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Flash Flashback, 5-23: Swan Dive
When a Ballerina Sued Kudelka

By The Dance Insider
Copyright 1999, 2005 The Dance Insider

(Editor's Note: To celebrate its fifth anniversary of being online, the Dance Insider is revisiting its Archives. This article originally appeared in the Spring 1999 print edition of the Dance Insider, and is posted online here for the first time. In a development unrelated to the story below, James Kudelka resigned last week as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, where he will remain as resident choreographer. An NBC insider says former NBC ballerina Karen Kain is Kudelka's probable replacement as director.)

TORONTO -- National Ballet of Canada's 1998-99 subscription brochure touts Kimberly Glasco as one of "nine extraordinary reasons to subscribe." Its souvenir book calls the ballerina "one of the world's finest interpreters of the classical repertoire," and "a favorite of many of the world's top contemporary choreographers." It praises her in artistic director James Kudelka's "Desir" and "Cruel World." On December 1, Kudelka terminated the 19-year veteran, effective June 30. Glasco was shocked. The company had lavished her with praise. As its senior ballerina and one of two dancers on its board, she was a highly visible leader. Kudelka, who took over the company in 1996, had never criticized her dancing. She would later assert that, while her three-year contract was indeed set to expire, she had been previously assured she would not be fired without cause and would be allowed to plan her retirement. The recently retired NBC ballerina Karen Kain, who danced into her forties -- Glasco is 38 -- was honored with an extended farewell tour.

The ballerina accused Kudelka of firing her because she had questioned spending on his $1.7 million new production of "Swan Lake" before the board. Kudelka insisted he had decided not to renew her contract for artistic reasons, telling the Toronto Globe and Mail on December 19: "I don't think the quality of her classical work was as strong lately.... (It) is a credit to me as artistic director that she looked as good on stage.... Not all (guest) choreographers are casting her.... There is no dead wood in this company."

Kudelka did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this story, but NBC spokesperson Belinda Bale confirmed the remarks attributed to him. Executive director Valerie Wilder, asked why Kudelka publicly criticized Glasco, answered: "We've never... in our 50-year history... discussed the reason (for not renewing a contract), but if the company is slandered, then you find yourself... trying to explain your position. It could be the best way to handle it would have been to say 'No comment....' James's reputation was called into question, all kinds of claims were made; somebody needs to respond and say 'That's not true,' and whether it was all done in the best of taste, who knows?"

On January 29, Glasco sued Kudelka, Wilder, and other NBC officials in the Ontario Court of Justice for wrongful firing and, based on the comments made by Kudelka and others to try to justify her firing, defamation. She seeks unspecified damages for lost income and earnings potential, and punitive damages for emotional suffering. "Glasco's career has been ruined," the suit charges. The ballerina, through attorney Sean Dewart, declined to be interviewed, but Dewart provided a copy of the lawsuit. Attorneys for both sides said in February that the parties had agreed not to comment, but Wilder and Bale spoke to the Dance Insider. NBC board chairman Allen Marple, also named in the suit, would not comment, Wilder said. Director of public relations Julia Drake, also a defendant, declined to comment.

The suit claims Glasco told the board in May and June of 1997 that there was a "morale problem" among dancers because at the same time it maintained it "could not afford to pay a decent living wage," NBC was launching "lavish new productions of several ballets, including... 'Swan Lake' in the spring of 1999, at a cost of several million dollars." Glasco questioned investing so much on a new production when NBC faced a $3 million deficit. (Wilder said money for new productions is raised separately from operating expenses. Salaries range from $25,000 for a new corps member to $100,000 for a senior ballerina, she said.)

According to the suit, the board agreed not to proceed with "Swan Lake" unless it was fully and privately funded by September 1998. "Kudelka was extremely anxious to proceed," the suit says, "and he and Wilder were determined to remove any possible obstacles.... Although it had not been fully funded by September, Kudelka pressed on with plans for the new production..., and at the meeting of the board on December 1, 1998, threatened to resign immediately if he couldn't proceed. Following the meeting..., and without any prior notice or warning, Kudelka advised Glasco that her employment... was... terminated effective June 30, 1999.... There was no suggestion that Glasco was in any way 'artistically incompatible' with Kudelka.... Kudelka indicated that Glasco's employment was being terminated because she did not support... 'Swan Lake' and because she had not cast her vote for him as artistic director."

Bale denied that Glasco was fired for criticizing "Swan Lake" spending. "The reason (Kudelka) did not renew Kimberly Glasco's contract was artistic," she asserted. "They are not artistically compatible," she added, claiming that the ballerina "cannot dance" Kudelka's "Nutcracker." (A December 1996 review of that ballet in the Toronto Star states, "Glasco glistened in the part that Kudelka created for her, the Sugar Plum Fairy.") Bale acknowledged, "It's true she did not support 'Swan Lake,' (and) would talk about it to people, but she never tabled it as a board member." Wilder, however, confirmed that Glasco had expressed her concerns about "Swan Lake" at a June 1997 board meeting. "She spoke about the need to improve the salaries of the dancers, and compared that objective with a whole series of capital expenditures the company had undertaken recently," Wilder said. "In that list was 'Swan Lake.' But that... had no bearing (on her termination). Other than that one meeting she's never spoken up on behalf of the dancers."

Asked if Kudelka had threatened to resign, Wilder said, "I'm not going to go into her detailed allegations, because they're just too crazy, and in any event board meetings are totally confidential, and she's broken that confidentiality by talking about things she didn't understand."

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