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The Buzz, 4-2: Wizards
Pointe Shoes for Taglioni; Funding & a School for Forsythe; Freelance Artists Topple a Minister

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- The Bloch shoe and apparel company today Fed Exed signed pointe shoes from every single female dancer of The Australian Ballet from Australia to Paris, to be placed on Marie Taglioni's deteriorating grave on April 23, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the first ballerina to make pointe an art.

Australian Ballet artistic director David McAllister explained, "Marie Taglioni began the art of dancing en pointe -- an amazing technique which has inspired generations of dancers, choreographers, shoemakers and medical practitioners. Without the pointe shoe would ballet be the internationally renowned art form we know and love? I think not. Thank you Marie. Your beautifully ethereal dancing and sore toes will live on forever!"

If Taglioni's legacy lives on in today's ballet dancers and ballet and modern innovators, her grave in the Montmartre Cemetery, hidden a few yards behind Vaslav Nijinsky's ornate, better-maintained, and more prominent tomb, is in dire condition, the plaque with her name broken in two and detached from the grave. In an effort to help make sure this mother of dance is remembered, the Dance Insider has been collecting pointe shoes to place on the grave for three years, leading up to her April 23 bicentennial. (To see photographs of the grave and the pointe shoes, please click here.) Companies and individual dancers interested in contributing shoes should contact me at paul@danceinsider.com.

In another development, Maina Gielgud, artistic associate of Houston Ballet and the co-chair of the Dance Insider's Marie Taglioni campaign, has announced she will be giving a Romantic class for the women of the Houston Ballet on April 23, and is encouraging other companies to consider a similar gesture.

Speaking of dance innovators, the Forsythe saga -- whether William Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt would be shut down for want of funding and political support, as first reported here, appears to have reached a happy resolution. According to a company spokesperson, the German states of Saxony and Hesse, as well as the municipalities of Dresden and Frankfurt am Main "have given William Forsythe the green light to start the operation of his new company at the Festspielhaus Hellerau / Dresden and at the Bockenheimer Depot/Frankfurt as of 2005" -- albeit, the company acknowledged, at reduced funding levels. On Wednesday, the Dresden City Council agreed to become the final partner.

"The budget will be less and the company will be smaller," Ballett Frankfurt spokesperson Mechthild Ruhl told the Dance Insider today. "The Forsythe Company will be a private company and will get support from the states Hesse and Saxony and the cities Frankfurt and Dresden and from private sponsors. In addition we will have income from ticket sales and tours. The Ballett Frankfurt budget was around 7.5 million Euros (or $9.4 million) and the Forsythe Company budget will be approximately 4 million Euros (about $5 million at current exchange rates). We will start at the beginning of 2005 and we are working on our schedule."

The solution of bi-city ballet companies to scarce arts funding, familiar to the United States, is relatively new to Germany. Saxony governor Georg Milbradt and Hesse chief executive Roland Koch hailed the unique agreement as a landmark in "partnership support of quality art. The crossing of borders between cities and states and the private support of this engagement has allowed such a world-renowned artist as William Forsythe the possibility to produce and perform in the west as well as in the east of Germany in the near future."

For Dresden, in what was formerly East Germany, the arrangement has the added incentive of providing a solution to the Festspielhaus Hellerau, signalling that the facility's renovation can continue, said Dresden mayor Ingo Roflberg. "The state of Saxony and the city of Dresden have set the path to further develop the Festspielhaus Hellerau as a center of contemporary arts with this contract and the engagement of William Forsythe."

Frankfurt mayor Petra Roth -- who Forsythe had implicitly targeted in suggesting the closing of the company was political -- expressed "relief" that a way had been found to continue the city's association with a company and a name, Forsythe, that has come to be synonymous with ballet renovation in the past 20 years.

While the reduced budget will still present challenges -- the full current company will not be maintained -- Forsythe was optimistic, promising that the company will soon announce plans for an international dance academy. And he continues to create; his newest ballet bows in Frankfurt April 16.

Speaking of out-of-work artists, these are amazing times in France, with amazing implications for freelance artists here and, potentially, abroad. Imagine if you will that freelance dancers and other performing artists and technicians in the United States, unhappy with cuts to their benefits, organized, forced the cancellation of the major summer arts festivals, and toppled the Secretary of Culture. Okay, first you'd have to imagine freelance dance artists in the US having any benefits, and that the U.S. had a cabinet-level secretary of culture -- but you get the idea. This is exactly what's just happened in France.

Over the summer, as DI readers know, the country's Intermittents du Spectacle -- or freelance artists and technicians -- unhappy with government-approved reductions in their unemployment benefits, organized and caused the cancellation of most of the major festivals here, with little grumbling from sympathetic festival directors. (Here, a performing artist or technician can work for multiple companies, then use those cumulative hours to qualify for unemployment.)

Pouring oil on the fire was a surprisingly unsympathetic minister of culture, former Pompidou Centre president Jean-Jacques Aillagon. Among other things, as Le Monde reminded in a special investigation published yesterday, Aillagon said that the weeding of the rolls which would result from the toughening of unemployment qualification requirements was a good thing because there were too many companies and too many artists anyway, who produce at times mediocre productions. As well, as Le Monde pointed out, neither Aillagon nor anyone else in the government fully realized the impact the new regime, scheduled to take effect this January, would have on artists' lives -- nor their potential to wreak havoc in defense of their metiers. Besides reducing the amount of time in which artists needed to chalk up the qualifying 507 hours from 12 to 10 or 10 1/2 months over a year and the amount of benefits that resulted from one year's to eight months, the new regime also eliminated benefits for pregnant artists, causing one actress to deadpan, "In effect, they don't want artists to reproduce."

The reduction to Intermittents' benefits was just one aspect of sweeping government cutbacks in social welfare as it struggles to meet European Union requirements that it balance its budget, or come close to it; the Intermittents haven't been the only affected group taking their wrath to the streets.

On Sunday, in regional (or the US equivalent of state) elections, the French public sent a profound message to President Jacques Chirac's ruling right-wing government, electing Left coalition candidates to the presidencies and legislative majorities in 20 of France's 22 regions; only they Alsace and Corsica went Right.

The vote was widely seen as a rejection of social welfare 'reforms' Chirac and his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, have been trying to push through for two years. And yet, in a move prompting further indignation, Chirac decided to retain Raffarin and Raffarin, in turn, most of his government, simply switching some portfolios in a move the French press has called "musical chairs" or "abracadabra." The EXCEPTIONS, however, were the forced departures of an unpopular education minister, the health minister whose agency's lackluster response is partly blamed by many for the thousands who died during last summer's heat wave and culture minister Aillagon, whose exit is largely blamed on the Intermittents crisis.

The tactile effects of Aillagon's exit on the Intermittents' plight remain to be seen -- despite suspending other reforms in a national speech last night, Chirac has not revoked the new Intermittents regime as the artists have demanded, but has simply called on the 'new' government to open all lines of dialogue, as today's Liberation reported, a move which should have been made more than a year ago. But that they have been able to actually topple a government minister who essentially opposed them is reason for France's freelance artists to be proud, and a shining example for artists everywhere.




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