BalletGate: Why Balletmaster Peter Martins’ reduced salary of $629,000 is still way too high

First, a few facts: New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins is making about $629,000  a year

while 11 corps members are cut.  

To compare Martins’ salary to other executives’ NOT in the arts, as a couple of people have done on Ballet Talk fora here and here, is absurd. One doesn’t go into dance to get rich. When Baryshnikov was head of ABT, he had an agreement with the Board by which his annual salary was one dollar: he was compensated by guesting. While that may be extreme, it gives you some idea of what most people in this profession will do to keep their vision afloat.

The original Bloomberg article from which the Times quotes listed other exorbitant salaries–music director Faycal Karoui, around $300,000; general manager Ken Tabachnick, about the same; etc.–but this only proves that the writer knows nothing about the arts or is afraid to admit what he knows, because the company isn’t the general manager’s or the music director’s baby the way it presumably is its balletmaster’s, so of course they have to be paid competitively. The article also mentions the 2008 income of outgoing dancer Damian
Woetzel, a 23-year-veteran of the company: $278,000, of which $66,000
was exit pay. Also, irrelevant: A ballet dancer’s career is over at about age 40, and if it’s at all possible
to give her a cushion to prepare for a second act, it should be done.
Martins isn’t in that situation.

As the Baryshnikov example makes clear, Martins is basically paying himself–with the NYCB board’s approval. And what’s the worry on the part of the board? That if he isn’t paid like a king, he’s going to work for the competition? See? Comparisons to directors outside the arts don’t work. But if Martins is in fact thinking about it that way– if the money’s what’s keeping him–let him go. These are bad values for a ballet company to be burdened with. 

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  1. cbp says

    Am I understanding this correctly? Is Martins also receiving an additional $300,000 for the Faculty Chairman position at SAB?
    [Apollinaire responds]
    Let’s see. Pointe1432 on Ballet Talk ( seems to have examined the 2007 public tax records and reports: “Damian Woetzel was the highest paid NYCB dancer at $178,000 (and the only dancer in the “Top 5″) the year that Peter Martins’ salary ONLY as Artistic Director was listed at $686,000.” So perhaps these tax returns make that distinction…..
    Can someone supply a link to these records–for the curious? And is there a comparable record for Martins’ salary at the School of American Ballet?

  2. Carol Reese says

    Thank you. I couldn’t believe the salaries – and the fact the Bloomberg “journalist” just laid it out there without providing any perspective – such as the fact PM also draws a substantial salary from SAB. Such as comparing the salaries of PM and other administrators to the salaries in other companies.
    Plus PM has several relatives on the NYCB payroll, relatives who should have retired years ago IMHO. In the case of Nilas Martins, he should never ever have been a principal, maybe not even a soloist. In the non-profit world this would be considered nepotism and self-dealing of the worst sort.
    [Apollnaire responds] Carol, where are you getting the info about the separate salary for leading SAB? It’s been repeated several places, but as it wasn’t reported in the Bloomberg piece (which, I agree, makes nothing of what it’s saying–I guess that’s their idea of “objective”), I feel reluctant to repeat it myself.
    As for Martins’ indulgences of his child (and his wife), I have to say, coming from a family that tends to treat the near *less* dear than strangers, I can’t fault him. He’s doing what a parent (and a husband) would naturally do. If he had been “objective”–keeping Nilas in the corps and then, say, after a few years not renewing his contract–we’d fault him for that, too!
    Thanks for writing.

  3. cherub says

    Form 990 (the tax return of a non-profit organization) can be found at www. Don’t know if you have to register but registration is free.
    The url for SAB’s 2007 990 (tax return) is PM, as Chair of Faculty, was paid $82245 plus 10% benefits for a work week listed as 15 hours. Kay Mazzo, as Co-Chair of Faculty, was paid $135,079 plus $21k in benefits for a work week of 40 hours.
    The url for NYCB’s 2007 990 is: PM was paid $686k plus $20k in benefits. The $686k is compensation, i.e. salary for work performed, so presumably does not include royalties. No dancer other than Damian Woetzel made over $175k.
    The url for ABT’s 2007 990 is: Kevin McKenzie was paid $287K plus $19k in benefits.
    Some of the other salary and expense info for both companies is eye opening as well.
    [Apollinaire responds]: Thanks, cherub, for these sources.

