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The Buzz, 1-8: Altogether Now!
Altogether Adrift at the Joyce; Altogether Different at APAP

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

The talent of the individual artists featured in this month's marquee "Altogether Different" festival at the Joyce Theater is unquestioned. From Doug Elkins, this generation's Paul Taylor, to the hard-working and idiosyncratic Keely Garfield, each program, taken out of the context of Altogether Different, merits serious audience attention. Also unquestioned is the dedication to artists and audience, industry, and eye for talent of Joyce executive director Linda Shelton and program director Martin Wechsler, leaders not just in the dance world of New York or the United States but globally. However, this very prominence -- plus that the Joyce is in part a publicly funded institution -- makes it appropriate to ask: Exactly what is the mission of "Altogether Different"? This year's programming, more than any other in recent memory, raises not just confusion but concern about the Joyce's artistic intentions with this particular event.

First, there's that name. No matter how much the Joyce protests otherwise, the words "altogether different" suggest, not just in the dictionary but in the popular conception, something that is going to be not just different, but...ALTOGETHER different. With the exception of Garfield, all of the choreographer-driven companies in this year's AD line-up are not only not different in the Altogether Different festival context -- they've been there before -- but have been on the New York scene for quite a while. From an audience perspective, the concern is that, well, just what exactly is different about these companies? From an artist point of view, the concern is more troubling.

As I recall, part of the purpose of Altogether Different is to help companies progress, as institutions. At one time, all artists participating in the festival attended workshops on several aspects of infrastructure, including development and marketing. I would ask the question: If these Altogether Different veterans cannot at this time afford to book the Joyce for a week -- or if the Joyce feels it cannot afford to present them for a week -- how exactly have they progressed, from an infrastructure standpoint? In the case of Elkins, to my mind it is tragic that, after some 15 years in existence -- just about the same as Parsons Dance Company -- the Elkins company does not yet have an infrastructure commensurate with the talent of its director. (That's not to insult its hard-working administrative team, but to say that artistically, Doug Elkins should have his own season at the Joyce.) So if part of the Joyce's mission with Altogether Different is to help artists get to the next level, well, then, relative to where this company should be now, so far the Joyce has not succeeded in this particular instance.

Of course, the other concern -- for artists and audiences -- in featuring returning companies in four of the seven Altogether Different slots is that those slots that could have been filled by equally meritorious artists who need the exposure more. (And from which new exposure the audience might see something truly different, too.) But at least in the case of Elkins, Zvi Gotheiner, Donna Uchizono and Sara Pearson/Patrick Widrig, we're talking about CHOREOGRAPHERS. In an alarming development, this year's AD festival includes two 'companies' which are not even choreographer-driven.

Philip Hamilton/Vocalscapes is just that -- a program which, no doubt, will feature choreographies, but where choreographers are not the stars. Peter Boal Dances will, obviously, feature dancing -- and brilliant dancing at that, from this New York City Ballet principal -- but again the choreographers do not even get the lead billing. I almost cannot even begin to address the gravity of this programming and marketing decision without sputtering.

What was the Joyce -- a DANCE theater -- THINKING when it decided to put composer/musicians and ballet stars ahead of choreographers? Did it think about what kind of message this might send, to the dance community and the world at large, that the Joyce Theater could not even find seven choreographer-driven dance companies 'different' enough to merit an audience? Did it think about the message it would send to all the talented and deserving dance companies who could use and would merit the boost of a Joyce berth that, no thank you, we'd prefer to feature a composer/musician and a ballet dancer instead? Did it think about the message this would send to the presenters from around the world who arrive Friday for the annual Arts Presenters (APAP) conference, in search of talented companies to book for their theaters, that in the dance capitol of the world, the leading dance theater, for its marquee dance festival, could not even find seven dance (choreographer-lead) companies worth presenting? The message I get, clear and loud, is that in the eyes of the Joyce Theater, choreographers don't sell tickets.

....Fortunately, the news from New York is not all bleak this week. As many of our choreographer readers know, APAP -- where dance companies from around the U.S. present showcases to presenters from around the nation, with an aim to being booked -- has been a hard nut to crack for financially struggling companies. Representation usually costs money, and being presented at APAP costs money. As a result, some of our most exciting and young companies can't afford to showcase. To serve this constituency and close this gap, this year Zia Artists, in collaboration with City Center, will sponsor High Voltage, a showcase for what Zia calls "diverse...artists with imaginative and fresh choreographic visions," and "new voices in contemporary dance that warrant attention and discussion." It starts at 3:30 p.m. and goes until 6:30 Saturday at City Center Studio 4, and features: Sally Schulling, Snappy Dance Theater, Chris Elam/Misnomer Dance Theater, Pam Tanowitz Dance, Neta Dance Company, Yanira Castro + Company, Eliza Miller Dance Company, Rebecca Lazier/Terrain, Edisa Weeks/Delirious Dance Company, Alexandra Beller, and Patricia Kenny Dance Collection.

On Sunday, same place, from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30, Zia presents its main roster, including: Sharon Estaciio, Kate Fisher & Breezy Berryman, Bill Young & Dancers, Jeanine Durning, Amiel Malale Dance, Johannes Wieland, Paradigm, Janis Brenner & Dancers, Doug Elkins Dance Company, Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, Battleworks Dance Company, Urban Ballet Theater, Merian Soto Dance & Performance, Darrah Carr Dance, and Kun-Yang Lin & Dancers. Yes, that's our Darrah Carr, but that she's our North American editor or that Zia is an advertiser is not why I'm telling you about all this. We comped the agency the ad, because we believe in what Ken Maldonado and staff are trying to build.

Change happens because you make it happen, dance insider!

To reserve seats at Zia's showcases, please call 212-928-6517. For more info on Zia and its showcases, please click here.

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