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Rockettes kick legs high without musicians, Christmas show goes on

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New York (dpa) - The Rockettes at New York's landmark Radio City Music Hall kicked their legs high for the opening of the traditional "Christmas Spectacular" with the help for the first time of a digital, pre-recorded score. The musicians were on strike.

The 35-piece orchestra went silent on Thursday when the theatre opened its extravagant holiday season. The musicians have been working without a contract since May.

Negotiations broke down on Wednesday and the Rockettes joined the musicians in walking out of a rehearsal. But the famed dancers returned on Thursday for the opening, performing with pre-recorded music.

News reports said Friday that the dispute between management and the musicians appeared murky, with the latter claiming that the hall's owners were offering a new two-year contract with salary hikes of 3 to 4 per cent a year. Management denied the offer had been accepted by the musicians' union.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told local media that he plans to urge the two sides to resolve their dispute.

"New York is about live music," Bloomberg told The New York Times. "Nobody suggests for a second that you would have the same quality performance if you just play a tape."

Two years ago, the same union, the American Federation of Musicians, briefly shut down shows on Broadway when they walked out of the jobs in a contract dispute.

Musicians at Radio City Hall are paid 3,000 dollars a week for a 10-week stint every year, with year-round health insurance.

Barry Watkins, a spokesman for Radio City Hall, said the musicians walked off the job and missed the required rehearsals.

But The Times quoted John Babich, a bass player, as saying that the union had accepted the offer, but nothing had been signed because "an unreasonable entity is trying to emasculate the orchestra" by refusing to let it play.

"It's a nice idea to come in and put on a tuxedo and say you want to go to work," said Watkins, referring to some musicians who showed up on Thursday for the opening with their instruments, wanting to play anyway.

Apparently the opening of the Christmas Spectacular was a full house and theatre-goers saw no difference between a live orchestra and the tape.

"It was really good, I didn't notice a difference at all," said Wendy Coulson, who took two daughters, 12 and 14, to the show after making the long trip to New York City from Pennsylvania.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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