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The Buzz, 2-10: The Great Society
Hundreds of thousands for Danspace Project; Green Light for Elevator Repair Service; Adieu la Belle Becky; Kartoon Kaos Theory

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

Photo by Herbert Migdoll

We're in the Money

Danspace Project, which has long taken the lead in commissioning among New York dance presenters, will receive a four-year grant of between $360,000 and half a million dollars to increase its commissioning, augment technical and presenting support for international artists, and prepare for a capital campaign. "We are overjoyed about this honor," said executive director Laurie Uprichard, whose theater is one of 17 presenters across the country to receive similarly-sized grants from the Nonprofit Finance Fund's Mid-Size Presenting Initiative. ("Mid-size" would apparently refer to the size of the recipient organizations' infrastructure, not the scope of their visions.)

For the purposes of this initiative, Uprichard says, Danspace Project "will be looking to increase artist commissions from their current level of $2,500 to $3,000 - $5,000. We will aim to increase artist fees, currently based at a guarantee of $2,000 vs. 50% of box office income, whichever is greater, to a guarantee of $2,500 over the grant period. The presentation of international artists should be effected with greater fee and technical support."

Supported by the Doris Duke foundation, the NFF also awarded grants to Aaron Davis Hall, Bang on a Can, the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, DiverseWorks, Kuumbwa Jazz Society, La Pena Cultural Center, Manchester Craftsman's Guild, Miami Light Project, Myrna Loy Center, the National Black Arts Festival, New World Theater, On the Boards, Outpost Productions, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe, the World Music Institute, and Youth Speaks.

"Gatz"'s Green Light

Speaking of visionary, if we go to the oracular heart of that word, I think it would imply seeing the future before others. As director of New York's PS 122 for some two decades, Mark Russell surely did that. If the theater's board was idiotic enough to not retain Russell, the theater has not been so stupid as to totally abandon his legacy; thus this month's return of Elevator Repair Service, currently in the school-house with "No Great Society," in which the other-worldly being known as Susie Sokol, and Ben Williams, as directed by John Collins, riff on Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen. But the real big news is that, as a theater company whose words (and occasionally its actors) dance, ERS has apparently found it easier than US dance companies to infiltrate the scene here in Paris, where it will highlight the Festival d'Automne. Before that October gig, the company will bring its epic "Gatz," inspired by the greatest little novel of all time (F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"), to Brussels and Amsterdam, following the French gig with dates in Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim, Norway. My counsel to European choreographers who would continue to try to be playwrights: Look at how this theater company approaches the dance-drama marriage, and learn your lessons well.

Adieu la Belle Becky

Speaking of winning combinations, Rebecca Wright, former star of the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre -- and also "an awesome teacher and coach," as our webmistress Robin Hoffman, a former Joffrey dancer, tells me -- passed away January 29 from cancer, at the age of 58. At the time of her death, Wright was serving as the director of the Washington School of Ballet. She had also directed dance programs at Adelphi University, the Joffrey/New School, St. Paul's School, and American Ballet Theatre.

"She was a wonderful mentor, colleague, and when I was a student at the Joffrey, one of our beloved icons," dancer and choreographer Suki John recalled. Jon Teeuwissen, executive director of the Joffrey and former general manager of ABT, recounted: "I met her 25 years ago -- she stayed in my home when she came to work with a small regional company I was involved with in West Virginia. She had just started taking voice lessons, and so she was always singing." (The singing lessons worked; Wright was nominated for a Drama Desk award as best supporting actress in a musical for her role in the 1983 "Merlin.") "We re-connected during my time at ABT, and I must say I loved her (and all her craziness). She was a gifted artist, and just a totally fun person to be around. She had planned on being a part of the Joffrey's 50th anniversary in June. She will surely be missed."

(For more on the inspiration provided by Kelly, check today's Flash Flashback from Aimee Ts'ao.)

Kartoon Kaos

I won't spend a lot of time on this because it's been covered in depth elsewhere, most informatively on yesterday's edition of Democracy Now, which you can access at this page. Much of what I have to say here is based, fact-wise, on DN's interview with Brandeis University's Jytte Klausen.

There are two basic issues here: 1) Is violence a justified response to the inherently racist, inherently idiotic, apparently intentionally provocative cartoons first published by Denmark's Jyllands-Posten and later picked up by other European papers? and 2) Is the publication of these cartoons rightly protected by freedom of speech? You don't need me to tell you the answer to question 1 is no, no, no. As for number 2, from my perch here in Paris, the answer is also no. The publication and subsequent dissemination of these cartoons in Europe occurs in the context of an anglo-Europe that is, in some sectors, anyway, Euro-Arab phobic. Yes there are laws protecting freedom of speech here, but there are also laws against racist speech, and it's into this category that these cartoons clearly fall. Never mind that the editor of Jyllands-Posten is persisting in running out the freedom of speech canard, reportedly promising to reprint any Holocaust cartoons an Iranian newspaper comes up with.

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