  4. Marina says

    I’m not sure I agree with the statement that “it gives you some idea of what most people in this profession will do to keep their vision afloat. “I think Baryshnikov is a rare case all around and what was most important to him was probably his freedom.
    Directors of large artistic institutions usually get paid large salaries. I’m not getting into whether the salary is too high or too low—I don’t know enough—but I think it’s fair to say that people do these jobs not just for artistic reasons but also for prestige and, yes, for a high salary.
    [Apollinaire responds]: I agree with you about large institutions’ salaries. I think, in Martins’ case and in many others, the massive salary allows them to be on better footing with their boards–who are made up of powerful people whose power is measured in money; it’s something they understand–and respect. Balanchine had Kirstein for that. Baryshnikov had so much prestige as a dancer he didn’t need anything else–or maybe he did, as the conservative board fought him all down the line (if I’m remembering correctly).
    I also agree re Baryshnikov’s exceptionality, but I still think his case is instructive: It shows that being overpaid is not some requirement of the job. I think Balanchine, as NYCB’s balletmaster, took no money as well.
    I’m not advocating the hoary old standard of a starving artist. I just think when you’re getting into the $.75 million salary range and dancers are being laid off for economic reasons (which were the reasons Martins et. al. originally gave in February in this article in the NY Times, which includes the following : “Mr. Martins said he spent the whole day on Thursday telling the affected corps members individually that their contracts would not be renewed for next year. ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve done my entire professional career,’ he said. He also said he included himself in the 10 percent pay cut”) then something is screwy.
    Thanks so much for writing.

  5. Contextual says

    As was widely reported, Baryshnikov was paid what was then an enormous salary — around $300,000 — as artistic director from 1980-1983. During the 1982-83 season the company endured a dancer’s strike, massive financial losses and critical drubbing. Baryshnikov was ALLOWED to remain as director with the personal freedom he demanded ONLY because he accepted the $1 honorarium. But he was therefore free to continue to pursue hugely lucrative Baryshnikov & Co tours, movie roles, perfume brand marketing, etc.
    [Apollinaire responds] Thank you for the info, Contextual. It’s useful. But I don’t think it disproves my point that generally artistic directors WANT to be at their post, regardless of salary. Baryshnikov was given an ultimatum by the Board–you can stay, but you can’t make any money–and he stayed, despite their hostility, the critical drubbing, the decamping of the conservative audience, who wanted story ballets or else. That was when Baryshnikov was introducing Cunningham, Tharp, Taylor, and forgotten Balanchine into the rep. Much of that work has been great to see at ABT in the last few years, when it’s made its return.

  6. says

    I think this “controversy” is a bit overblown. When I initially looked at these salary numbers back when the cuts were first announced, I came to the assumption that the royalties for his own work was included in the salary (bloomberg article confirms this as well). In the prior year’s 990 (and actually dating back to at least the 90;s), Peter Martins Productions (PMP) is listed as an independent contractor providing ballet master services. Given that there are no royalty payments listed (whereas there are for both Balanchine and Robbins trusts), and that one would make the assumption that the Martins works are also held by a separate entity, PMP would appear to be it. That Mr. Martin’s salary is accounted for in the way it is in 2007 and 2008 is a relatively new development.
    I think it would be fair to count $200,000 to $300,000 of his salary as royalty payments (same paid to Robbins and Balanchine trusts, which haven’t increased in many years, so doubtless these royalties are priced far below fair value) which gives him a “real” salary as Ballet Master of $400 to $500k. This compares extremely well to his peers, as do the other salaries of the other top executives such as Ken Tabachnick. Compare the figures to those of ABT or SFB and although there are differences, in context they are quite marginal.
    [Apollinaire responds]: Thank you, Marc, for your research and explanation. It does make the numbers seem less grotesque. But money is money: if he knows he’s going to be getting a certain amount in royalties, couldn’t he have his salary reduced, at least in these dire times? Or does the amount of royalties one receives year to year vary so widely and wildly that you can’t predict? I don’t want to vilify Martins for what he isn’t guilty of, but I am appalled by the numbers. However you earn it, $700,000 a year is way out of keeping with the mission of ballet–unless you’re doing the Baryshnikov thing of plowing it back into the company. And maybe Martins is, though my guess is, we’d have heard of it by now. Thanks again, for writing.

