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
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
"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
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:
Agnes de Mille
Ninette de Valois
Diane Coburn Bruning
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
And, of course, you
can always buzz the Buzz at firstname.lastname@example.org.