This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The rift is deepening between Ballet West and its former artistic director, Jonas Kåge, who was fired in April. Kåge's attorney Eric Strindberg said Wednesday that negotiations over Kåge's severance package have broken down, and that Kåge is planning to sue Ballet West for breach of contract.
When Kåge's departure was announced on April 26, Ballet West said he was leaving voluntarily. On May 18, Kåge revealed that he was given a choice between resignation or termination of his contract, which expires in May 2007.
A dispute over Kåge's severance package led to mediation, using the services of Salt Lake City mediation attorney Karin Hobbs. But after Strindberg received no reply to a settlement offer he made June 5, he concluded the negotiations were over.
Ballet West attorney James Lowrie said he and Ballet West officials signed a confidentiality agreement regarding the mediation, and will not comment.
Hobbs also declined to give specifics about the Ballet West-Kåge mediation, except to say that "confidentiality is an important part of the process."
Ballet West's continued silence about Kåge's termination has raised many questions. Wednesday, Kåge provided a few answers.
At the April meeting with outgoing Ballet West board chair Carol Carter and incoming chair Dan Miller, Kåge was informed that negative results of staff evaluation amounted to a vote of no confidence. Then, he was shown two news releases - one saying he was leaving to pursue other opportunities, the other announcing that his contract was being terminated.
The second document said the Ballet West board felt it necessary to seek a new leader who will "energize an appreciation for ballet in our community." It said the company "has suffered in recent years from declining revenues, increasing costs and attrition among many of its principal dancers."
A clause in Kåge's contract says that if his duties are not performed to the reasonable satisfaction of Ballet West, he can be fired with four weeks notice or four weeks pay.
When Kåge's contract was terminated, Ballet West offered him 90 days salary. But Strindberg believes the company is obligated to pay Kåge for the remaining year of his contract.
"Reasonable" is the key word, Strindberg said. "The contract doesn't require perfection. Could he improve? Undoubtedly. But that's not the legal case we are dealing with."
Strindberg said the offer he sent to Ballet West last week included a compromise on the amount of salary owed and permission for Ballet West to use Kåge's choreography for productions of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Giselle" next season.
Ballet West dancers are prohibited from speaking to news media by contract obligations. But Jeff Rogers, a former principal dancer with the company whose contract was not renewed by Kåge in 2002, said Wednesday that dancers had concerns about Kåge's leadership. He had difficulty communicating with dancers, and was inconsistent in the way he treated them, Rogers said. Last-minute casting changes caused dismay in the company, as did intrusions by Kåge's wife, former ballerina Deborah Dobson.
Rogers' greatest concern was that Kåge didn't understand or respect the Utah audience. Kåge's programming misfires and condescending attitude contributed to Ballet West's financial trouble, Rogers said.
"Just because someone's artistic viewpoint doesn't agree with what you are giving them, it doesn't mean they need educating," Rogers said. "That's a big turn-off. You can't shove things down the public's throat. After awhile, if they repeatedly don't like what they see, they won't show up."