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This year's lows


Alexandra
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This article is about the dance world in general, not just ballet, but I think it might provoke an interesting discussion:

The New York Times' three dance critics talk about the lows in 2003:

Merce Versus Music, and the Ballet Boyz

There are a lot of interesting points raised here, many that we've discussed on this board: marketing, printing the names of donors who "sponsor" dancers, blending different dance styles, etc.

It's not that long an article :wub: I hope some of you will read it and tell us what you think.

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There's a lot in the article that bears discussion -- mixing of styles, hype, lack of depth in choreography generally. Here's a quote from Kisselgoff about what she's seeing in new work:

Dwight Rhoden did a piece at Juilliard, for a student group, called "The Clearing," that was jammed with steps. It was a clutter of steps. And he sent dancers hither and thither and yon all over the stage; it looked disjointed. But many choreographers today, simply because they have such technically well trained dancers at their disposal, fall into the trap of putting into each new dance every step that they know and repeating it three times, or 13 times, or 33 times. And so you get this busy busy busy, this buzz of busyness on the stage without necessarily getting any real expressive choreographic content.

I'd agree with her -- I liked "this buzz of busyness." I find it pervasive in new work -- but if all, or most, choreographers are doing it, has "busyness" simply become the Next New Thing? Meaning, is this a transition, something we'll have to live through until a genius or two comes along, or have we already made the transition, and this is It?

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Misc. thoughts.

I was interested in Jennifer Dunning's comments on the new Cunningham work, especially about the inclusion of the "dice throwing" at the opening of the piece. I understand her impatience with it, but I thought (haven't seen the work, just read Nancy Dalva's review in DanceViewTimes online) that since Radiohead and Sigur Ros brought audience to the theater who were new to Cunningham's work it was a good way to introduce that aspect of his process.

I also liked Jack Anderson's comment on busyness, though I usually call it "steppy" -- lots and lots of steps, usually performed extremely well, but not adding up to anything.

On "naming" -- we're seeing it across the country. Here in Seattle the newly remodeled opera house has a new name (McCaw Hall), as do the two auditoria in it, the lobby, the staircase, several meeting rooms, and a plaza, along with the usual seat plaques. Since one of the highly touted (and much needed) features of the remodel was the addition of more womens toilets, several of us were wondering if we could buy naming rights to individual stalls (and if that meant we could go to the head of the line to use "our" toilet).

(a silly aside about naming -- a friend of mine was working at a local theater that had sold seat plaques to help underwrite a remodel. When one of the donors divorced and remarried they had to removed the first wife's plaque and replace her with the new wife.)

The emphasis on naming seems to be coming with a new population of donors who would like civic recognition for civic involvement. Traditionally, big money came from wealthy people who weren't interested in, or didn't need, additional visibility. Cities were usually the major developer of cultural real estate, and for all the Carnegie Halls and Guggenheim Museums, we also have the Metropolitan Museums and the New York City Operas. Recently, though, that has changed, and cities don't have the initiative or the money to insist they be the "headliner" for an institution. Looking for funding partners, they often find businesses or that interesting amalgam, the personal corporation, rather than old, anonymous money.

Still, though, the Seattle Art Museum has for many years been trying to establish an outdoor sculpture park, and this last year received a substantial "naming" gift from someone who doesn't want their name on the door, so it will be named after the mountain range it looks at rather than the person who wrote the check. The Olympic Sculpture Park is supposed to open in a couple years.

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Since one of the highly touted (and much needed) features of the remodel [McCaw Hall in Seattle] was the addition of more womens toilets, several of us were wondering if we could buy naming rights to individual stalls (and if that meant we could go to the head of the line to use "our" toilet).

A friend who is a member of Consolidated Works, a theater/cinema/arts space in Seattle, told me that as a semi-spoof, the org did exactly that: allowed people to sponsor the stalls. (I think it was also possible to name the fire extinguishers). On a more serious note, the drinking fountains at the Tacoma Art Museum are named.

