What Is the Real Mission of the Boston Ballet Company? Should the Current Mission Statement Be Rewritten? Plus - Notes by Cecily

I am a ballet afficionado, though never a ballet performer. I am simply a Ballet Dad and Husband, and a physicist, (Ph.D. from M.I.T.) with clearly defined and cultivated Ballet tastes and lots of enthusiasm. I'm really writing this to clarify some of my thoughts in my own mind. I would like to hear other reactions, in addition to my internal debate and struggle to understand. I hope I won't bore you too much. Here goes. In the course of researching mission statements, and checking the news, I looked at Boston Ballet Company's mission statement, of which there are two versions.

Here's an abbreviated "Mission of the Boston Ballet" taken from the website of The Charity Navigator, Your Guide to Intelligent Giving

"Boston Ballet, founded in 1963 by E. Virginia Williams, was the first professional repertory ballet company in New England. Our mission is to bring new levels of excellence to ballet - both on and off stage. We will accomplish this through a process that is inclusive in scope, educational, and creative. Inherent in this mission are several tensions: taking artistic risks while not leaving our audience behind, managing for financial stability while allowing for artistic experimentation, being sensitive to the community while recognizing that ballet is not a mass art form. Through this mission we will significantly advance ballet as an art form, enrich the cultural life of our community, and create a heightened sense of excitement and reward for those who join us."

I came across this specifically while checking for the latest Boston Ballet news after a long hiatus. I suspect it's just me, but this sounds rather defensive. It sounds weak and doesn't inspire me. That is sad. I loved the Boston Ballet Company when we left Massachusetts in 2000. We still miss Saturday nights at the ballet in Boston.

Perhaps I shouldn't have taken an abbreviated blurb on a charity website seriously. The full mission statement appears on the Boston Ballet website. In addition, I've added the text below for your convenience.

An aside - Before we discuss the full mission statement however, there is something I just noticed about the web page that makes me wonder. The defining part of the url, or web address of the page presenting the mission statement is "bostonballet.org/about/missionfinancials/default.html" There is no obvious reason to lump Mission together with Financials is there?. These things are meant to not be taken together. Is it a Freudian slip? Unless it's just the harmless recognition on the part of the departing General Manager, Valerie Wilder, that so much of her job was focused on raising funds and dealing with emergencies, the mission fell by the wayside...

I do see a macabre humor in the juxtaposition of "financials" and "default."

Now back to our subject. Unfortunately, I don't detect any excitement in "Boston Ballet's Mission." That is a mission statement's major function... to excite us, to focus us on our objectives, and to motivate us to be part of a wonderful endeavor. We need to know it will be extremely gratifying. We will go to the balletic moon. Think of how exciting that will be, and every step along the way.

Where is Bruce Marks? Bruce, where are you? (Cecily notes: Bruce Marks is currently affiliated with Orlando Ballet, stepping in so wonderfully when beloved superstar Fernando Bujones died abruptly, with so little warning and such overwhelming sadness for all who loved him and his beautiful dancing. Thank you, Bruce.)

Please take three or four minutes and read the full Mission Statement starting a few paragraphs further on... Please take a look at the very first sentence, which is the highest key point of the defined mission. "Boston Ballet's mission is to bring new levels of excellence to ballet -- both on and offstage." Ta Da...

What does it actually mean? Is there a definition of these excellence levels? By "onstage and off," I think they mean on stage and in class. But the core point concerns "levels of excellence." Are there extant examples, or have these undefined levels not yet been achieved? ( Note added on August 14th - It says "new levels," so I imagine they have not been achieved. But we still need some more definition to work with.)

In this paragraph, I pull from a variety of disciplines, in engineering, dance, and athletics, I haven't gone back to refine it and clean it up. I do hope you get the general idea. If not let me know... I could understand that if we had said, years ago, that just tackling going to the moon defines a level of excellence never before achieved. That level is a sum of human cultural, social and personal levels, not achieved previously outside of war, that requires courage, fortitude, and single mindedness. It also requires new designs (choreography?), inventions (sonics and choreography?), techniques, such as redefining how to approach the bar in the high hurdles, or the high jump, in field and track, and skills development. Then, actually mastering esoteric existing technology and combining them to pl;ay together like choreography. Followed by inventing, designing, developing, and assembling the components. This may necessitate using new advances in microprocessors for the moon shot; or sound generation, synthesizing, and reproduction, plus bungie cords, and six million dollar gal and guy prosthetics for the ballet. Yes, far fetched as these are, they would definitely be new levels of excellence never seen before. I'm not recommending those things, just fathoming what the sentence might mean.

