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Buzz, 1-20: The Mother of all Battles
Alison Chase Files for Unemployment; Headlong Headlines Harkness;
Joffrey's 'Green' Giant Returns
Image by and copyright Robin
Text copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
Dan Feith, the former
longtime technical director of Pilobolus who first
charged that the company had fired co-director Alison
Chase, whose Dartmouth dance class spawned the initially (and later,
intermittently) innovative dance-theater company, reports on Blogobolos
that Chase filed for unemployment in December. The development is
significant because the company's corporate-minded executive director
denied the firing in November. To be eligible for unemployment in
the United States, one's employment needs to have been terminated
by the employer. Pilobolus co-director Robby Barnett, who worked
with Chase for close to 35 years, did not respond yesterday to an
e-mailed request for comment. While Chase has not responded to direct
requests for comment, Feith, who worked with the company for 12
years, is said to be close to her, so I trust his reporting as authoritative.
Why does this matter,
even if you hate Pilobolus? (I actually love Pilobolus, or did until
this infamy, but I realize that not all our readers do.)
Because a once organic,
collaborative choreographic enterprise has gone corporate, with
all the coldness and insensitivity that implies.
Because the other three
directors are all men. (Although to be fair, only two seem to have
endorsed this cabal, from what my sources have told me, the noble
exception being Michael Tracy.)
Because Alison Chase
is a woman.
Because there likely
would not be a Pilobolus if Alison Chase had not turned these men
onto dance and into dancers. Because, as I noted previously, they
entered her dance class as jocks and emerged as artists.
Because Chase had the
best grounding in traditional modern dance choreography, historical
and contemporary, of any of the directors.
Because the delicate
balance of the hydra-headed Pilobolus creative directorate will
now be over-run with testosterone, its last artistic vestiges trampled
by sophomoric hijinks.
Because Alison Chase
gave so much, GAVE SO MUCH, to these men, to this company, and to
countless generations of young dancers -- "She really allows you
to shine at your best," one dancer, widely respected in the wider
dance community, told me -- and now they have thrown her out on
the street like yesterday's garbage.
Because... BECAUSE A
SUIT HAS FIRED AN ARTIST.
Shame on you, Robby
Barnett, shame on you, Jonathan Wolken, for allowing your artistic
mother to be put out on the street.
It is one ungrateful
deed you have committed.
Head's up for Headheads
If Pilobolus closed
the year in a fashion that reflected true Bush family values, Headlong
Dance Theater is here to help us purge the demons of 2005 with its
own custom Mixed Tape for a Bad Year, that being the name of the
program the troupe brings to this year's Harkness Dance Festival
starting March 1 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York. (The
five-company festival opens February 8.) "Basically," says Headlong
co-director David Brick, "it's a collection of dances that have
all, in some way or another, come out of our collective sense of
cultural angst and disappointment over the last year. We think of
these dances as being like a mixed tape in that together they rage,
rail, rouse, mourn and perhaps also soothe anyone who may perhaps
be experiencing some similar things of late."
On the angst and anger
tip, the highlight must be "Thrash," a Headlong-produced video piece
of, says co-director (and occasional DI contributor) Andrew Simonet,
"physical responses to the Bush administration, including footage
of us and members of the public. (They've been signing up in droves.)
You listen to some speeches by George W., and then you dance a short
solo in front of the camera to some loud crazy music.... It's cathartic
and disturbing. Could sweep the nation like the next Macarena."
(Thanks for putting that song back into our heads, Andrew. Assigning
you to cover the next Ballet Tech concert.)
As a Flashback to better
times when real family values ruled, or at least significantly encroached,
Headlong also offers "Hippie Elegy," which Brick describes as "a
comic and sad lament for the loss of hippie values in today's America:
a dance requiem for the people who knew that war is bad, love is
good, and everyone is beautiful just the way they are." In "Yonder,"
the company riffs on Alan Lomax's recordings of raw, unproduced
singing in the rural South of the 1940s. "People keep dying and
getting murdered," says Brick. And, in a fitting inclusion for the
92nd Street Y-produced festival, the company gives an excerpt of
its upcoming "Shosha," inspired by the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel,
and exploring both the book's eccentric characters from 1930s Warsaw
and the 1970s America lens through which Singer recalled them.
"We haven't done a full
evening of work in NYC in a couple of years, so we're looking forward
to reconnecting with the city," says Brick. (Former DI cover girl
Amy Smith rounds out the Headlong triumvirate.) "These dances represent
a bit of a return to our roots," Brick adds, "to a way we worked
before we got funding through project ideas pitched to funders a
year in advance. These are shorter, smaller, simpler dances with
next to no sets or fancy conceptual starting points; just the dances
we felt compelled to make day to day as we kicked shit around in
the studio and saw what stuck."
