaders. There is also a need to adapt to circumstances and situations as and when they arise. The other crucial factors are the structure/resources within which you operate and the degree of support and confidence which one receives. The decision to relocate to Lausanne endorses this view; Bejart adapted to the circumstances appreciating that the resources, support and confidence afforded to him would allow him to lead/direct the company more effectively and creatively.
Also, social opinions change and preferences and expectations in terms of how people are managed/led varies. What was acceptable even 10 years ago may not now be considered appropriate. Hierarchical management structures are less common with more democratic ‘flatter’ structures being preferred. Greater emphasis is placed on communication between managers and staff/employees in order to improve dialogue and understanding.
Therefore, with these factors in mind, any change in director often prompts individuals to consider their own situations and priorities. Throughout the world, whenever a dance company director changes, there is a higher turnover of personnel than usual for maybe a couple of years. This has been the case with BBL at the end of 2007/08 season, but this is not judged to be a source of particular concern. For many dancers, BBL’s reputation is such that recruitment is currently not an issue.
Given all these comments and issues it is not surprising that immediately following the death of Maurice Bejart the organisation unified in its determination to honour Bejart’s memory during the December season in Lausanne. Equally, it is not surprising that following this initial period, the impact of change and readjustment (and grieving) triggered for some, feelings of insecurity, dissatisfaction, uncertainty, concern and anxiety. Rumours were rife, roles and responsibilities unclear and a general sense of tension permeated the organisation. Emotions continued to run high, cliques developed, all exacerbated by tiredness at the end of a long and difficult season. Gil Roman and a senior management team still adjusting to a new era, compounded by the media speculation, struggled to deal with the situation in an effective way. Gil Roman became the focus of these issues and was held responsible for the company’s low morale.
However, at the beginning of the 2008/09 season, much of the tension appears to have dissipated and amongst several members of the company there is a desire to make a ‘fresh start’ and to put behind them the difficulties of the previous season. With the intention of creating a better dialogue, regular company meetings are taking place, future plans have been outlined, some housekeeping issues have been addressed and new members introduced and welcomed.
Artistically, for 2008/09, there are several points worth noting: guest teachers have been invited, Mats Ek and Jean-Christophe Maillot have been invited to work with the company, Gil Roman will create a new work and Bejart’s Le Concours will be restaged with the assistance of Shona Mirk. These announcements give an indication of Gil Roman’s intentions for the company and generally have been welcomed. It is encouraging to see the Bejart legacy being honoured and relationships with people of the calibre and experience of Shona Mirk being rekindled and strengthened. It is hoped that the invitations to Mats Ek and Jean-Christophe Maillot will lead to further commissions with the company and also that Gil Roman’s choreographic work will be successful.
However, the future of BBL with Gil Roman as Artistic Director is not just about his individual judgements, personality, character and behaviour. The artistic policy, management structure, resources and support around him are of equal importance. His ability to succeed is dependent not only on his personal style, attributes, skill and knowledge but also on the support and environment within which he is required to operate. As the governing body, it is the role of the BBL Foundation to ensure clarity of purpose and expectation, together with ensuring that adequate structures and resources are in place to support the Artistic Director (see 5.3).
5.3 Role of BBL Foundation
As the governing body of an arts organisation it falls to the Foundation to determine its artistic policy. Reference has been made earlier in this report of the need to establish the balance between the preservation of the Bejart works with the need for creativity. In order for the BBL Foundation to meet its responsibilities and make qualified judgement on all matters (including artistic) it is suggested that it reviews its current membership. This marks a significant step change in the function of the BBL Foundation, whose previous function was to support and enable Maurice Bejart’s artistic ambitions. The BBL Foundation still needs to support its Artistic Director – indeed consideration might be given to providing a mentor for the Artistic Director – but also have a broader overview that ensures a balanced programme that can be sustained administratively and financially. It is suggested that initially for the next three years (subject to annual review) annual programming should be based on 75% Bejart repertory and the remaining 25% should be commissioned work but not exclusively from one choreographer. It is important to stress that this is a suggested guideline and it should be reviewed depending on various outcomes – e.g requests of tour promoters, the quality of work created by Gil Roman and other invited choreographers, audience response etc.
