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The Buzz, 3-6: Defending Dance; Presenting Women
Dance/NYC Settles for Less Again; Mikko Nissenen's Man's Man's World

(This one goes out to Edward Winer, the Youngest 65-year-old dad in Town.)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

With the disappearance from the scene of the late Stephanie Reinhart, longtime co-director of the American Dance Festival, the cancellation by Dance Magazine of Richard Philp's column, and the rumored departure within two years of David White as director of Dance Theater Workshop, dance advocacy is looking at a potential vacuum of the kind of fierce defenders that it needs if it is to secure its piece of the funding pie in increasingly lean times. This is not to say we don't have other strong advocates. We do. But it means we need to speak up when supposed dance advocates sell dance short.

Dance insiders will recall that last August, just when the dance community -- lead most visibly and courageously by White, who threatened a consumer boycott -- appeared to be winning its campaign to have Tobi Tobias re-instated as dance critic at New York magazine, Dance/NYC's Bob Yesselman, self-appointed spokesperson for the dance community, and Ellen Jacobs, a respected dance publicist, took it upon themselves to capitulate on our behalf.

New York editor Caroline Miller had initially attributed Tobias's firing to economic reasons and said, "We believe that, for the time being, the best way to provide ongoing coverage of dance is in other parts of the magazine."

With the resulting furor, Miller shifted her story until, three weeks later, she announced -- through Yesselman -- "I made the decision not to renew Tobi Tobias's contract because I felt the column didn't appeal to enough of New York magazine's readers. What we need to do is find new ways to bring the dance scene alive in the pages of the magazine, not only the established companies but new choreographers and dancers and companies. And we need a new critical voice that can speak to a broader audience.... We haven't abandoned our commitment to serious culture; on the contrary, what we're doing is trying to change our approach to respond to the reality that we seemed to be speaking only to insiders and dance veterans, and not a broader audience. That is, after all, what we are all looking to do." Miller promised to bring on the "new critical voice" sometime in the fall.

Endorsing this transparent turnabout, Yesselman beamed, "The future is bright....! We are delighted with this result, and hope it can serve as a model for our field to come together as a community, and to take effective joint action to address issues of common concern."

Well, seven months later, how many reviews by the "new" critical voice of (in truth, veteran) dance writer Laura Shapiro has Ms. Miller published? According to the magazine's web site...exactly five. And how many did it publish in the seven months leading up to Tobias's firing? TEN. Let's see: 10 with Tobias, 5 in the new Yesselman-endorsed regime. And one of Shapiro's new reviews was a boggling slam of a recent Martha Graham Dance Company season acclaimed elsewhere by most other leading critics, including Tobias (in the Philadelphia Inquirer), Anna Kisselgoff in the New York Times, and our own Tom Patrick and Alicia Mosier.

Yup, Bob, that's pretty effective lobbying!

But Yesselman, undaunted by this defeat, continues to presume to negotiate on behalf of the dance community -- and to offer an easy way out to those in the media who disrespect it.

Earlier this year, straphangers in New York, particularly dancers, were outraged by a billboard campaign for the television sports network ESPN featuring a line of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders with the headline, "Without Sports, They'd Just be Dancers."

Not to worry! Bob Yesselman was on the job! And with the usual tepid results. After talking with the network's vice president for marketing, he reported in Dance/NYC's newsletter, he was "pleased to report the following resolution. This phase of the ESPN campaign officially ends in four days. Although it will probably take a few weeks for all the ads to disappear" (No rush, Bob! Dance can wait!) "(due to the schedules of the outdoor display companies that actually put the ads up), the offending ads will soon be gone from the seven large cities across the nation where they have been displayed."

Not to worry; Yesselman was not satisfied with just ESPN's promise not to do it again. He demanded "recompense"! "In recompense," he relayed, ESPN has "proposed running a special ad in the N.Y. Times and in Dance Magazine showing a football player leaping for a catch with the headline, 'Without sports, you'd just see dance on the stage.' I find this an excellent message and a wonderful way to get our awareness campaign some placement we would not have had otherwise."

Um, awareness of what exactly, Mr. Yesselman? That dance doesn't count if it's 'just' seen on our many fine stages in New York and around the nation, but is only validated by being seen on television?

