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The Buzz, 1-30: Transitions
White Lays Off Sandstrom; Times Appoints Kisselgoff G-d; Houston's Smart Hires; Why New York Can't Dance; Tobias on Graham and a Whole Lot More; Adieu to Dudinskaya

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

"With enormous personal regret," writes Dance Theater Workshop executive director David White in a memo to DTW's board and staff, "I am forced to eliminate the position of Director of Theater Operations -- after so many years, the gifted Philip W. Sandstrom will be leaving the DTW staff as of June '03." As justification for the lay-off, White cites "the depth of the budget crisis and the continuing economic recession," adding, "In restructuring DTW's internal operations, it has become clear to me that the technical production department of the organization must be simplified and streamlined and made an integral part of DTW's Production Program, accountable to Co-Artistic Directors Craig Peterson and Cathy Edwards."

I have just one question, at the moment: If the ubiquitously cited budget crisis really is the main reason behind laying off Sandstrom -- as opposed to, say, internal DTW politics, as one source close to the theater suggests -- why didn't White look elsewhere for organization redundancy? He wouldn't have to look far. Most dance theaters in New York have only one artistic director. DTW, by contrast, has two: Peterson and Edwards. With all due respect to the considerable curatorial talents of these two, does DTW really need two artistic directors, in addition to White, more than it needs the irreplaceable and indispensable Philip W. Sandstrom? Just wondering!

Meanwhile, while DTW is letting experienced talent go, the Houston Ballet is bringing it aboard. If the Houston dancers had one concern about the recent hiring of Stanton Welch as their new artistic director, about which they are generally excited, it was his never having directed a company before. Welch, and Houston, have addressed this potential deficit in the best possible manner, by bringing on the veteran director Maina Gielgud as Welch's artistic associate. It's not unusual for green artistic directors to seek veteran assistance on their coaching, teaching, or staging staffs; what is unusual is Welch's directness straight on in making clear the major role Gielgud, former director of the Australian and Royal Danish ballets, will play on his staff.

Stanton Welch, incoming director of Houston Ballet. Branco Gaica photo courtesy the Australian Ballet.

We recently asked Gielgud to assess what Welch brings to the plate, and what she will bring to her work assisting him.

"Stanton has always been enormously organized, visionary, and adept through his choreography, challenging and bringing out young dancers' talent," said Gielgud, who discovered Welch as a dancer and choreographer in Australia. "He has much charm, which I'm sure he will put to good use with the (Houston) board. He has an understanding of the importance of the classics in themselves, and as stepping stones to the future. He has good knowledge of current trends worldwide. He will be bringing and commissioning interesting and important works from the cream of the repertoire and choreographers worldwide, as well as creating himself. Like myself, he is most keen to enhance the stagecraft and acting skills of the dancers, and help them keep uppermost in mind the reason for performing -- e.g., Communication."

As a choreographing ballet company director, Gielgud said, Welch "brings the capacity of choreographing a wide range of works, from the all-important story ballet (in which he truly believes -- he will never choreograph or commission one simply for box ofice purposes), to much more contemporary one-act works with or without theme. He will no doubt use the skills he has to bring out talent even the individual dancers do not know they have."

And how will Gielgud be assisting her former dancer and choreographer in his new work? "Stanton has asked me to be his artistic associate, as I understand it, so as to be able to tap into my 16-odd years of experience as an artistic director. Not knowing the company, it is hard to say at this stage what in particular I shall be able to offer most of, but I shall be teaching, coaching, and generally having input on all artistic matters, including, I believe, in relation to the school and future of the graduate company. I'm really looking forward to it."

Gielgud, who will spend several months per year in Houston, will continue her freelance work, including with the English National Ballet, setting the work of Maurice Bejart, and an ongoing performance relationship with Bejart.

More to her own and her newspaper's detriment than to anybody else's at this point, Anna Kisselgoff appears to be unwilling to let go and accept the Martha Graham Dance Company's heroic rescue of Graham's work from Ron Protas, the former Graham artistic director. The review part of her review of the Graham company's January 21 gala preview performance -- which, sources say, Kisselgoff muscled her way into after insisting that she was not able to review the company's actual opening, January 22 -- was actually quite moving and penetrating. Unfortunately, however, persisting in carrying Mr. Protas's water, she injected the same old and, mostly, erroneous, arguments against the company into her article of January 24.

