The Buzz, 1-6: Boxed-out
Bolshoi Bars Volochkova from Paris Tour; Altogether Outside of the
Box; Mathew Cussick's Dream Deferred
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
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I once had a Russian
Lit professor at Princeton who, with her raven hair and flaxen complexion,
might have stepped straight from the pages of "Anna Karenina." This
was the '80s, and the professor always wore '50s-style knee-length
dresses. On the blackboard, she'd diagram complex maps revealing
the social, political, and artistic context of the work we were
discussing. In a word, Professor Chances was very proper... and
always very prompt. One afternoon, we waited 20 minutes before she
showed up, and then it was, for the first time ever in class, in
jeans and with a wild fire in her eyes. She started talking about
boxes -- and how we like to enclose everything in them. "Look at
those window frames!" she exclaimed, pointing to the metal-ringed
glass. "Boxes!" And, "What do you do when you go home on vacation?
You pack everything in boxes!" At Princeton, where the professors
were more likely to try to teach us how to think than to encourage
free-thinking, it was the best lecture I ever attended.
Speaking of boxes, and
Russians, not even the law, apparently, has been able to stop the
Bolshoi Ballet from doing its damndest to put ballerina Anastasia
Volochkova in a box that says "TOO FAT TO DANCE." As previously
noted here, the Bolshoi attempted to terminate Volochkova,
a principal dancer, last fall. While the company did not respond
to a Dance Insider query, a Bolshoi spokesperson, Katerina Novikova,
told the New York Times, incredibly, "She is heavy for a ballerina;
she is hard to lift."
No sooner had the theater
given Volochkova her walking papers (albeit offering her a contract
extension through last December 31), then the Russian government
intervened to overturn the decision and order the dancer reinstated.
"The Bolshoi Theater personnel department has breached the law,"
Labor Minister Alexander Pochinok told the Russian Interfax news
agency, as quoted by the AP, "... Anastasia Volochkova should be
restored to her position."
There is the letter
of the law and the spirit of the law. Unfortunately, the Bolshoi
has apparently decided to obey the letter of the government's ruling
while flagrantly violating its spirit and intent.
According to today's
editions of the Paris daily Liberation, Volochkova has been barred
from the company's Paris tour, its first appearance here in 12 years.
"I wanted so much to come to Paris to dance 'Swan Lake,'" the ballerina
told the newspaper's Moscow correspondent, Lorraine Millot. "But
I believe that the Bolshoi does not want me to come so that those
abroad won't see that I am in form and (have been) unjustly eliminated."
Since the Russian labor
minister judged her firing illegal, Volochkova alleges, she has
been offered only one role, that of the fourth Swan in "Swan Lake."
"The Bolshoi, theater of the State, does not respect the decision
(of the Labor Minister)," she says. "It is no longer the State which
governs this theater, it is the forces in the shadow, the bankers,"
"The Bolshoi dishonors
the Russian ballet in the eyes of the whole world, in drawing attention
to my weight and my height..... I'm surprised that they have not
come to measure my breasts or (the) points" of her feet. In each
interview it gives, she adds, "The directors of the Bolshoi add
some centimeters and some kilos" to her alleged weight.
At presstime, Novikova
did not respond to a request to comment on the latest allegations.
But she told Liberation that the Bolshoi director, Anatoli Iksanov,
would "refuse" to comment on Volochkova's situation.
The Bolshoi Ballet,
as the readers of this publication know, has a history for upholding
ballet's noblest traditions. Why is it now committing the ignomany
of upholding one of its worse -- and in many other major companies,
vanquished -- and incorrect stereotypes? A dancer should be judged
not by her weight but by the artistic weight with which she imbues
her performances and thus impresses her audience. To claim otherwise
is to defame the art and the dancers, and to propagate a false and
unhealthy ideal to young dancers and would-be dancers everywhere.
Shame, shame, shame on the Bolshoi Ballet for distorting the art.
in "To Begin Again." Peter Pioppo photo courtesy the Joyce Theater.