(a silly aside about naming -- a friend of mine was working at a local theater that had sold seat plaques to help underwrite a remodel.  When one of the donors divorced and remarried they had to removed the first wife's plaque and replace her with the new wife.)

Arts organizations didn't used to have to worry about divorces and naming, because the couple was always named "Mr. and Mrs. XXX." When Anne and Sid Bass had a notorious split and he remarried, "Mr. and Mrs. Sid R. Bass" remained, and "Anne H. Bass" was added. No splitting out necessary. I finally understood the speculating that goes on in front of naming plaques in NYC arts institutions: "So when was this built and who was his wife then?"

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Arts organizations didn't used to have to worry about divorces and naming, because the couple was always named "Mr. and Mrs. XXX."  When Anne and Sid Bass had a notorious split and he remarried, "Mr. and Mrs. Sid R. Bass" remained, and "Anne H. Bass" was added.  No splitting out necessary.  I finally understood the speculating that goes on in front of naming plaques in NYC arts institutions:  "So when was this built and who was his wife then?"

So that's why there are so many "John P. and Jane Q. Doe" foundations! :P

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Endowing a toilet stall, a drinking fountain, a seat, or a new production are good things, whether performed anonymously or for recognition. But it strikes me that "sponsoring" a given dancer -- what Anna Kisselgoff was specifically complaining about -- is something quite different and utterly bizarre. It makes the ballet company look bad, like they can't afford to pay their dancers. And what about dancers with no sponsors? Do they toil for minimum wage until they attract the attention of Mr., Mr.& Mrs., or Ms. Sugar Daddy? I'm being obtuse here, just because the whole idea seems so stupid to me.

I enjoyed this piece because of the interaction of the three critics. Is there any other newspaper anywhere with three dance critics? Fifteen or twenty years ago I used to think that when one revewed something that had already been written about by another (say when Jennifer Dunning went to see somethng Anna Kisselgoff had reviewed on opening night), there would be subtle digs at the first review. But I'm no longer sure that was ever the case. The three have their distinctive styles. I like to think that if the Times left off their bylines, I could still identify the writer. Kisselgoff seldom pans anything, except perhaps in a year-end piece on the year's lows, and she often drags in obscure dance references. In the present instance it's to Akram Khan, and "the Kathak style of classical Indian dance." Anderson, faced with a new work, invariably wonders who these dancers

are meant to be, and what it is they're doing on stage. Dunning is the least predictable and the one most likely to contradict the traditional wisdom. Anyway, I love them all, and critics in general -- including all those on Ballet Alert. :P

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I agree Farrell Fan, the sponsoring of the dancers sometimes reminds me of a popularity contest, especially since ABT listed the sponsors for David Hallberg when he was still in the corps. What, the other dancers aren't good enough to have sponsors? They don't get paid as much as the other dancers in the same level?

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Another thing with "sponsoring" dancers is that sometimes I wonder whether these dancers would be in the company were it not for their "sponsors." Of course, I wouldn't think that about stars who have already proven their worth (unless they were past their prime), but when it comes to "sponsoring" corps members, questions can arise. Most likely all these patrons want to do is show their appreciation of a particular dancer, but if the company hasn't singled them out for recognition yet, why should it allow someone else to do so?

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Publicly sponsoring a particular dancer seems like an especially bad idea. Perhaps dance companies could consider instead sponsoring a position, like symphony orchestras do (where many chairs, like the concertmaster and section leaders, have donor names attached to them). For example, the Mrs. & Mr. So-and-so Principal Danseur. I don't know how this would affect the hierarchy of a company, if some principal positions are sponsored, and others aren't.

--Andre

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Guest gingembre

What sponsoring dancers reminds me most of is not appropriate to print here... :shhh: I think it is a VERY bad road to be going down, and can lead to all kinds of questions about how a dancer got that sponser and whether they are only dancing because of a sponsorship. Bad bad BAD can of worms.

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