I do believe that Harkness
director Renata Celichowska should get some of the credit for encouraging
this spirit of retro-adventure. In fact, what I love about this
year's Harkness line-up, the first curated by Celichowska, is that
Headlong is the only company I've heard of. Without taking away
from the other aspects of her achievements at Harkness, in recent
years it seemed like Joan Finkelstein, Celichowska's predecessor,
was programming mostly on the basis of what other New York presenters
were programming, and even some of what they were no longer programming.
Not so with Celichowska, who has chosen at least one freshly-minted
company, the Francesca Harper Project, directed by a former Ballett
Frankfurt and Alvin Ailey dancer.
"My goals for the 92nd
Street Y Harkness Dance Festival are threefold," Celichowska told
me yesterday. "To offer opportunities both to unknown choreographers
who are ready to be presented in a formal setting and to veterans
who need some support. To present a variety of styles and approaches
to contemporary dance -- everything from, to use this year's line-up
as an example, the European-influenced dance-theater of Israel's
Sally-Anne Friedland Dance Drama Company to the lush, gorgeous movement
of Maxine Steinman & Dancers. And to support Jewish and Israeli
artists.... I wanted to find choreographers whose work integrates
the artistic, the personal and the technical. Each of the artists
we're presenting has a wholeness to her or his choreography; each
is presenting a vision, creating a world. It's not about the ego;
it's about the art."
Rounding out this year's
festival, which runs through March 12, is Todd Williams's WilliamsWorks.
That's the other thing I like in advance about this year's festival:
In a presenting environment in which many theaters are still challenged
to, frankly, give equal -- not more, just equal, folks -- opportunity
to female choreographers, only one of the companies Celichowska
has selected is exclusively male-directed and choreographed.
Joffrey's 'Green Giant'
Headlong isn't the only
dance company responding with vigor to George Bush's illegal and
unnecessary war. Straight off a devastating run
on American Ballet Theatre, Kurt Jooss's anti-war 1932 ballet "The
Green Table," which received its US premiere on the Joffrey Ballet
some 39 years ago, returns to the Joffrey rep. in February 2007
after an eight-year absence, on a "Groundbreaking Ballets" program
that also includes Leonide Massine's "Les Presages" and Balanchine's
1932 "Cotillon." (Among the unforgettable Deaths in previous Joffrey
'Green Table' productions were Maximilian Zamosa, Christian Holder,
and Phillip Jerry.)
Writes Walter Terry
in his "Ballet Guide," also my source for the 'Green Table' facts
above, "Les Presages," created in 1933, "was the first of Massine's
symphonic ballets that introduced a series of controversies, mainly
among musicians, over the propriety of using great abstract music
for choreographic purposes." "Cotillon" also provides a history
lesson of sorts, dating as it does from an epoch when choreographers
did not always try to come up with their own books but left that
to the experts, in this case Boris Kochno. The designer, Christian
Berard, is no slouch. As for the dance, if you can get to the Dance
Collection of the New York Public Library, there you'll find a seven-minute
excerpt of a 1933 color film of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
production, including a whirling Balanchine and a 14-year-old Tamara
The Joffrey's 2006-2007
season opens October 4 with Frederick Ashton's 1948 "Cinderella,"
to the Prokoviev score and in its first American production. "This
production of 'Cinderella' was Robert Joffrey's final wish for the
company," says current director and company co-founder Gerald Arpino.
"So we pay tribute to him by presenting it."
Joffrey himself will
be represented choreographically, later in the season, with "Gamelan,"
a work set to the music of Lou Harrison which previewed in 1962
at the Fashion Institute of Technology before premiering officially
a year later at the Kirov (now Maryinsky) Theater in Leningrad.
The same "Founders' Program" also includes Arpino's 1968 "Fanfarita,"
1978 "Suite Saint-Saens," and "Sea Shadow," which premiered on September
5, 1963 in Central Park -- as part of the Rebekah Harkness Dance
Festival. (Thanks again, Mr. Terry.)
"I grew up watching the Joffrey Ballet dance Kurt Jooss's
'The Green Table,'" says Robin
Hoffman, the Dance Insider's webmistress and art director,
and a former Joffrey dancer. "Watching a recent performance
by American Ballet Theatre, I was overcome by this ballet's
relevance to current events, and couldn't help fantasizing
about certain war-makers getting a taste of their own medicine."
Above, the result. Image copyright 2006 Robin Hoffman.