The Foundation should also monitor the workload of Gil Roman. Is it necessary and/or realistic and/or desirable for Gil Roman to perform, choreograph and direct? The obvious danger is that his ability and talents are compromised by being ‘spread too thinly’, so the Foundation must ensure that his energy is channelled in the best interests of the company.
It is also suggested that the Foundation considers a more formal process for rotating/refreshing its membership and considers requesting the Artistic Director to attend meetings to give a regular report on artistic matters.
5.4 Role of City of Lausanne
The City of Lausanne has every right to feel proud of its support of BBL and the degree to which BBL acts as an ambassador for Lausanne should be more widely recognised. This ambassadorial role could be used more extensively and more proactively by the City – e.g perhaps the tourist department should be advertising in the Bejart brochure, hosting trade delegations, strengthening any twinning or sister-city initiatives etc. It could be argued that this ambassadorial role should be used and supported by the Swiss government when Bejart tours abroad.
In order to strengthen and clarify the relationship between the City and BBL it is recommended that funding is committed on a three-year rolling basis. In return BBL should commit to an agreed number of performances in Lausanne each year. This arrangement would indicate the City’s confidence in BBL and in return identify the level of activity/commitment of BBL to the City.
It is also suggested that the City considers how else BBL might contribute to the cultural infrastructure of Lausanne. There are good examples, notably in America and the UK, of community engagement programmes which have had positive social and educational outcomes. Dance has been proven to work particularly well in these programmes and therefore provides an opportunity for BBL and the City.
It is acknowledged that this initiative would require additional financial investment, but invariably investment in community engagement projects brings social and educational outcomes that more than justify the financial input.
5.5 Relationship with Maurice Bejart Foundation (MBF)
The current situation is described in section 4.5. For BBL and for the City of Lausanne, speedy resolution of this issue is essential. If BBL, for what ever reason, has no certainty over its rights to perform all of the works of Bejart beyond 2010, then funding from the City will cease and the company (and therefore Rudra also) will close. The importance of resolving this issue quickly cannot be over emphasised – very soon negotiations/discussions with promoters will become impossible, which in turn will jeopardise tours and income.
It has to be questioned if two Foundations are necessary, given that they share the same intentions. However if both Foundations continue, they must work together in harmony. The Balanchine Trust and New York City Ballet provide a good working model, although the fact that NYCB rarely tours makes the issue of other dance companies dancing Balanchine works less of an issue for the company. For BBL this may be more problematic, for example if the exclusivity of many of the Bejart works currently performed by BBL was compromised it might have a negative impact on the company’s touring circuit.
Ideally the two Foundations should combine, thereby reducing bureaucracy and eliminating potential conflicts of interest. This solution would also potentially provide an additional source of income to the organisation. However, it is strongly recommend that any income secured in the short-term is invested in the compilation of a Bejart archive. Record keeping of ballets, the condition of videotapes etc is poor and incomplete. All materials need to be properly catalogued and stored and master copies of videos should be digitised etc This is essential if in years to come these works are ever to be restaged or studied. If maintaining Bejart’s artistic legacy is a priority for BBL and MBF, then they must work together to create a proper archive and the mechanism to ensure BBL is able to perform Bejart works in perpetuity. The relationship between New York City Ballet and the Balanchine and Robbins Trusts provide a good model of how mutual agreements can be reached and operated successfully.
5.6 Relationship with the school (Rudra)
The mutual strength and interdependence of the company and Rudra is referred to in section 4.6. It is considered that any moves to separate these organisations would serve to weaken them both and should be resisted.
5.7 Management structure
Amongst the BBL management team there is a wealth of knowledge, competence and commitment. This is particularly apparent when the company is performing – everyone knows their role, responsibilities and what colleagues expect from them. The effectiveness and professionalism of the technical department, as witnessed in Lille, was hugely impressive.
However in other situations, probably more prevalent amongst the senior management team, clarity of roles, responsibilities and decision-making processes are less well defined. The relationship between the Administrative and Artistic Directors is key to establishing the operating values of the management team – they dictate the management style of the organisation and provide leadership. Although described as ‘equal partners’ in terms of responsibility for the company’s well being, the two directors’ areas of expertise are easily defined. However it is a concern that whilst their relationship appears to work well, this is not observed by the majority of the company. The Artistic Director and Administrative Director should more often present themselves as a combined voice to the company.
