"We're in attack mode here," said Cynthia Anderson on Aug. 5. If Anderson, an oboist and chair of the Pittsburgh Opera and Ballet Orchestra Committee, sounded at odds with the genteel high-arts world in which she performs, she has a good excuse. Four days earlier, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre had announced that as a thrift measure it would use only pre-recorded music for all performances in the coming season. That leaves 40-some musicians out of a job, and Anderson and others charging that the ballet was killing itself to survive.
"Supporting the ballet is important, but they need to save the ballet as it existed," says Anderson.
The PBT had struggled in recent years to stay solvent; the musicians, represented by Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians, had taken two pay cuts since 2001. But though the PBT says it finished its 2004-05 season slightly in the black, negotiations with the musicians on a contract that expired June 30, and in which the PBT sought further pay cuts, had amounted to one meeting, back in May. And now the PBT says using canned music will save it about $550,000, helping pare its budget by $1 million, to $6.4 million.
"This was an extremely difficult decision to make," said PBT Board of Trustees Chair Jeanne Gleason in an Aug. 1 release. "There is no question that our orchestra enhances the performance experience; however, as PBT's mission statement clearly expresses, our top priority is to present world-class ballet to Pittsburgh audiences."
"Jeanne Gleason's comments are insulting to the orchestra, it's insulting to dancers, it's insulting to the public," says Anderson. While other ballet companies, including Miami's and Tulsa's, have used prerecorded music, Anderson contends the move could make the PBT a "third-rate" ballet. "This is the living theater," she says. "This is not a video that can be played over and over again."
While a statement by the ballet says it is continuing contract negotiations, Anderson says the musicians consider the move to recordings a lockout. On Aug. 4, the union announced plans to file charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.
Meanwhile, the musicians are trying to rally subscribers and other dance aficionados to their cause, pressuring the PBT to restore live music. On Aug. 5, PBT spokesperson Catherine Brandt said that the group had gotten "both positive and negative feedback" on the decision, but "very few cancellations." The new season begins Oct. 6 with a production of Carmen.
"The public should not swallow this," says Anderson. "That's just the beginning of the complacency that allows an institution like this to die."