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Forsythe to step down


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#16 Jane Simpson

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Posted 28 August 2002 - 12:52 AM

According to a poster on ballet.co, a Frankfurt newspaper states today that funding for the Ballett Frankfurt is to be cut by 80%. The paper also speculates that Forsythe will return to New York to develop video work.

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 28 August 2002 - 05:57 AM

Thank you for that, Jane. The huge funding cut fits with the reports a few months ago that the company was in trouble financially. And doing video work fits, too, because that's as independent as a choreographer can get. He doesn't have to worry about pleasing a board, nor a general audience.

#18 diane

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Posted 29 August 2002 - 10:47 AM

We live in Germany, in the general area of Frankfurt.
There are indeed quite a number of dance companies around; each city seems to have their own.
In the Rhein Main area (including Frankfurt, Mainz, Wiesbaden, Darmstadt, Giessen.... I think those are the nearest ones with city theatres....) there is only ONE which has a classical ballet company.
It is not Frankfurt.
As far as I can tell, all of the others are more - or -less modern/ Tanztheater. (dance theatre trying to be
like Pina Bausch)
Mainz does some classical, but not the big story ballets so well liked by a lot of the populace.
- Please correct me if I am wrong, someone! -

Someone mentioned recently that it is nice to have a choice; to be able to see many different things.

I love to see modern-dance and Tanztheater now and then.
I also love to see neo-classical works and a well danced Coppelia, for example, is a delight.

The problem here is that there are so many tiny companies who can do naught but dance-theatre or some other sort of modern-dance works, for their companies seldom have more than eight dancers. (cut-backs in budgets)
So, the public - or a lot of the public - get a bit tired of one obscure piece after another, and would sometimes really like to see a real, old-fashioned story ballet with the stirring music and the fantasy.

As to touring groups: no, there are not that many, and if they do come through, they are usually in some big hall and not in the theatres which are more in the centers of the towns.

I guess it mostly boils down to: money.
The cities and states have to save money.
They cut back where they feel they will encounter the least resistence.

Too bad for Forsythe, though I am sure he will get enough work.
Perhaps it is not the worst for Frankfurt, though.
Unless the city uses this as an excuse to cut the ballet company into tiny pieces and then get rid of it altogether.
That would indeed be tragic.

-diane-

#19 Alexandra

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Posted 29 August 2002 - 12:09 PM

Thank you very much for that perspective, Diane. I think that one of the main reasons for the move to contemporary dance companies and away from classical ballet is expense: the expense of training and the cost of toe shoes for one thing, as well as the need for live music and a much larger company, to be able to do Swan Lake. And I can very much understand the point that every city doesn't need to have its own company doing Swan Lake (and the like) -- but I can also see the point that an audience needs variety.

Could you tell us, from the German perspective, how this (the Forsythe issue) is being received there? By the general public as well as by dance fans? My understanding is that Forsythe is very respected in Europe (probably more than he is in Ameica). I don't know whether that means he's popular, but I know the Frankfurt Ballet tours a lot. There's the view that having a company that is so well-regarded is important to the city, and that the city has a responsibility to support it. Could you (or anyone, of course) comment on that?

#20 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 30 August 2002 - 07:05 PM

As one who has visited the German scene as an academic (I once helped run an educational exchange program) and a dance buff, I am grateful for Diane's comment. For reasons both cultural and historical, every German town feels obliged to have its signature arts institution. Don't forget that the modern German state emerged from a mass of duchies and city-states, each of which still has its collective ego.

In this context, it is not unsurprising for Frankfurt, a city that resents the treatment it has received from the country at large (the unquestioned financial and transportation center of the country, it lacks both political clout and cultural prestige) to endorse an international artist of Forsythe's stature.