It is also fairly widely known that the Administrative Director does not work exclusively for BBL and has other interests. It perhaps should concern the BBL Foundation that someone in such a senior position is not technically an employee of the company. It is recommended that the BBL Foundation reconsider its employment relationship with the Administrative Director. The current situation, not surprisingly, raises concerns of commitment to BBL in some people’s minds.
It is recognised that there is an ongoing period of adjustment for the management team as they undertake the first year of operating without Maurice Bejart. It is recommended that in the new year, job descriptions are reviewed in order to ensure that they reflect the responsibilities undertaken.
There is a concern that no-one seems to have responsibility for maintaining the company’s archive. This leaves the company very vulnerable in terms of its ability to accurately recreate the works of Bejart. Related to this issue of maintaining the quality and accuracy of performance and interpretation, it is noted that repetiteurs/ballet masters are also dancing in performances. Therefore there are occasions when there is no member of the ballet staff watching performances from the auditorium. It is advised that these issues be addressed with some urgency.
5.8 Activity levels
Currently the company gives approximately 100 performances per year. It has been suggested that this is too many performances for a company of 35 dancers and that this workload compares unfavourably to the demands placed on dancers in other companies. Making a comparison with another company is a very subjective exercise. The workload and expectations placed on dancers is influenced by a variety of factors. BBL does not work as part of a larger institution and is not a resident company. Compared to some touring companies BBL actually gives fewer performances each year. The ways in which companies are funded also varies enormously, which in turn influences pay levels – although drawing comparisons with rates of pay is not straightforward. BBL dancers enjoy the security of full-year continuous contracts (by contrast to many companies that ‘lay-off’ dancers for several weeks each year). Some companies pay a higher fixed salary but no per performance fee whilst other companies pay a lower salary but with generous per performance fees. Some companies pay a lower salary rate for rehearsals than performance etc etc. So finding a company of similar size, similar contractual arrangements, equivalent per performance fees, funding structures and working pattern has proved impossible. It should also be remembered that dancers want to dance. The prospect of performing less is not generally welcomed by dancers – most prefer to perform as much as possible. Complaining of being tired is par for the course but fewer performances does not necessarily equate to better quality. Retaining a level of performance fitness often requires a regular series of performances.
On balance, 100 performances appears to be a sustainable level and a significant change is not thought necessary or recommended.
As a priority it is recommended that much greater emphasis is placed by the organisation on forward planning. This requires an attitudinal shift amongst the directorate and a shift away from previous practice. There is a culture of nervousness about forward planning as if in some way it represents a restrictive ‘straightjacket’. However there will be considerable benefits to the organisation if there is a more active engagement in the process. It is not unreasonable for the directorate to be asked to prepare a three year plan which indicates repertory and outlines touring/performing schedules. One would expect plans to be confirmed (and budgeted) for a year ahead, the second year less so and the third year in draft form. This is standard practice and in most circumstances would be a pre-requisite for publicly funded organisations. It is accepted that plans may change for a variety of reasons, some of which may be beyond the control of the organisation, but nevertheless having a framework within which any changes happen, assists in implementation. This does not exclude the company from reacting to new opportunities as and when they occur – it simply allows any opportunities to be assessed in a broader context.
Forward planning increases levels of confidence (both internally and externally), articulates the company’s artistic policy and ambitions, aids financial planning by increasing the possibility of identifying cost savings, and makes it more possible to work with choreographers, guest repetiteurs and teachers in a strategic way, rather than on the basis of relatively short-notice availability.
The company’s finances are judged to be well managed and controlled. However,
in terms of balancing the finances of the company, it works on a very narrow margin. As indicated above (5.9) forward planning would be of particular benefit in financial terms. Ideally, within a three-year financial plan it would be prudent to work towards creating a ‘reserve’, thereby increasing the financial security of the organisation. To a large extent the fortunes of the company are dependent on its ability to generate income through box office earnings. The company’s reputation (maintained by its repertory and quality of performances) and its marketing are crucial to its ongoing success. Whilst the company can (and does) effectively control its costs, box office income is understandably less predictable. This underlines the need of an ongoing secure funding agreement with the City of Lausanne. The mutual benefits of developing a more formal funding agreement with the City is discussed in this report (5.4) and this should be seen in the context of other recommendations e.g. confirmation that BBL has performing rights for the Bejart repertory, adequate forward planning is in place, effective governance, possible introduction of community engagement programme etc.