Speaking of boxes, two
-- and of misinformed stereotypes -- it would be very easy for you
post- and post-post-Moderns out there to peg the line-up for this
year's Altogether Different festival, which opens tonight at the
Joyce, as Altogether Mainstream. But I think such a summary judgment
would be misguided. As I wrote when the program was announced last summer,
I beg to differ. To what I wrote then I would add that Margie Gillis,
Rebecca Stenn, John Kelly (who performs tonight), Ben Munisteri
and Peter Pucci have each fashioned their particular vision with
vigor. It's too easy -- and it's also inaccurate -- to dismiss Stenn
and Pucci as Pilobolus/Momix offspring. While both are proud of
that heritage, no doubt learned much about composition from Moses
Pendleton, Robby Barnett, Jonathan Wolken, Alison Chase, and Michael
Tracy, and often display a Pilobolan drollness, their visions and
the work you'll likely see at the Joyce are very personal. Ben Munisteri
(like Stenn, a sometimes contributor to this publication) has distinguished
himself as post-post-Modern contrarian, often starting with the
music (as opposed to adding it later or even dismissing it entirely,
as has become the vogue among many post-post-Moderns), and working
with a choreographic palette that draws from ballet more than release,
inspiring dancing that is more often engaged than detached. John
Kelly offers an amalgam of music, theater, and dance. (I'm not versed
enough in Margie Gillis's work to attempt to thumbnail her.)
While all of these artists
(with perhaps the exception of Gillis) move comfortably in other
mediums besides dance, they've worked that way from the get; they're
not just grasping at theater or music for want of kinetic ideas.
They've always worked with many tools.
As for the Joyce's curating
here, a close inspection of this line-up reveals that if anything,
Joyce executive director Linda Shelton and program director Martin
Wechsler deserve to be saluted for programming artists who don't
fit so conveniently into the 'dance' box..... In a promising portent
for 2004, Danspace Project and Dance Theater Workshop are also starting
their winter seasons with artists who have long drawn from multiple
forms, with the former presenting David Gordon beginning Thursday,
and DTW offering David Parker starting January 28.
Speaking of boxes, three, more than 20 years into the AIDS pandemic,
persons with HIV and AIDs are still being put into them, and I'm
not just referring to the ones they get buried in if they succumb
to AIDS-related illness. As noted here last month, Mathew Cussick, a 32-year-old gymnast,
has filed a complaint before the US Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission that Cirque du Soleil fired him as a 'catcher' in a Russian
High Bar act and as a Chinese tall pole performer just days before
he was to join the show, because of the risk Cirque du Soleil contended
Cusick's HIV status posed to other performers. Cirque du Soleil
insisted, the Associated Press reported, that it does not discriminate
against HIV-positive employees, and that Cusick is welcome to work
for the company -- just not in a job that requires so much physical
I'd like to share with
you Aaron E. Baldwin's letter to Cirque du Soleil, which Baldwin
recently shared with us:
Please allow me to introduce
myself to you. My name is Aaron Baldwin. I am the individual who
was very politely asked to leave the parking lot of Cirque du Soleil
(CDS) "Algeria" show last Thursday night. I guess the CDS staff
did not approve of my handing out leaflets to their patrons, in
reference to the current allegations of HIV discrimination (by Cirque
du Soleil) against my good friend Matthew Cusick.
Just a few weeks now
before World AIDS Day, and on the heels of the 5th year anniversary
of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, I felt that it is my moral
responsibility to speak out against this alleged injustice. So on
Thursday night, on a very cold and rainy fall San Francisco evening,
I went down to the CDS parking lot. It was my hope that the educational
leaflets that I had would help to inform CDS patrons of the alleged
other side of Cirque du Soleil.
Cirque du Soleil, by
its very own public admission, had chosen to terminate Matthew Cusick's
employment solely on the bases on his HIV status. So the question
that one is now compelled to ask is, did Cirque du Soleil break
the law when they did this or were their fears justified? I have
no way of intelligently answering these questions, as I assume is
the case for many members of this group, as most of us have no formal
legal training and CDS has yet to be given its day in court. However,
I do know how to think, read and to how to listen to what my heart
tells me. I recently read the 2002 United Nations AIDS report, where
they stated that "today the driving forces behind the spread of
HIV are the stigma and discrimination of the very disease itself."
