The Buzz, 2-6: International
Incidents and National Affairs
DTW Shifts Positions ;) ; NJ Guv to Arts: Drop Dead; Kronos's Harrington
on Cage and Merce; Dance Rencontres of the Annual Kind
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
My colleagues, despite
the claims by Dance Theater Workshop to have eliminated its theater
operations director of mass construction, The Buzz today will present
incontrovertible evidence that in fact the position has not been
eliminated, but has simply been shifted to another part of the theater
to elude hard-hitting investigative arts journalists like me. I'd
like to share with you an instant voice message conversation which
our intelligence branch has intercepted, using our sophisticated
multi-platform web monitoring system software, TM. For convenience,
we have translated the conversation from tech-speak into English:
Voice 1: The audience is arriving tonight. Have you moved the, uh,
the you know what?
Voice 2: You mean the
Voice 1: No, I mean
the red suspenders on the aisle leading up to the control booth.
Voice 2: Um, we were
supposed to move those?
Voice 1: Affirmative,
the apparel must be gone by the time they arrive. Can you confirm?
Voice 2: Confirmed.
But how will the TOD hold up his shorts without the suspenders?
Voice 1: What shorts?
Voice 2: The, uh, you
know, the SHORTS.
Voice 1: You were supposed
to move those last week to St. Mark's Church.
Voice 2. Oh. Sorry.
Voice 1: Look, I better
get over there now. But don't forget to erase this conversation,
we wouldn't want the Dance Insider to discover it.
Speaking of things gone missing -- and this item, unlike the above,
is no joke -- In an attempt to help get the state's budget down
to $23.7 billion, New Jersey's Democrat governor, James McGreevey,
is proposing to totally eliminate the state's $31.7 million arts
and culture budget. (That's less than President Bush's budget would
spend on the military in one minute.)
"I am still in a state
of shock with tears in my eyes," said Andy Chiang, board president
of the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company and a trustee of the state advocacy
board, ArtPride. "If this proposal is true, it will pull us back
into the dark ages.... The state arts council money represents a
major portion of our operating budget. It is the money in the bank
at the beginning of the fiscal year and pays the bills without us
having to wait for the presentation on the books. If zero or very
low is the (state funding) reality, I believe we will see a whole
lot less dance in New Jersey. Non-profit dance simply will not be
able to afford to put on any new productions, or perhaps any productions
At the American Repertory
Ballet, the elimination of state arts funding could not come at
a worse time, according to artistic director Graham Lustig. "While
the Governor's proposal does not directly effect ARB this season,
it will have a chilling effect on our ability to book performances
for the 2003 - 2004 season, our 25th anniversary season, and beyond,"
said Lustig. "Not only do we face the prospect of losing state support,
but the presenters across the state do as well, which directly impacts
their available funds to present companies like American Repertory
Or, as Jeffrey Woodward,
managing director of Princeton's McCarter Theatre, described the
meeting where McGreevey gave arts organizations the news: "We went
to our own funeral today." In his comments to the Star-Ledger, Woodward
added: "We understand the fiscal crisis facing New Jersey. What
we don't understand or accept is why we are being singled out (and)
The wholesale cut would
have a ripple effect, too, explained Chiang: "The state will also
lose matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts."
actions could have national implications, Chiang pointed out: "This
is a wake up call to the arts community around the country. Our
powerful statewide arts advocacy organization, ArtPride, was able
to grow the arts budget in the past several years and create an
exemplary cultural trust program. Yet, we (still) see this proposal
on the table."
But there is also a
national artistic stake here. With its innovative programming --
particularly Lustig's commitment to commissioning, on an ongoing
basis, works by female choreographers -- the ARB is a national ballet
resource, just as the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, fusing modern and
Asian sensibilities and styles, is also an artistic and community
resource. And McCarter is a vital performance space for many national
dance attractions, who often test new work at the Princeton venue.
To protest this funding
elimination, please call Governor McGreevey's office in Trenton
at 609-292-6000, or write him at P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625.
When you get the governor's
attention, you might tell him he can see what he's threatening by
checking Nai-Ni Chen this Saturday and Sunday at the New Jersey
Performing Arts Center, where it will be celebrating the Chinese
New Year with the musical ensemble Melody of the Dragon Players.
More info at 1-800-650-0246 or 888-466-5722.
In my other former home state, meanwhile, they know how to do right
by the arts. Last week at the University of California at Los Angeles,
and tomorrow at the University of California's Zellerbach Hall,
the Kronos Quartet will play "30 Pieces for String Quartet," composed
for it by John Cage in 1983, while the Merce Cunningham Dance Company
performs a new dance with the music.
The composition of the
music sounds uncanily like the composition of, well, a Merce Cunningham
"It's an amazing piece
of music," said Kronos violinist David Harrington, "because it will
never be quite the same way twice, and yet it always sounds like
itself. There are numerous sections that are quite rhythmic and
keep re-occurring in the various instruments. When we were working
with Cage, he mentioned his fascination with frogs, and when you
hear these rhythmic sections, it does remind you of frogs. Shortly
before he wrote this piece for us, he'd been recording some frogs
in Puerto Rico, and I wonder how much of his fascination with frogs
went into '30 pieces.'"
Now, an obvious question
to pose to the musicians at this point might be how the random-seeming
construction of a Merce event might affect their playing. In fact,
with this particular combination, it's the reverse. Even before
being paired with a Cunningham dance, Cage's '30 pieces' was performed
and recorded in a uniquely staged manner. First of all, Cage dictated,
the four musicians shouldn't be in the same place. Second, they
shouldn't even rehearse together. They can monitor each other on
headsets, but the dancers are not so lucky.
The dance is supposed
to commence with the first note of the music, explained Harrington.
