Labor dispute means taped music for MDT 'Nutcracker'

Minnesota Dance Theatre, union musicians disagree on number of players.

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“Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy” by Minnesota Dance Theatre is performed at the Cowles Center.

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For just the second time in its 48-year history, one of the Twin Cities' most anticipated holiday shows will be performed to recorded music rather than a live orchestra.

"Loyce Houlton's Nutcracker Fantasy," Minnesota Dance Theatre's seasonal production at the Cowles Center, will use a taped score because MDT and the local musicians union failed to reach an agreement on the number of players needed.

The dance company offered part-time work for 23 musicians; the union negotiating committee voted that no fewer than 27 players would be needed to perform a score that composer Tchaikovsky originally intended for a full symphony.

Philip Brunelle, who has led the MDT's "Nutcracker" orchestra for the last 10 years, adapted a score for 23 musicians

"We gave an offer for 23 at a currently competitive rate that fit our budget," said Kristin Rotter, interim managing director of MDT, which, like most arts organizations, has had to trim costs. "They turned it down, and we had a deadline." She added that the pit could accommodate a few more than 23 players, but "it would be tight."

Union president Brad Eggen countered that MDT refused to meet with the committee.

"We were willing to present a proposal within their budget, but you can't negotiate if they won't meet," Eggen said. "I have musicians willing to work on the cheap, but it's got to be artistically satisfying, and no professional company has ever put this on with less than 29."

Rotter also said that while MDT used to perform its "Nutcracker" at the 2,181-seat State Theatre with 40-plus musicians, the Cowles Center's Goodale Theater has just under 500 seats, so a smaller orchestra would be more appropriate for the space. Last year, not long after the Cowles Center's opening, the "Nutcracker" was performed with taped music because the mechanical lift stage allowing for an orchestra pit was not yet completed.

Brunelle called the situation "very sad. There are always two sides to a story, and it is never one side totally right and one side totally wrong."

Margie Simon, a public relations consultant and longtime fan of MDT, said she wouldn't be buying "Nutcracker" tickets this year. "I love the ballet, but live music provides the difference between being entertained and being enthralled," she said.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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