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PAS DEDEUX : Intricate Dance by Joffrey Ballet and Music Center Keeps the Ballet Company in Residency Here


. . . They (the Joffrey Ballet) must come to grips with the question as to whether or not they can get their act together, and we must decide whether or not we feel the price for retaining the Joffrey is worth it to the Music Center and to the community.

--"The Beran Letter," March 21, 1986

Pretty strong language, that letter of Walter F. Beran, vice chairman of the accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney and head of a special Music Center task force on the Joffrey Ballet question, to F. Daniel Frost, chairman of the Music Center's board of governors.

The major concern about the Joffrey, which had established its "second home" at the Music Center in the summer of 1982 was not over art, but money. At the time of the Beran letter, the Joffrey was running up an accumulated debt approaching $1.1 million.

The letter stated the problem--"whether or not we wanted to continue the Joffrey in Los Angeles and under what conditions"--and sniped at founding artistic director Robert Joffrey, saying that "reasonable restraints" must be placed on the way he manages the company.

In other words, the Joffrey and Music Center might have had to split up.

Last June, in a letter to Frost, Joffrey board chairman David Murdock, chairman and chief executive officer of Pacific Holding Corp., urged the business and social community to "continue the life support" for the ballet company.

Although the Music Center did pump an extra $550,000 into the Joffrey's coffers, the solution was only temporary. And until two months ago, the relationship remained on shaky ground. Rumors about the departure of the Joffrey began to circulate.

Then on March 16--five days short of one year after the Beran Letter--the Music Center's Board of Governors sanctioned, as it has been dubbed, The New Agreement. Although awaiting official lawyer language, the agreement essentially provides:

A $1 million commitment to the Joffrey Ballet each year for three years, from July 1, the beginning of fiscal year 87-88, to June 30, 1990.

A minimum of six weeks of ballet a year at the Music Center with at least half the Joffrey premieres here.

Establishment of a Joffrey Ballet school and apprentice program in Los Angeles this fall.

A cosmetic change involving the name of the 30-year-old ballet company. It is now: The Joffrey Ballet NY/LA.

A revolving three-year contract where at the end of each fiscal year, each side looks at the status of the relationship, and decides whether or not to add another year to the back end of the agreement.

"It's (the agreement) a big turnaround from, 'Maybe we won't be here,' " said General Director Penelope Curry "to, 'We are here.' Now we just want to make it work. . . .

"I think it (continuing the relationship) was a big question on both sides," she added. "Could we afford to stay? Could we have dates? Was there room for us?"

Curry continued: "Ron Arnault (Arco senior vice president and chief financial officer) was the man Dan Frost appointed to solve the Joffrey problem, to talk to everyone and to find out what was needed. . . . We asked for a lot of things we didn't get, and at the same time we can't afford to say, 'Goodby folks.' "

Anthony Bliss, New York board chairman of the Joffrey, who for 30 years had been consecutively president, executive director and general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, pointed out that although the $1 million is $550,000 less than what the Joffrey is getting from the Music Center this year, it was better than having to go out and raise $1.5 million" by saying 'no' to the Music Center. He believes the agreement "provides a stability of financial support."

From his office on the 50th floor of the Arco building downtown, Arnault noted: "It was appropriate to redefine certain relationships between the Music Center and the Joffrey in light of the first several years of working together."

What helped pave the way for the Joffrey-Music Center agreement were key management changes on both coasts. In New York, Curry, who been at the Joffrey since 1970, was named general director, and in Los Angeles, Patricia (Patti) Skouras became vice chairman of the Los Angeles board. They quickly formed a close working alliance.

What also helped was that with key fund-raising by both boards the Joffrey's accumulated debt by the end of the last fiscal year decreased from $1.1 million to $670,000.

Curry jokes that when the Joffrey first came to Los Angeles "some people didn't even know what the Joffrey was. Was it a car dealership?" At first, money did not appear to be a central concern. In each fiscal year until the special $550,000 increment this year, the Joffrey received $1 million.

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