Whilst developing a stronger relationship with the City of Lausanne is a priority, it is also important that the company looks at other income possibilities. Currently there does not appear to be a strategy for fundraising and/or sponsorship. Therefore it is recommended that a cost benefit analysis is undertaken to determine the likely level of income against any investment in a fundraising/sponsorship post.
5.11 Conditions for dancers
Historically the reputation of BBL and the opportunity to work with Bejart has always attracted talented dancers. Even without Bejart, the attraction of his repertoire and the reputation of the company still attracts good dancers. Employment is offered on a permanent full-time contract, which provides dancers with a level of on-going security.
The working environment is adequate – in this report (5.13) reference is made to some housekeeping issues that would improve this situation.
Rates of pay are considered to be comparable with other companies, but the issue of making ‘true’ comparisons is difficult (see 5.8). Whilst salaries amongst the more established senior dancers are thought to compare well with other companies, it is likely that the younger/newer members’ salaries do not compare as favourably. Any increases in salary are at the discretion of the senior management (the Artistic Director in discussion with the Administrative Director) and generally are reviewed towards the end of each season with any increases implemented at the beginning of the following season. In order to address the relatively low junior salaries it is recommended that for those dancers joining at the lowest salary rate, there is an automatic modest annual increase for three years. This effectively becomes the base rate from which any subsequent
differential payments are calculated.
It is also recommended that the way in which the per performance payment is calculated is made more transparent. Currently there appears to be no specific criteria against which these judgements are made. This can lead to perceptions of unfairness and favouritism. Currently this is not a major issue but it is advised as a matter of good practice.
In the spirit of encouraging dialogue it is advised that each dancer is given the opportunity for an annual meeting with the Artistic Director. For most dancers it is hoped that this would form part of an ongoing dialogue, but by formalising this arrangement it ensures equality of opportunity.
The final point in this section, is the lack of notice given to the dancers regarding the rehearsal schedule. This links to issues raised in sections 4.9 and 5.9 regarding the attitude towards planning. Most dance companies are able to issue a rehearsal schedule in advance – most commonly the rehearsal schedule for the following week is notified to the dancers on the preceding Friday. It is accepted than on occasions (normally due to a dancer being injured) that this schedule may need to be changed, however normally dancers do have the opportunity to plan their lives outside work to some degree. It is strongly recommended that this issue be addressed and that the current notice period for rehearsals is increased.
The pressure and limitations of one person managing the PR and Communications are briefly discussed in section 4.12. Given the limitation of resources, there is a strong case for commissioning some research to ensure that marketing spend is accurately targeted in order to maximise the return against expenditure. It is also important to ensure that external contracts are regularly reassessed and open to tender, thereby ensuring that BBL gets maximum value for money and also are open to fresh approaches.
Internally it is noted that there is little consistency in approach to ‘branding’ and/or ‘corporate identity’. Each department or individual tends to ‘do their own thing’, e.g. the use of the BBL logo, email and letter templates is haphazard. It is recommended that a more consistent approach is encouraged with the implementation of some guidelines. Developing a corporate style serves to strengthen the BBL identity and reinforces the PR and Communications function.
It appears that following recent concerns expressed about cleanliness, hygiene and security, some improvements in these areas have taken place. Long overdue repairs to the showers have been made and new security measures for entry into the premises are to be introduced. These are encouraging steps. It is important that the effectiveness of the new security arrangements is reviewed, particularly given the BBL’s duty of care for the students at Rudra. In that regard, together with the well-being of everyone using the BBL premises, the issue of smoking in the premises is contentious. It is understood that legislation may be introduced that will instigate a no-smoking policy. However, irrespective of any future legislation, it is recommended that a no-smoking area is introduced in the canteen and ventilation improved in the smoking area to reduce the health risks to non-smokers.
It is recommended that the current premises’ cleaning arrangements are reviewed with consideration given to using a contract cleaner to ensure cleaning is more reliable and of a higher standard.
It is also recommended that a rolling four or five year programme of decoration is introduced to ensure the entire premises are better maintained/decorated, together with the introduction of a system for reporting any maintenance issue that need immediate attention on the basis of health and safety risks.
5.14 Information Technology
There is a need to upgrade the IT equipment and make a network available to everyone. Internal communication would benefit from an intranet site which could hold regularly used information centrally. This would avoid unnecessary duplication and multiple record keeping and databases. This upgrading would need to be supported by some training and the implementation of user policies and procedures.
