One of George Balanchine’s former ballerinas has filed legal action contending that the choreographer’s legacy is in jeopardy.
Susan Gluck, a trustee of the George Balanchine Trust, which administers the rights to perform Balanchine’s ballets, filed a 136-page petition Thursday in the surrogate court of the state of New York seeking a full accounting of the financial management of the trust. Gluck was a member of New York City Ballet, the renowned company that Balanchine founded, from 1978 to 1986.
Her petition landed on the same day that New York City Ballet made its long-awaited announcement that Jonathan Stafford would be its new artistic director, with former ballerina Wendy Whelan taking on the new position of associate artistic director.
Balanchine’s longtime secretary, Barbara Horgan, established the Balanchine Trust after the choreographer died in 1983, as the repository of the rights to his more than 100 ballets. Horgan is a target of Gluck’s petition, which charges that actions taken by Horgan and other trustees “threaten to tarnish Mr. Balanchine’s legacy.”
The trust, which Horgan set up in 1987, is the treasury of one of the world’s greatest collections of masterpieces, among them the mysterious, romantic (and heavily licensed) ballet “Serenade,” the spare, sharp-edged “The Four Temperaments” and Balanchine’s highly popular version of “The Nutcracker.”
In his will, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, Balanchine parceled out the rights to his ballets among many dancers and friends. These beneficiaries include Horgan, choreographer Jerome Robbins and ballerinas Karin von Aroldingen, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Patricia McBride and Suzanne Farrell. Balanchine didn’t seem to want any single power over his works. For unknown reasons, he left none of his dances to NYCB.
Gluck alleges in her petition that “over the span of 20 years, Horgan has leveraged the trust to consolidate her power over Mr. Balanchine’s works and maximize her income to the detriment of other trust beneficiaries.” Gluck further accuses Horgan of crafting “a web of partnerships” that led to more income than she was entitled to.
Neither Horgan nor anyone at the trust office immediately returned calls and messages seeking comment.
Versatile and prolific, Balanchine modernized ballet, and his works are in high demand by ballet companies around the world. He created so many vastly different ballets that companies from Russia’s Bolshoi to regional troupes such as the Washington Ballet and college dance programs can find a piece that suits them. They all have to ask the Balanchine Trust for permission and licenses to dance his works. Licensing fees are then parceled out to the various beneficiaries in Balanchine’s will, or their heirs.
In his will, Balanchine was especially mindful of his last wife, Le Clercq, from whom he was divorced. A star ballerina who was stricken with polio and paralyzed in her 20s, she used a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Balanchine left her the U.S. rights for most of his ballets, including the lucrative “Nutcracker,” providing an income stream from licenses to American troupes. NYCB is the biggest of these, since Balanchine’s ballets form its core repertoire. Le Clercq, who died in 2000 and had no children, left these ballet rights to several friends who helped care for her over the years.
This is the core of Gluck’s concern, Gluck said in an interview Thursday — that the money is not being properly paid to all the beneficiaries. She says the trust’s practices may be causing the beneficiaries to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, and maybe more.
“We have a duty of loyalty to the beneficiaries,” said Gluck, who added that she is not a beneficiary and has no financial stake in the trust. “Balanchine gave his ballets to certain people, and those people trusted us to oversee them. I care that the beneficiaries are treated fairly and impartially, and we can’t do that without this financial information.
“It’s not an unusual thing to ask for,” she added. “As a trustee I have a right to a full accounting and access to the ledgers.”
Gluck said that she asked to see the trust’s ledgers more than a year ago and put requests in writing but her efforts were denied or ignored.
“If you have a body of work that’s exceptional and really important, you want to make sure it’s being managed properly and in good faith and that no one is taken advantage of,” she said. “Let’s make sure it’s being managed in the utmost high-quality fashion, because it’s such an important part of the artistic history of this art form and of the country.”
Peggy McGlone contributed to this story.