Kisselgoff's ongoing personal disdain for the Graham Center, if not the dances and dancers, is evident when she writes with distaste of board chair Francis Mason "Asking the audience for financial contributions....," continuing, "Turning from the countinghouse to the artistic side...." Well, first of all, having muscled her way into a gala performance not intended for review, Kisselgoff can hardly take umbrage to find the company's board president soliciting for support. This is what galas are for! Second, it's the 'countinghouse' which makes possible the artistic side, as she well knows.

But AK truly goes off the deep end when, mischaracterizing Federal District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum's decision last August for the Graham Center, she writes, "The conclusion from this ruling that an artist of Graham's stature was a mere employee who did 'work for hire' and does not own her work raises morally troubling issues." First of all, the judge based her conclusion on a variety of considerations specific to this dispute, including evidence that in numerous ways over a long period of time, Graham had deeded or ceded the dances to the center. Second, in today's troubling and troubled world climate, where does AK get off raising a dispute over the ownership of dances to the level of a moral issue? (And thus playing G-d.)

To read more straightforward reviews of the Martha Graham season, see Tom Patrick's in these pages and check Tobi Tobias's in the Philadelphia Inquirer Tuesday, by clicking here. (Note: Unlike this publication and most major newspapers, the Inquirer charges for reading archived reviews after about a week. You can also find Tobi's recent reviews, and read them for free in perpetuity, by visiting the Village Voice web site, and entering "Tobi Tobias" in the search engine on the home page.)

Elsewhere in the press, the dance capital of the world has now made the pages of Le Monde for one of its little-known (outside of New York) anti-dance aspects. "It is forbidden to dance in New York," the daily journal reported earlier this month, "in the clubs that have not paid for the very expensive cabaret licence." Enacted during Prohibition to bar nude dancing in Harlem, so the paper notes, the Cabaret law was again enforced during the 1960s as an excuse to close gay clubs. In the 1990s, Mayor Rudy Giuliani found the law a convenient ally for his war against insecurity, while current Mayor Michael Bloomberg employs it when the opportunity suits him. As disco owner David Baxley tells Le Monde, "In the last two years, the two places where it was illegal to dance were Manhattan and Afghanistan. Now one can dance in Afghanistan." The good news is that Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, has taken the issue in hand.

And finally today, it is with sadness that we note yesterday's passing, in St. Petersburg, of the emblematic Soviet-era ballerina and teacher Natalya Dudinskaya, at the age of 90, as reported by Reuters and the Associated Press. In a dancing career that spanned four decades, Dudinskaya's greatest successes included "Laurencia," "Raymonda," "La Bayadere," "Esmeralda," and "Don Quixote." A pupil of Agrippina Vaganova, she danced Odette-Odile in the evening-length "Swan Lake" six months after graduating from the Petrograd Ballet School. On retiring from the stage in 1962, she joined the faculty of the Vaganova School in St. Petersburg, where she taught until last year, her pupils ranging from Natalia Makharova to Ulyana Lopatkina.

Dudinskaya enjoyed legendary partnerships with Vakhtang Chabukiani and, later, Konstantin Sergeyev, whose ballets created or staged on her included "Cinderella" and "Path of Thunder."

More recently, Dudinskaya was critical in restaging Sergeyev's version of "Corsaire" on the Boston Ballet, in a production that later joined the repertoire of American Ballet Theatre.

Praised as she was for her technical virtuosity, the ballerina was remembered yesterday in Russia for the sheer joy she conveyed on stage.

"Dudinskaya was a legend in her own time," said an obituary signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin and other prominent figures, as reported by Reuters. "She was truly a dancer for every celebration and like no one else represented happiness in her performances."

The Maryinsky Theater, successor to the Kirov, noted in a statement, "With the death of Natalya Mikhailovna Dudinskaya comes the end of a great era of Russian classical dance." But not the end of a legacy. "She was very brave and strong in her dancing and she shared her skills and her great love for ballet with us, her disciples," Maryinsky soloist Irina Zhelonkina told NTV television, as reported by the AP.

Born in Kharkov, Ukraine, on August 8, 1912, Natalya Mikhailovna Dudinskaya will be buried in Volkova cemetery, final resting place of Tchaikovsky and Turgenev, among others.

Contributors: Darrah Carr, Edward Ellison, Doug Frank.



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