It is also suggested that internet access is made available to the dancers – possibly with a computer terminal available in the canteen.
6. Summary / Conclusion
BBL has undergone a period of great change. The death of Maurice Bejart has left a void in many peoples’ lives. However, an incredible legacy of choreographic works and a company of extraordinarily talented artists continue to honour his name. Much speculation and controversy surrounded the succession of Gil Roman. Many were quick to criticise his appointment and to undermine him personally and professionally. Tensions grew towards the end of the 2007/08 season fuelled by media interest.
The task of succeeding Maurice Bejart would have been an enormous task for anyone and although Gil Roman has a vast knowledge of the company, he still had and continues to have, much to learn. Nevertheless, he is acknowledged as a great artist and respected for his intimate knowledge of Bejart’s choreographic style and intention. Inevitably his style of leadership will be different to that of Maurice Bejart. He is his own man, operating in changing circumstances amidst different expectations, but his commitment to the task is without doubt. He has high expectations of himself and equally high expectations of colleagues.
The role of Artistic Director has received a great deal of scrutiny, but of equal importance are the supporting structures and personnel that compliment this post. For the company to be successful the senior management has to work effectively as a team and the BBL Foundation has to fulfil its role in terms of governance. The City of Lausanne also has to play its part in terms of governance, financial support and willingness to explore ways of working with BBL for mutual benefit. Therefore the key recommendations outlined below take account of the multiplicity of issues and responsibilities that together can ensure the future growth and prosperity of this extraordinary company. Having seen the company recently perform, it is important to acknowledge the position of strength from which this next phase of its history begins. BBL boasts an incredible repertory and extraordinary artists – the envy of many of companies throughout the world. Long may it continue to be the case.
- Gil Roman continues as Artistic Director of BBL
- The balance between Bejart repertory and other choreographic works is monitored by BBL Foundation – a 75%/25% split is initially suggested, but subject to review.
- The membership of the BBL Foundation is reviewed.
- A three-year planning cycle is introduced
- Activity levels remain as they are currently
- The rights issue concerning Bejart’s works post 2010 is resolved between the BBL and MBF as a matter of urgency.
- BBL and the City of Lausanne explore how they can work together for mutual benefit.
- The employment status of the Administrative Director is reviewed.
- In the New Year the job descriptions of the administrative team are reviewed.
- Steps are taken to ensure proper archiving of Bejart repertory.
- The possibility of employing an additional repetiteur is explored.
- The possibility of introducing a community engagement programme is investigated
- An automatic pay increase is introduced for the first three years of a junior dancer’s employment
- Annual interviews with the Artistic Director are offered to every dancer
- The notification period of the dancers’ rehearsal schedule is increased.
- External contracts regarding the communications functions are reviewed/re-tendered and in-house ‘corporate style’ guidelines are introduced
- Current housekeeping arrangements re. cleaning and redecoration etc are reviewed
- The IT system is upgraded
In the preparation of this report over 50 people have generously shared their opinions and offered their views. These contributions, thoughtfully and honestly given, are hugely valued and greatly appreciated.
Derek Purnell ; Biography
Derek Purnell is an experienced freelance arts consultant, who previously was Chief Executive of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Following a successful performing career with the Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (SWRB), he retrained in arts administration and management through a placement at Ballet Rambert and attendance of the Arts Administration Diploma Course at City University, London. Having managed Janet Smith and Dancers (a mid-scale contemporary dance company) for three years he then joined the SWRB management team, taking the role of Chief Executive following his leadership of the company’s relocation to Birmingham in 1990. His experience and knowledge covers artistic and business planning, administration, finance, marketing, human resources, sponsorship, education and evaluation/assessment. As a consultant he has worked with several arts organisations including Siobhan Davies Dance Company, Rambert Dance Company, The Royal Ballet School, Central School of Ballet, Theatre Management Association, Independent Theatre Council and The Paul Hamlyn Foundation. He is Chair of the Royal Academy of Dance’s Artistic Committee, is an Honorary Fellow of the Birmingham Conservatoire (University of Central England) Director of Norfolk Dance and is an adviser to the Arts Council of Ireland and the Scottish Government’s National Performing Companies Unit.
Bejart Ballet Lausanne Foundation
Yves M Braunschweig
Maurice Bejart Foundation