Ballet battle: Schools lock horns over ‘Nutcracker’

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By Jennifer Garcia

The Los Alamos Public Schools has found itself in the middle of some tricky situations before, but probably never like the position it found itself in Thursday night.

Board members, along with the attorney representing the district, John F. Kennedy of the Cuddy and McCarthy law firm based in Santa Fe, were caught in the middle of a lease dispute between two local dance schools, Dance Arts Los Alamos and New Mexico Dance Theater.

Each side appeared at the school board meeting with legal representation. Local attorney Lynn Finnegan represented DALA, while Roxie De Santiago of the Jones Firm, based in Santa Fe, represented NMDT.

At the center of the debate was whether NMDT would be allowed to perform the “Nutcracker” at the Duane Smith Auditorium during the holiday season. DALA signed a lease contract in April, securing its spot at Duane Smith for its holiday performance of the “Nutcracker.” However, DALA took issue that NMDT wanted to perform the same ballet around the same time.

Each side was allowed 10 minutes to present its side of the argument. While Finnegan argued the school board’s job was to implement the policies it has in place regarding performances at the auditorium, Clay Dillingham of NMDT argued that for DALA, the presentation was all about market target.

“DALA does not seem concerned about families and students, (they’re) more concerned about market targets,” he said. “We’re here because DALA is worried about market saturation and ticket sales. DALA is trying to use the school district to get a monopoly on their performance of the ‘Nutcracker.’”

Dillingham further pointed out that contrary to DALA’s claims, the “Nutcracker” performances are not identical and said the Duane Smith Auditorium is the only auditorium in town suitable for the “Nutcracker” performance.

“NMDT believes each school’s audience is distinct and will not affect another school,” he said.
In the spirit of fairness, LAPS Board Vice President Kevin Honnell brought up the point that DALA performs the “Nutcracker” every year, but NMDT has not had that opportunity.

“When’s it our turn?” Honnell asked, referring to NMDT.

Finnegan said DALA holds auditions for the “Nutcracker,” which would enable NMDT students to perform the ballet with DALA instead of NMDT. She said it’s not uncommon for students from both schools to cross over and perform with the other school.

“There are other opportunities,” she said of NMDT students. “Los Alamos is what it is, (it) can’t afford the opportunity for everyone for everything,” referring to the size of the community.

In an effort to find a resolution that would satisfy both parties, Board President Melanie McKinley asked Susan Baker-Dillingham of NMDT if the school would be willing to perform either before or after DALA. Baker-Dillingham nodded in agreement, but De Santiago responded on behalf of NMDT, saying they would be open to performing at a different time, so long as it was within the holiday season.

In her closing statement, Finnegan said that while both dance schools are respected and have families and kids that are wonderful, LAPS has to come to a decision as to how they will allow those that lease, to use their theater.

“Your policy says you have to look at the impact. If it’s the same type of performance in a short period of time, that’s your criteria,” she said. “You have a discretionary policy subject to this. This is not about finances, but will impact one user financially.”

She then proposed there be a 30-day window before and after DALA’s performance, which means that NMDT would have to perform either 30 days before or 30 days after DALA performs.

De Santiago disagreed, saying the board should exercise its discretion in favor of inclusion.

“The performance will not impact the sales of DALA. The board is here to protect the best interests of students.”

She further argued that the issue is one of freedom of expression and cited Wikipedia, off which she downloaded 24 descriptions of the “Nutcracker,” pointing out that they were all different.

Following further discussion, the board went into executive session with Kennedy for about an hour.

“This may be one of those times we resent being placed in a conflict that should have been resolved by adults,” McKinley said following the executive session.

The board decided that NMDT would be able to perform the “Nutcracker” at the Duane Smith Auditorium, however, the 30-day window rule would apply, meaning they would not be able to perform it during the holiday season.

LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt said if the two groups want to do the same show, there must be a 30-day gap between them.

“Next year, NMDT would have the right of choice to present to the district their ballet choice. And as long as that option is exercised before Jan. 31, 2012,” he said. “Both groups have an historical time. NMDT does their shows in November and DALA does theirs in December. There’s still some historical right to those dates.”

Schmidt also said the board is trying to exercise fairness.

“I hope they (the dance troupes) can submit proposals in the future that are in the spirit of community,” Schmidt said.

Warring ballet companies

It just makes me laugh! Only here in Los Alamos... We don't have gangs, but we DO have warring ballet companies!
As an elementary school counselor who has students who are members of both companies, I would enjoy seeing two different versions of Nutcracker during the holiday season and cheering for the performers in both.
It needs to be about the kids...
Jenn Neil