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Flash View, 2-28: Gielgud Talks Back
Departing Incoming Boston Director Denies Role in Dancer Releases

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

(Editor's Note: On Monday, Boston Ballet and artistic-director designate Maina Gielgud announced a mutual decision to part ways. The following commentary represents the opinion of the author, and not necessarily anyone else on the staff of The Dance Insider.)

In light of the smear campaign being conducted against now former artistic director-designate Maina Gielgud in the pages of the Boston Globe, I asked Gielgud to comment on inferences that her severance from Boston Ballet was related to last week's release (after the current season) of several Boston Ballet dancers.

Last week, the Globe reported, incorrectly, "The layoffs come at the behest of incoming artistic director Maina Gielgud." In yesterday's edition, it compounded the initial error by starting its story, "Just a week after she began cleaning house at the Boston Ballet, Maina Gielgud, the incoming artistic director, announced suddenly yesterday that she wouldn't be joining the company after all."

Boston Ballet's general director Jeffrey Babcock very cleverly let the inferred connection stand; while he said the two events were not related, he did not dispute in print the Globe's attribution of the lay-offs to Gielgud.

Gielgud, in a statement issued to The Dance Insider, told a different story. Indeed, her description of recent events painted a picture not of someone insensitive to, but on the contrary sensitive to the needs of dancers:

"My original brief from the Board when they appointed me as artistic director designate in September 2000, to take up the artistic directorship from July 1, 2001, was to promote the company's artistic and technical excellence, and take it to another and higher level. I was encouraged in this, to contact new artists and staff and engage new repertory works. To set the record straight, I have never 'demanded' $3 million or any other particular sum of money. In fact, despite my repeated and increasingly urgent requests over the past three months, I did not receive budget parameters for the artistic components of the season 2001-2002, or the detailed financial information necessary with which to prioritize.

"I would have been prepared to work with even a much restricted budget for artistic purposes, had the limits been clearly defined and guaranteed. Without such assurances, needed to safely secure the artistic future of the company under my artistic direction, it was clearly impossible for me to take up this appointment.

"Over the last three weeks, it became increasingly apparent that it was unlikely that I would be taking up the position of Artistic Director, as appointed from July 1 2001. I then made it abundantly clear on several occasions, to the Chairman, other trustees of the board of Boston Ballet, to the CEO, and in front of senior staff, that for ethical reasons, I could not and would not put my name to, or have anything to do with the release of ANY dancers under these circumstances.

"I would like to make it quite clear that the decision to release dancers at that point in time, took place without my consent, and that my signature was not on the release documents. I did not require or sanction any dismissal of dancers during this unhappy time."

Translation: Her future with the ballet in doubt, Gielgud -- who would certainly have been prepared to release dancers if they seemed unsuitable to her repertory plans -- felt it was unethical to release them ahead of a season in which she would not be in charge. (Side note: The Union contract required that dancers to be released be informed February 15, to give them time to scout for a new job. Their contracts would not expire until the end of the season.)

Finally, the Boston Globe sinks into the journalistic gutter with the following paragraph of innuendo and sloppy third-hand reporting:

"The former director of the Australian Ballet, Gielgud began her brief association with the Boston troupe trailed by scuttlebutt and whispers. Her time with the Australian Ballet was marked with dancer defections and complaints that she preferred younger to older dancers. She also left the Royal Danish Ballet two years into a three-season contract; there, some accused her of undermining the contemporary repertory and ignoring the company's centuries-old tradition of performing works by Danish choreographer August Bournonville."

Lets look at the facts: Gielgud served with distinction for 12 years in Australia; she certainly had her detractors towards the end, but she had an equal number of loyalists. In Denmark, she was hamstrung by a theater bureaucracy in which the ballet director's wishes are not paramount, and by a strong Union that resisted changes in training and program scheduling that Gielgud thought essential to bring that company back up to snuff. Regarding Bournonville, recognizing that this was not her strongest suit, she brought in a respected Bournonville expert to maintain that repertory.

What this shoddy reporting reveals is not just a surrender of its news pages to the cause of tarnishing a woman who has given selflessly to dance for most of her life. It also reveals what happens when a newspaper does not value dance as an area of coverage, and accepts journalism of a low standard it would not accept in any other area -- say, coverage of politics.


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