Or do we just mean, continuing what has already been done, bringing talented dancers from every region of this country, and every other country, to the BB so the Boston Ballet becomes homogeneous International Ballet Company Number 22. That whole last sentence is a Cecily thought that I have internalized. It just happens to be in Boston. If so, that's just assembling a team, not addressing or defining a mission...

We still need a solid repertoire, exciting sets, such as the old Romeo and Juliet sets, that were so gorgeous.

(Cecily making a note for you here: Chic is talking about the sets produced by Alain Vaes (husband of Marie Christine Mouis AND I am sure I have the spellings wrong) for the Choo San Gho "Romeo and Juliet" - done on Deirdre Miles and Devon Carney in the late 1980s (I think . Need to check fact.). The sets were the best I've ever seen. Ever. Absolutely stunning. With perspective, richness, and magnificent attention to detail. The audience collectively gasped in wonder when the curtains were opened. Marvelous. Just a thought from Moi to whomever may be listening-- Compare the most gorgeous sets imaginable with the bizarre sets and costumes which Peter Martins approved for his own NYCB Romeo and Juliet I saw last summer in Saratoga. The dancers were wonderful. The music, Prokofiev - sublime. How any choreographer could sabotage their own work with such inappropriate and cheesy sets is beyond my understanding. The choreography was lovely, but who could tell? The costumes were so loud, so wrong for the period and this ballet production, the dancers so clearly working overtime to compensate for the ridiculous visuals. My advice. Try the exact same choreography again with some decent costumes and sets. In fact, if anyone at NYCB is smart they'll borrow and/or adapt the Alain Vaes existing production. You will have a blockbuster on your hands! People will be all over themselves to get tickets especially if Daniel Ulbricht (sp?) is cast again and Jock Soto comes in for a guest appearance. It is an insult to the ticket buying ballet public to put such obvious junk on a stage with such classy dancers. Peter Martins, you should be ashamed of yourself. But, I digress. Back to Chic's unexpected (by me) and oddly, delightfully relevant rant.)

And, we also need very exciting, new choreography that is very very theatrical. Choreography with highs, like Cecily's (blush), and Norman Walker's Choreography in Arizona Ballet Theatre's "Classics 2008" and like the excellent, demanding, and exciting piece by Peter Martins for the New York City Ballet, that Cecily, our Ballet Dancer Daughter, Rachel Eisen, Son Raf, and I were fortunate to see in July of 2006 in Saratoga Springs.

(Cecily again. We saw a Neo-Classical piece more than once which featured bright costumes, I think straight unitards for the women in variegated shades of reds, roses, and the like. I remember that the boys had sleeveless t-shirt type tops and, Charles Askegards (sp?) top got completely soaked with sweat which only made it stand out and not in a good way. Again, I digress. Everyone's a critic, especially me when it comes to my passion, ballet. I have a right. And, lately, I have been watching an "Emperor's New Clothes" scenario playing out in ballet. Someone has to state the obvious which any child could see. Some of the most influential people in ballet are making artistic choices that are patently inauthentic. Art has to be authentic or else it isn't art.)

Back to Chic again... Certainly the Radio City Rockettes are theatrical. That piece by Martins would give them a run for their money and might embarrass the Wang Center. Sorry, the Citi/Wang Center. Citigroup is not good for this country at all, is it? Here's my analysis "Estimating the Risk in Citigroup Stock and Bonds". Yahoo Financial's Mick Weinstein listed my article in The Week's Best Stock Blogs that he posted on Friday, January 18, 2008. An Wang, for whom I have the highest respect for his inventiveness in the first electronic calculator, (I think he used nixie tubes) and for his philanthropy, must also be a bit unhappy.

But, I digress. Also, I am jumping ahead a bit, since I know the Rockettes are a $1.5 million part of our competition in the "mass market" alluded to later in the mission statement "recognizing that ballet is not a mass art form." Alluding to a problem is not the mission, solving that problem is the mission. The moon is far away. Earth's gravity is strong. What kind of a mission statement is that?

Perhaps the first sentence of the mission should be something like: Boston Ballet's mission is to create and sustain a level of theatrical excellence in the ballet and theatre arts that guarantees packed houses year round. Now that's a mission statement that is real... and meaningful... and it is really exciting. And, let's face it, if you can do that, you will have everything else. And, if you cannot do that, bye bye BB.