Don't worry, though, dance insiders! Mr. Yesselman is listening. In a later e-mail, he updated us, "I am pleased to report that ESPN has further refined the headline for the special ads they have agreed to run in the N.Y. Times and other publications in response to our concerns about the cheerleader ads. The word 'just,' to which many in the community have taken exception, has been eliminated. The new headline is placed over a photo of a football player in a mid-air catch and reads: 'Without sports, we'd only see dance on stage.'

He just doesn't get it. Why not, instead, insist on this tag-line for the photo: "Without dance, they'd just be men fighting over a weird-shaped little ball"?

I am not the only one, dance insider, who does not find this an 'excellent' outcome. In an e-mail sent out to the list of Eva Dean Dance last month, board member Stephen Doody explained:

"We believe that ESPN's response is inadequate. We acknowledge Dance/NYC's efforts with ESPN, however, we do not agree with what they negotiated. ESPN's proposed retraction advertisement which shows a football player leaping for a catch with the headline, 'without sports you'd only see dance on stage' does not relate to the offense given. ESPN refuses to apologize (Dance/NYC acknowledged this in a telephone discussion), they have allowed the ad campaign to run to completion, and they have taken no affirmative step to accelerate removal of the offending ads.

"We have found that ESPN has not been the least bit cooperative. The person who we are informed is handling this matter is Leeann Daly. She has not returned any of the several calls left for her, nor any of the emails we have sent. Dance/NYC informed us that they did not forward any messages that disagree with what they negotiated with ESPN to Ms. Daly. Following our telephone discussion with Dance/NYC they did forward an email message from this organization. Just as with the several email messages we sent to her, no response has been received from ESPN. It appears that Ms. Daly is content to avoid communication with anyone but Dance/NYC. This gives us the impression that ESPN hopes that this advertising campaign will recede from memory and that we will simply go away."

Mr. Doody, while not necessarily endorsing my opinions here, hits on exactly why the tepid 'advocacy' of Dance/NYC and Yesselman is an issue that now needs to be addressed by the dance community. The problem is not Yesselman's tactics, his opinions, or even his approach. I recognize that everyone has his own manner of negotiating. The problem is that by presuming to act on behalf of not just himself, but the dance community, Mr. Yesselman, in the cases of New York magazine and ESPN anyway, has, far from successfully making dance's case, simply allowed these two bad actors (in these cases) an easy way out. (Mr. White, by contrast, in the case of New York magazine, held out the prospect of a consumer boycott if it did not restore dance criticism to its pages. This tactic would have born fruit, I believe, had not it been derailed by Mr. Yesselman.) To be clear: I am not saying dance does not have strong advocates elsewhere. It does. But Mr. Yesselman and his organization are not among them, at least judging by these two incidents -- and they're the ones that are paid to advocate for dance!

It's safe to say that if the only dance one saw was that performed by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, one would get a less than complete representation of the range of female dancers...and choreographers. And if one were to view the repertory of Boston Ballet, at least as planned next year by director Mikko Nissenen, one would get absolutely no idea of the depth of talented woman ballet choreographers. Yup, you guessed it -- at Boston under Mr. Nissenen, as indicated by his just announced rep for next season, it's a man's, man's world once again. NO FEMALE CHOREOGRAPHERS.

Such as who, you might ask? Here are 12 choreographers who have or are still creating in the ballet idiom, Mr. Nissenen:

Martha Graham
Agnes de Mille
Ninette de Valois
Bronislava Nijinska
Ruthanna Borris
Pina Bausch
Dominique Dumais
Julia Adam
Didy Veldman
Lila York
Diane Coburn Bruning
Saeko Ichinohe

Speaking of Ichinohe, who has set ballets on the Louisville Ballet, among others, you can check her latest work, "Homage to Shiko Munakata," tonight at 8 p.m. at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York. Munakata, according to the nice publicist Audrey Ross, was a pioneer of Japanese contemporary woodblock print art, and would be 100 this year.

If you're looking for a nice publicist for your upcoming concert, e-mail AudreyRossPub@aol.com.

If you'd like to drop Mr. Nissenen an e-mail with suggestions of female choreographers worthy of the Boston Ballet repertoire, you can drop him a line at mnissinen@bostonballet.com.

And, of course, you can always buzz the Buzz at paul@danceinsider.com.

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