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Joffrey dancers face lockout, part of season canceled after union talks fail

Updated: July 4, 2011 2:31AM

Joffrey Ballet dancers will be locked out and the first part of the company’s season has been canceled because their union has failed to agree on a new contract, according to a letter sent by the ballet company to its dancers.

The old contract with the American Guild of Musical Artists expired midnight Thursday, and the Ballet company sent the letter on Friday.

“We have, with great reluctance, been forced to cancel the beginning of our 2011-2012 Season,” the letter stated. “Without any agreement with your Union, we simply cannot consider going forward with our season under the cloud of a lingering threat that, at any time, AGMA could shut it down with a strike.”

Dancers must clean out their lockers and turn in their keys by this Thursday, according to the letter, signed by chairman of the board Jason Tyler and executive director Christopher Conway.

The letter was not clear as to what exactly was being canceled and Joffrey officials could not be reached.

The company has scheduled performances in late August at the Blossom Festival in Cleveland and the Chicago Dance Festival at Millennium Park. Its regular subscription season begins Oct. 12, with performances of “Don Quixote.” The company was still selling full subscriptions on its website Sunday.

Featured dancer Fabrice Calmels downplayed the letter, saying that the Joffrey was “doing what it legally needs to do,” and that dancers had no plans to “do anything stupid like go out on strike.”

Calmels said the dancers just needed an extension for further talks. “Both sides need to make a rational decision that will involve some compromise,” he said. The letter was critical of the dancers’ union, saying it had not responded to a final proposal that included salary increases for each year of a five-year deal. The sticking point for the union, according to the letter, was an increase of rehearsal time from five hours a day to six hours.

Union officials could not be reached, but Calmels said the past season had been extremely busy and difficult, leaving dancers with little time to negotiate.

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