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The Buzz, 1-14: Credibility, Too
"Nijinsky" Fiasco in Monaco; Funding Crisis in Europe; Michelson All over the Place; Voice Frames Crutchmaster

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

Good morning, dance insider, from Paris, where for the last week, choreographer and longtime Hamburg Ballet director John Neumeier has owned this town. "Your fourth time?" Milwaukee's own replied to an adoring fan at last night's Paris Opera Ballet performance of his 1997 version of "Sylvia" at the Bastille. It was Neumeier's first night off from his 2000 "Nijinsky," which Hamburg has been performing at the Garnier. More on these ballets, review-wise, later in the week; for now I'm just using this item so I can make a cheeky segue into the next.

.... Speaking of Nijinsky (see?), not everyone apparently respects what that name means as much as Neumeier, whose lifelong collecting of Nijinsky memorobilia has been motivated purely by a desire to get to know his story. Enter the "Nijinsky Awards," which, just two weeks into 2003, has already captured The Buzz award for Vastest Credibility Gap of the year. What should arrive in my mailbox here on the rue de Paradis today but an announcement from the Ballets de Monte Carlo that Jean-Christophe Maillot, its director-choreographer, has received "The Nijinsky Award for the Best Choreographic Production 2001." (They had it in all-caps. I'm sparing you.) Who organizes, presents, and produces the "Nijinsky Awards," you ask? Why, the Monaco Danses Forum. And who's the president of the Monaco Danses Forum? Why, Jean-Christophe Maillot!

If you'd like to deliver your raspberry personally and live in New York, New York dance insiders, Maillot will be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music April 29 to May 3.

Why does this even matter? Well, because, dance insiders, at least here in Paris, this "awards" show got a lot of publicity, including the award to Maillot. Ergo, the image of dance fiascoes like this put forth to the world at large is of a self-approving insular art which pats itself on the back with little regard to how this might appear to the public. Now, it needs to be said -- strongly -- that the dance world leaders of integrity far outnumber the bad actors. But the bad actors sure muck things up for the rest of us.

How do they muck things up? Well, believe it or not, even here in Europe, often seen in the U.S. as the pot of gold for choreographers where funding is there for the asking, the environment is changing. Drastically.

In Ireland, for example, it looks like just when dance -- particularly modern dance -- was making major strides in terms of seeding an audience, it has taken a stunning body blow. Faced with an eight percent reduction in funds this year, the Arts Council of Ireland has just reduced funding for dance, already getting just a small portion of the $40-some million pot, by more than a million dollars, from 2,934,000 euros (the euro is currently valued slightly above the dollar) to 1,920,500.

Among the casualties are Daghdha Dance Company, which saw its funding for 2003 cut from 400,000 euros to 250,000, and John Scott's Irish Modern Dance Theater, which will receive 100,000 this year after getting 225,000 the last. "This is becoming a dark time for dance and for the arts in general," says Scott. Now, U.S. dance insider, before you say "I'd take it" and start shedding crocodile tears for Mr. Scott, remember that the overall funding paradigm here in Europe is slightly different. Except for major (ballet) organizations, the private philanthropic enterprises which support the arts in the U.S. really have no equivalent here. And the situation may get worse, at least in the Euro Zone, where under mutual agreement no country can run a deficit. And guess who recently joined that zone? Ireland.

.... Speaking of Germany -- whose current deficit will test the above rule and no doubt rebound negatively to the arts there -- Bauhaus, of the "Medieval" sort, will be in the house in New York this spring. Make that two houses. So claims the description of Sara Michelson's new show on The Kitchen web site, promising, "Medieval Bauhaus meets power ballad in Sarah Michelson's most ambitious work to date, 'Shadowman.'" Now, believe it or not, there are occasions when The Buzz is not sure whether to rant or not. But am I wrong -- the question is not rhetorical, dance insider, let me know what you think -- to conclude that the presenting premise of Michelson's new piece is at least a little pretentious and presumptuous? According to the web site description, the show will be presented in two parts, the first at The Kitchen and the second at PS 122. Here's the potentially pretentious and presumptuous part: "No ticket will be sold for a single part." So, if you want to catch La Michelson, you need to fork over $30 (usual admission to The Kitchen is $20, to PS 122 $15) and commit to a couple of evenings. The concept of a split show is not totally new, but usually it's confined to one theater. Tony Kushner's epic "Angels in America" took two seances, but, with all due respect to a choreographer who has worked rigorously for many years and deserves the laurels she is now getting, is Sara Michelson really in the same league?

.... Speaking of pretentious: Does dance only belong to those who are fully mobile? According to the Village Voice, apparently yes. In a profile of Bill "Crutchmaster" Shannon, who opens at Dance Theater Workshop next Tuesday, Kate Mattingly writes in this week's issue:

"Shannon...'walks' by using a skateboard and two rocker-bottom crutches. At clubs he 'dances' using the crutches."

What?? Dance insider, I can think of many instances where quotes should be put around the word 'dances' in describing a performance, but the challenged mobility of the performer is not one of them. Does this mean, according to Ms. Mattingly's system, that Homer Avila, who tragically lost an entire leg to cancer two years ago, is now not dancing but 'dancing'? I think not. At the Kennel Club in San Francisco, where I first learned to enjoy dancing, sans quotes, one of the most inspiring members of our posse was a young man with long blonde curly hair who had NO legs, and who propelled himself with the aid of two crutches. His lack of legs did not restrict his dancing, no quotes. Why would the Voice, one of our leading voices of credibility, choose to do so?

Copy desk, get me rewrite!


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