  7. says

    Salaries at nonprofits must be capped: say, at 10 times the wage of the lowliest broom-pusher, 5 times that of credentialed artists or scholars. Sound drastic? It’s about the ratio of the pay of a Supreme Court Justice to an entry-level public attorney or a judge, and there is no shortage of qualified people eager to serve on SCOTUS!
    Withdrawing the tax-exempt status from organizations that feed our metastasizing caste system– a system that is that is the nemesis of democracy and of the ideal of Art (and Medicine and Education) for Every Citizen– would have a salutary effect on us all.
    If the rich must have their luxury-level art, run by and staffed with members of their caste, who have acquired top-of-the-line 300k educations, let them support it with “real” dollars, commercially, not with tax exempt donations. The tax money that pours into the Treasury by ending the exemption could be earmarked to support arts education and access for all. And the non-celebrity artists who do the work, who gladly sacrifice all other concerns to be able to do it, would be treated more like colleagues than like expendable “help.”
    Nonprofit Boards should be required to have some Starving Artists and a few schoolteachers as members, not just well-connected people who know how to coax money out of the rich and powerful. It isn’t just government that should be of, by, and for the people rather than of, by, and for the rich.
    [Apollinaire responds]: Oh, thank you, G.L. Horton! I’m with you all the way–and it’s amazing to me that the model of non-profit would NOT be the one for every art, certainly for every form of dance. The way people in this discussion of Martins’ salary have equivocated makes me feel like an alien from outer space.
    Three cheers especially to this: “If the rich must have their luxury-level art….let them support it with “real” dollars, commercially, not with tax-exempt donations.”
    And, as my esteemed colleague C.L. Rocco, pointed out on some blog post ages ago (probably at, the large ballet companies get substantial government money–NYSCA and NEA funds–so all the more reason for them to curb top salaries. I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t want my taxes going to Peter Martins’ luxury lifestyle, I want it going into the ballets–more rehearsal time, more coaching, more opportunities for members of the corps to get a whirl at soloist roles, as outgoing dancer Sophie Flack ( bravely asked for (and never received).
    Thanks for writing.

  8. CB says

    you have not even included the income to Peter (and his family members) from the School of American Ballet. I bet that puts him close to $1 million total compensation.
    [Apollinaire responds]: No, not quite–not his income, anyway (and I think we should stick to his income and not lump his partner in with him). According to documents linked to in an earlier comment, he makes $82,000 as chairman of SAB.
    Thanks for writing!

  9. Waddy Thompson says

    The substantial NYSCA and NEA money you refer to is actually $200,000 from NYSCA last year and only $90,000 from NEA – not such huge sums considering the size of NYCB’s budget. (Look it up on their web sites – it’s public record.)
    Also– I assume the head of JP Morgan Chase also likes his job (well, maybe not so much these days), but we don’t expect him to work for free.
    Running a major nonprofit is not something just anyone can do and it’s only fair that they be compensated for their skills and dedication.
    If you want to look at salaries that will blow your mind, check out the 990 for Lincoln Center Inc on Guidestar. And how about the stagehands who make more than $400,000 at some of the big venues in NYC?
    I’m not saying that PM’s salary is too much or too little, but a lot goes into determining the amount and all of the arguments here lack the full context that the Board uses in determining compensation.
    [Apollinaire responds]:
    Hi, Waddy,
    It’s amazing how often the comparison to working for a bank crops up in this ballet debate. It’s uncanny. Speaking of context, I think that’s the wrong one. And it’s tautological to make the comparison: as soon as you do, then there’s no arguing, because of course compared to what one of the captains of the financial industry makes, $.75 million is peanuts. But why are we comparing a balletmaster to those captains? I’m not saying the job is any easier or harder than running a bank, I’m simply saying the rewards are–or ought to be–different.
    And of course all the arguments here “lack the full context.” On the other hand, I’m not sure we’d even agree on our contexts. That is, your context is leaning toward executive salaries, mine toward dance-world salaries at a moment when dancers are being laid off purportedly for purely financial reasons.
    And as for what stagehands make: it’s irrelevant. They’re not running the show, they’re just working for it. No one expects them to look out for anyone but themselves.
    But I agree with you on the public funding: not much given the size of the NYCB budget.
    Thanks for writing!

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