The last sentence of the abbreviated version and of the the full version of the mission statement are the same. And, they are, or it is, quite good. It could be a decent first sentence, but a better second sentence. Just cut out their first one, modify it a bit, and move up from last to second position. So, what have we got so far? How about...

Boston Ballet's mission is to create and sustain a level of theatrical excellence and excitement in the ballet and theatre arts that guarantees packed houses year round. Through this mission we will significantly advance ballet as an art form, enrich the cultural life of our community, and create a heightened sense of excitement and reward for all who join us. An integral part of this mission is to preserve ballet's rich legacy, by creating ballets that are so visually and sonically brilliant, and so emotionally rich, that they become a vibrant living art form embraced by the entire community.

Oh, I couldn't resist adding a third sentence. It's a reasonably good first cut. it's a start. It definitely can be improved further, but at least we know what our mission is, how it relates to our community and continuity, and how it sets us apart from the crowd, i.e., how it makes us outstanding. And it is exciting, to me at least. What do you think?

Oh, yes, they want something about the school, but that's a separate thought process. I don't have a feel for their approach to that. If you love the Boston Ballet, please feel free to jump in with your ideas.

Perhaps we could add... In accordance with our intention to promote Boston as a prime, world class, outstanding cultural center of excellence in the theatrical arts; we will guarantee Boston talent a first rate ballet and modern dance (Twyla homage) education and first preference for Company slots. Diversity is fine, Boston diversity, e.g., Tony Williams, is finest. Tony has something like 17 performances of Nutcracker! Hello Boston Ballet. We love you, let's talk.

I haven't seen the Rockettes in quite awhile. I seem to recall them being lots of fun, chorus line oriented, and not a match for the performances we loved at the Wang Center, or those of NYCB at Saratoga Springs. Boston Ballet can easily give NYCB a run for the money, and certainly the Rockettes. To do so requires a change in approach, lots and lots of first rate, exciting choreography with lots of highs.

And, the news media must be brought on board. Let's do it. Let's make it part of our mission!!!

I am too tired to continue. Sorry I haven't edited or even proof read. I was never a ballet performer. I am simply a Ballet Dad and Husband, with clearly defined and cultivated Ballet tastes and lots of enthusiasm. I hope I haven't bored you too too much.

Chic Bressel, Cecily's Husband. I do hope I haven't embarrassed her too much. (Cecily again with a little thought about what Chic is saying. It is a little random, and after 25 years, I am used to it. I like to hear what true lovers of ballet have to say. One thing is positively definite. Chic loves the Boston Ballet ( especially Larissa Ponomorenko, I might add,) AND clearly does not like what he is able to see, using the very powerful tools he has available to him here in Tucson.) Think about it. In cyberspace, Boston Ballet is losing ground...

Boston Ballet's Mission Statement

Boston Ballet's mission is to bring new levels of excellence to ballet -- both on and offstage. We will accomplish this through a process that is inclusive in scope, educational, and creative.

Inclusion means making ballet accessible and meaningful to broader segments of our community by:

  • Expanding the relevance of ballet to the community -- by presenting works that reflect timeless emotions and timely concerns
  • Demonstrating strong commitment to diversity among our audience, students, artists, and staff
  • Including our traditional audience as well as working to develop new audiences

Education means a dedication to continual enrichment and development of all our constituencies by:

  • Illuminating the technical and artistic elements of dance, music, and the related theater arts
  • Teaching ballet technique and related arts to students, ensuring a broad understanding of each
  • Developing a new generation of artists and continuing to expand the horizons of current professional dancers and staff
  • Relating the dance heritage of the past to the contemporary work of today

Creativity means developing new works and approaches to the art of ballet while preserving ballet's rich legacy. We intend to accomplish this by:

  • Examining and presenting the art form in new ways in the context of what has come before
  • Creating new works: allowing new choreographic voices to be heard
  • Fostering and promoting individual expression in all of us

Inherent in this mission are several tensions: taking artistic risks while not leaving our audience behind, managing for financial stability while allowing for artistic experimentation, being sensitive to the community while  recognizing that ballet is not a mass art form. Meeting the challenges of these tensions has contributed to our success.

Through this mission we will significantly advance ballet as an art form, enrich the cultural life of our community, and create a heightened sense of excitement and reward for those who join us.

Come Dance with Us!