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Levine returns, the Met abolishes its ballet

Conspiracy theories are flourishing in New York – and in our mailbox – about James Levine’s resumption of his duties as music director and the decision this week to scrap the last few dancers on the Metropolitan Opera payroll.

The two are unconnected. Levine, as music director, limits his responsibilities strictly to repertoire, casting and orchestra. He has made life fairly easy for Joseph Volpe and Peter Gelb, at the top of the organisation.



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  1. Daniel Farber says:

    There’s no story here. The story consists in Levine’s remarkable and courageous and, if we can trust the audience and the critics, successful return to the podium in Carnegie Hall.

  2. There is neither a story nor conspiracy here. This article makes clear that it is a Gelb decision and it was made years ago. The corps was reduced to only 8 dancers in 2011 and is now defunct.

    “The current guild contract, in effect since the 2011-12 season, allowed the Met to reduce its ballet company gradually, from 16 to 8 this year, while giving the remaining dancers the option to take a buyout. Ms. Allton-Maher said that all eight had agreed to accept the package.”

  3. Angela Cockburn says:

    That’ll last until directors discover that singers and super-numeraries can’t dance, and the board discovers that contract dancers are more expensive than a corps on salary. Two to three years, maybe.

  4. It is a shame that the economics has forced the Met to cut the corps. The ballet company did have a storied history of its own, though the way the NY Times article put it was: “[t]he dispersal of the dancers does away with a longstanding tradition, although the Met was able to provide few details of the ballet troupe’s early history.”

    According to the NYC Ballet’s website, it was the Metropolitan Opera’s official company for three years prior to WWII. (See: ) I believe, however, that the Metropolitan Opera Ballet was originally established in 1950 as a cooperative with Ballet Theatre (later ABT) with Anthony Tudor as its director, where he remained until 1963, while also teaching at Juilliard. During that time, Tudor choreographed a number of ballets to opera, and was joined by the great teacher, Margaret Craske, who served as ballet mistress to the company (She was an important proponent of the Cecchetti method, which had been adopted by the Royal Ballet and, also in a form modified by Vaganova, by the Kirov, and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet itself produced some fine dancers.) So, there is an interesting tapestry of which the MOB was a part.

    It is troubling, however that the Met has given such short shrift to it all, though I suppose it is easier to terminate something without opposition if the history is buried, so no one can attribute any significance to it, and later resuscitate its memory and history when it is useful to do so.

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