The Rockettes, protesting plans to keep them off Radio City Music Hall's stage for the first summer in 54 years, collected hundreds of signatures Friday from New Yorkers who said they were defending the city's heritage.
The management of the Music Hall, however, said they doubted that Disney Productions, which has leased the theater for 10 weeks starting in June, would reverse a decision to exclude the 36 Rockettes from a stage show accompanying the summer premieres of two new movies.
For most of the hall's 54 years, the Rockettes danced the year round in shows combining stage performances and movie screenings. In recent years, the management of the money-losing Music Hall scaled back the shows to Christmas, Easter and summer specials. The Easter show was dropped three years ago, and this year, for the first time, the summer spectacle will be produced by an outsider, Disney.
The Rockettes picketed the Music Hall during a noontime snowfall and hundreds of passers-by stopped to sign their petitions.
A 13-year veteran of the Rockette chorus line, Eileen Collins, said the dancers "feel like management let us down. It's a progressive thing. They figure they couldn't get rid of us all at once, so they are doing it gradually."
The issue flared Thursday, after the Rockettes were told that Disney would not include them on stage in the summer show, at which it will premiere two movies, "Cauldron" and "Return to Oz."
"We are trying to give the audience a total Disney experience," said Erwin Okun, a Disney vice president, contacted by telephone at his Burbank, Calif., office.
The stage show will feature cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and performers from the organization's amusement parks in California and Florida, he said.
"I would like to re-emphasize that we made every effort in the creative process to include the Rockettes," Okun said. Without elaborating, he said Disney "will certainly consider" giving in to the Rockettes' demand to dance in the show.
Richard Evans, president and chief executive officer of Radio City Musical Hall Productions, denied that he planned to phase out the high-kicking chorus line, but said the Rockettes were being unreasonable.