That the social taboos about discussing sex, the moral judgments
that people often place on each other and the stigma too often placed
upon People Living with AIDS (PLWA)... are all continuing to drive
this hideous disease into hiding. That fear of HIV stigma and discrimination
today often compels an individual to keep their HIV status locked
up in some secret closet. That in turn, actually only serves to
continue the spread of HIV.
What most of you probably
do not know, is that Matthew Cusick gave up everything he had for
the opportunity of fulfilling a lifelong dream of performing with
the great Cirque du Soleil. He gave up the two businesses that he
had started: physical training and gymnastic coaching. That Matthew
and his lover (whose career would not allow him to move with Matthew
to Las Vegas) had mutually agreed to end their long term relationship
so that Matthew could pursue his dream. Matthew also left behind
his family and a lifetime of friends, which is often the case with
others who are hoping to perform with Cirque.
Today, Matthew Cusick
is living in the basement of his mother's home and he is without
even the means of paying for his own medical care. Medical care
that Matthew may one day soon very desperately need. However, don't
you worry (about) Matthew Cusick, because (those) of us who are
his friends... are making sure that all his needs are being met
as he begins to rebuild his life.... Here in North America there
appears to be some growing belief that we now have the HIV virus
under control. But do we really? It is reported that there are currently
1,000,000 Americans and 50,000 Canadians infected with the HIV virus.
Of all the new HIV infections in the North America last year, 51%
of then occurred in human beings under the age of 25 and slightly
more than 25% of them are teenagers. (For more info, click here.) In Canada, 27% of
all of the new HIV infections are in people between the ages of
13 to 29. Perhaps this is all some crazy coincidence, but I really
don't think so! Education of the facts, and a freedom from unnecessary
persecution and discrimination saves lives.
Many of these young
human beings who are today becoming infected with HIV, are also
fans of the "Circus of the Sun." They are the very same children
and young adults who were once sitting on the edges of their chairs
(as we all have) while watching the greatest performers in the world.
They too have also dreamed that same impossible dream, that one
day they might perform for the great Cirque du Soleil.
The facts about HIV
and sports: To date, there has NEVER been even one confirmed case
of an HIV infection relating from sports. This includes; football,
rugby, basketball, lacrosse, boxing and every other known sport.
Sports where not only is blood often spilled, but where it is encouraged
and often viewed as a kind of badge of distinction when it happens.
I would dare to say, that if there was even one confirmed case of
a sports related HIV infection, parents all around the world would
be removing their children from all competitive sports programs.
Over the past years,
Cirque du Soleil has encouraged it patrons to go out and to "Dream
the Impossible Dream." This is exactly what my good friend Matthew
Cusick did. His dreams, like all of our dreams, were very precious
to him. You see, our dreams make up the very fabric and foundation
of our lives, and no one who ever fulfills another dream... should
ever be able to take that dream back!! I, too, encourage everyone
to continue dreaming that impossible dream. However, I would first
encourage you to stop and remember the words of some other great
dreamers. Dreamers like the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a
man who through his words, shared his dream for this world, in his
"I Have a Dream" speech. (Through) that dream and through his words,
he was able to impact the basic human rights of so human beings
around the world.
I would also ask you
to remember the words of the great Irish writer, George Bernard
Shaw. Think about how even today, Shaw's words can still inspire
the masses whenever they are quoted: "Some men see things as they
are and say, 'Why?' I dream things of that never were and say, 'Why
Now if the facts about
HIV infections during sports and the words of great Dr. King and
Mr. Shaw have not caused you to re-think your position, as it relates
to Matthew Cusick, then I would ask you to consider these words
from the Joe Darion lyrics, from the play "Man of La Mancha":
To dream the impossible
to fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
to run where the brave dare not go...
To fight for the right
without question or pause
to be willing to march into hell...
for a heavenly cause.
Additionally, I would
like encourage everyone to continue supporting all the wonderful
and talented men and woman,who make up the casts of the amazing
productions, that is Cirque du Soleil! This issue of discrimination
should not be their burden to carry, for it truly belongs on the
shoulders of CDS management.
I thank you for your
understanding on this very important issue.
God bless you all.
Aaron E. Baldwin