Now comes the political dimension, mentioned in Forsythe's letter but overlooked by other commentators. Some 80% of the Forsythe's company's budget came from the taxpayers of Frankfurt. (As a matter of contrast, the New York City Ballet gets a bit more than 10% of its budget from the taxpayers of New York City and New York State.) In short, the life of the company depends on money voted by representatives of the people of Frankfurt, most of whom are mid-level executives of banking corporations. If they've tired of Forsythe, the money will shrink. Frankfurt has never been governed by a prince, but by an elected council, so Forsythe is in a bad situation if he's lost public support.

When it comes to American choreographers seeking "freedom" in Europe, the poster boy is Mark Morris, who agreed to succeed Maurice Bejart in Brussels. Funds flowed, the company grew, and his first major work in the new house -- "L'allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato," to Handel -- was a great hit. Management made no effort to limit his work, but disillusion soon set in. The city is very conservative and very Catholic and the critic for its biggest newspaper (Le Soir) attacked Morris (openly gay and agnostic) for his lack of traditional values. Morris left at the end of his contract and settled in Brooklyn, just down the street from my apartment.

Forsythe faced a much more cosmopolitan city, but the political concerns were similar. When money is tight, how much do you give to dancers and how much to the police? The Mayor does not want to be seen as a barbarian, but she does have to balance the budget. The question is unknown in America but common in Germany.

As for the actual Forsythe statement, which was extensively quoted in today's New York Times, I suspect that we are seeing an inept translation from the incredibly stuffy language of the city's largest newspaper, Die Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, which either received a (bad) translation from the Ballet's press office or (more likely) prepared its own ponderous text from an English-language letter written by Forsythe. As several contributors have noted, good English is widely spoken in a city adjacent to the largest US military base in Europe.

In any event, Forsythe may yearn for the freedom (artistic, though not financial) of an independent American choreographer, as opposed to the freedom (economic but not artistic) he has enjoyed in Europe.

What will become of his work? This is hard to say. The recent prolonged dispute over the Martha Graham copyrights (a court battle that still continues, though the dancers have won most of the battles) shows how complicated these question can be. Maybe Forsythe wants to see his die simply to avoid this sort of tawdry side show!

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 30 August 2002 - 07:26 PM

I received the statement itself, via email, from Forsythe's personal assistant at Ballet Frankfurt and that is what is quoted at the top of the thread. I could be wrong, but I really think it was never translated, rather it was written in English by Forsythe himself.

#22 diane

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Posted 30 August 2002 - 09:07 PM

There has not yet been, as far as I have seen, a huge amout of coverage in the press over here on this.
There are a few commentaries; usually to the tune of what we have seen so far. ("how could Frankfurt sacrifice this choreographer, how can Frankfurt expect to be a world city now?", etc.)
In the dance community here it appears to be seen as a tragedy that Forsythe should be leaving.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen more of his work. (Being out-of-town, it is not easy to get there when the company is in town, which is not all that often. They tour a lot; mainly in other European countries.)

Frankfurt, being a medium-sized city (not even 700,000 people) cannot fill that many performances of anything which is not popular to a large audience. That is undoubtedly a reason for the tours. As you may know, Frankfurt is not the capital city of Hesse, so the theatre must be funded nearly entirely by the city, and not the state.

Ah, yes, it is true: It would be wonderful if cities put their priorities more on the arts.
In the olden days, that seemed to be the case, at least in many German cities.
It is becoming harder and harder to live from this type of work. (I danced professionally, my husband works in the theatre, and we feel the pinch.)

This is rather complicated, and I do not know all the ins-and-outs; but it appears that the taxation in Germany of firms and such has changed over the years.

(I think Morris Neighbor went into this somewhat above, so just ignore me if I repeat; I had written this earlier before I logged on)

Some of this revenue has been re-directed to the federal govt., instead of to the city governments as in the past. The federal govt. decides what to do with the money; the cities are going broke. Literally.
(It has been speculated that this is on purpose; to take away the sovereignity of the cities. Hmmm.)
Some big manufacturing companies, which contributed so nicely in times past to the tax-income of the cities, have downsized considerably; some others have gone bankrupt or left the city/country for areas of cheaper-labor. (sound familiar?)
So, the tax revenue which used to be available to the communities - to fund their schools and cultural centres, for example- is just not there.