But, at the performance last week in Los Angeles, the dancers "couldn't
hear the first note, because the first note happened when the curtain
went up, and the curtain made a noise, and Hank Dutt, our violist,
was laying the first note out in the hall, and the first note is
very soft. So the (dance) piece ended up starting with my first
note, because I was right next to the dancers and they could hear
that." Violinist John Sherba was also out in the hall, while cellist
Jennifer Culp sat across the stage from Harrington. "We've done
it before where all four of us were out in the hall and none of
us were on the stage.... We did a TV show (of it) in Cunningham
and Cage's home, where we were in four different parts of their
home, me in the kitchen and Hank in the library, with four different
cameras, and John Cage was there as well, working on a new piece
and answering the telephone."
Even for the 30-year-old
Kronos Quartet, known for its theatrical concert stagings, said
Harrington, "It's not a normal way of playing music together."
But then, as Kronos
has also discovered, working with the Cunningham Dance Company is
not the usual way of working with a dance company.
"In our itinerary,"
he reported, "it said, 'Rehearse with the dancers from four to six,'
but just as we got to the theater, all the dancers left, and I thought
'What is going on? No dancers.' The next day, for the sound check,
it said 'Rehearse from four to six with dancers,' and the same thing
happened. A dancer explained to me, 'We never rehearse with the
music.' So we practiced our parts independent of each other, got
the sound we wanted, and in concert it felt so natural; it was very
"It's such an interesting
way to think of dance and music together. I've been wondering who
influenced who -- was it Merce who influenced Cage, or John who
influenced Merce? How did this idea come up that the music would
not necessarily dictate anything about the dance, and the dance
would not dictate anything about the music, and yet they are both
independently observable and able to be appreciated, and the qualities
of both can be independently felt by the audience?
"The other night I got
to go out after we played and watch the the third part of the program,
and it was one of the most moving experiences I've ever had watching
dance, it was so beautiful.... Clearly what Merce is celebrating
is the beauty of human movement. It seems like his choreography
is so suited to each dancer. It was so amazing to me because it
didn't seem like they were doing things that were constructed, that
they had to fit into -- it's kind of like the fit was the other
way around. It was such a celebration of the beauty of movement;
I was so happy to see this."
Like many artists who
have worked with Cage, Harrington recalled an interesting process
for '30 Pieces.' "We got the music in 1983, just before the New
Year. In the Spring of 1984, we were on our way to Europe. We had
practiced a lot on this piece and had a lot of questions. The only
way that our schedules worked out to rehearse with John Cage was
(during) a lay-over at Kennedy Airport. So Cage took the subway
out to the airport, and we had arranged for a room there. Everyone
got there, and we had just about two hours. We got there and into
this conference room, and no one could turn on the lights. So here
we are with John Cage and these little lights at on the floor, and
no one could see their music. So the five of us sat around this
huge business conference table, each one of us at one corner, and
Cage's voice was so soft, and we were practically in the dark so
no one could see the music. So we asked all these questions about
the piece, and the rehearsal was him answering our questions, just
the most incredible rehearsal." The lights would come on, gloriously,
for the piece's premiere: "We put the piece together in Finland
that summer, and in Finland it doesn't get dark in the summer. We
rehearsed the piece in the middle of the night, when it was still
light all night."
Of the hundreds of composers
Kronos has worked with, said Harrington, Cage stands out for "the
nature of his listening and what he imagined," which was "very particular,
and different than any other composer we've worked with. One time
(in the eighties), we were at the same festival together, and we
found out there was a piece we could do with Cage if he played the
piano. So we convinced him to come out of retirement -- he hadn't
played the piano in twenty years, and he played it with us as an
encore to '30 pieces.' We still have a tape of this encore, and
his touch on the piano is absolutely memorable. The tone quality
of his touch was so beautiful."
The Kronos Quartet performs
John Cage's "30 Pieces for String Quartet" Friday at Zellerbach
Hall, with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, presented by Cal
Performances. Also on Friday's program are the U.S. premiere of
"Fluid Canvas," Cunningham's latest collaboration with Paul Kaiser
and Shelley Eshkar, previously reviewed here in its world premiere by Josephine Leask. A separate
program is performed Saturday February 8.
Speaking of close encounters, or Rencontres, this just in: The previously
biennial Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis
goes annual beginning this Spring, as artistic director Anita Mathieu
continues to expand its vision. Prior to last year, the festival
was programmed as part of an international contest of sorts, with
various dance capitols around the world holding 'platforms' featuring
locally selected companies, from whom Mathieu would then choose
which to bring to France. The contest format was jettisoned last
year in favor of a more purely festival approach. While the platforms
are still held, and Mathieu still attends many of them, she is no
longer bound to choose her roster from these events, explained a
Acker in her choreography "Corps 00:00." Isabelle Meister photo
courtesy Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis.
The festival opens April
23 and lasts through May 24, spread around three venues in the suburbs
of Paris: MC93 in Bobigny, Le Colombier in Bagnolet, and the Centre
National in Montreuil. Now, what I love love love about this festival
in the context of dance in France is it's one of the few opportunities
to see companies beyond the usual suspects (often from Belgium or
from various regional centres choreographique). Or as I told Margherita
Mantero, along with Remi Fort the publicist for the Rencontres,
"I love that I've never heard of most of these artists."
They are: Laure Bonicel,
Alice Chauchat and Vera Knolle, Andre Gingras, Saskia Holbling,
Kinkaleri, Fabrice Lambert, Charles Linehan, Cecile Loyer, Salva
Sanchis, Angela Schubot and Martin Clausen, Chritiane Muller, Cie
Skalen, Maria Donato d'Urso, Cindy Van Acker, Christoph Winkler,
and Neuer Tanz. And they come from ten countries. For more information
on the festival, please call 33 1 55 82 08 08.