Politically, schools and things like garbage-collection and police-protection have more clout than do the arts.

Therefore, it appears that politicians can demand these "sacrifices" (cut-backs in the arts), which may well have quite different motives as well. (In the case of Forsythe, there may indeed be other motives, of which I am only vaguely aware. However, I do not think that he ever did anything which was really "obnoxious" or "disturbing" for the audience. Perhaps a bit obscure... but that is usually not a reason to cut support.)

I am pretty sure that many politicians never go to the theatre or dance performances.
They _are_ interested in being popular, though. (gotta win that next election!)
Now they appear to be trying to please a different audience than the one which goes to see Forsythe's works.

-diane-

#23 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 02 September 2002 - 08:50 PM

Diane raises a lot of important questions.

I know from my contacts in Frankfurt that the city has many resentments. For instance, before World War II, it was an independent city-state, like Hamburg and Berlin. It even refused to stage a parade for Hitler unless his handlers paid all the expenses.(They refused.)After the war, it expected the same status, but the allied forces, dominated by the US, saw only the massive destruction of the war (inflected by allied forces, led by the US) and chose to make it part of the state of Hesse. Even worse, they chose to place the state capital in the minor spa town of Wiesbaden (undamaged because it's a minor spa town). Given the division of the country, Frankfurt was the rational choice for the "temporary" (almost 50 years) capital, but again it was sent to a minor spa town (Bonn, which at least was the birthpalce of Beethoven). Frankfurt is still Germany's major banking and transportation center, but its political influence remains limited, especially since the restoration of Berlin as the national capital.

I have no way of proving this, but I suspect that many Frankfurters see sending Billie back to New York as an appropriate response to being dissed so often by those folks in North America. The Bush Administration may have accelerated the trend by so conspicuously ignoring European opinion in matters of foreign affairs.

We all hope that culture is above the political fray, but not all hopes are granted.

#24 Estelle

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Posted 08 September 2002 - 01:46 AM

Originally posted by Morris Neighbor

I have no way of proving this, but I suspect that many Frankfurters see sending Billie back to New York as an appropriate response to being dissed so often by those folks in North America. The Bush Administration may have accelerated the trend by so conspicuously ignoring European opinion in matters of foreign affairs.

We all hope that culture is above the political fray, but not all hopes are granted.


Well, I do hope that it won't be the same with some other American company directors in Europe, like Nanette Glushak in Toulouse or John Neumeier in Hamburg... However, those two directors seem quite popular in their home cities, so that doesn't seem very likely to happen- except perhaps if there is a need of budget cuts...

Diane, thanks for your explanations. I hadn't heard about the changes in the tax system, that's an interesting element. It seems that unfortunately some German companies are going the same way as some French ones: the cities want to spend less money on the arts and cut the budgets, and it's less expensive to have a small modern company than a ballet company...

#25 Alexandra

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Posted 08 September 2002 - 07:24 AM

I'd like to add my voice to the thanks to Diane for her very interesting summary of the political and economic situation there.

What's odd about the Frankfurt economic situation is that the first reports, a few months ago, was that the city wanted to replace Forsythe's company with a classical ballet company -- that wouldn't save money. It would also certainly be going against the trend that Estelle noted, that elsewhere in Europe the smaller classical troupes are being turned into modern dance troupes.

Generally, Estelle, I think your comment that It seems that "the cities want to spend less money on the arts and cut the budgets, and it's less expensive to have a small modern company than a ballet company" is very true. No pointe shoes, taped music, much smaller roster of dancers. Ballet is in danger (another reason why we started Ballet Alert!) :) NOT that there's anything wrong with having contemporary dance troupes; it's that they're replacing not supplementing, or adding to, ballet.


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