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The Buzz, 4-8: Words Matter
APAP mis-Presents Firings; Graham Moves in and Grabs Pini; 'Internationalism' in Seine-Saint-Denis (no Americans Allowed); Chronicle Critic Appoints Anderson Cranko Muse; Steven Heathcoate -- This is Your Life!

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

Are the approximately 1,700 members of Arts Presenters being served? A look at this month's APAP newsletter tells the story: APAP's staff, 22 at full strength, is down to a dozen, according to the staff listing in the publication. At least seven of the missing were fired March 7 or shortly thereafter, as we previously reported. At the time, we asked a new hire, vice president Patrick Madden, if APAP would be informing its presenter-members of these substantial personnel moves. Here's what he answered:

"Through our regular communications vehicles over the next few weeks and months we will be announcing the advances we are making to execute the strategic plan. To give you a specific example, we have a members' newsletter that is in final proof stages that will be sent out in the next week or so that will include this information."

Here's the closest the members' newsletter comes to addressing this subject (and I use the term 'addressing' guardedly):

"In January, we also highlighted the new strategic plan adopted by the board of directors in the fall, which calls for a major shift in priorities at Arts Presenters. The new direction focuses on knowledge-based programs and services integrated throughout the organization and customized to meet member needs. As a result, Arts Presenters recently restructured some of its operations and staff in an effort to enhance the expertise, skills and capacity needed in-house to deliver the programs and service that our members require. We are pleased to welcome two senior level staff members to our team at Arts Presenters -- John Tomczyk, senior vice president of operations and Patrick Madden, vice president of external affairs. We will keep you apprised of our changes and advances in the weeks and months ahead."

No mention that the 'restructuring' involved firing seven dedicated APAP staffers, including the exhibition and meetings manager; information systems manager, grants manager; bookkeeper, conference/communications associate, publications manager, and associate for cultural participation programs.

Meanwhile, Arts Presenters executive director Sandra Gibson has not responded to Dance Insider queries about her own future at the organization.

Speaking of the future, the Martha Graham Center's is so bright, we hope executive director Marvin Preston included shades in the boxes he carted to the center's spanking new administrative offices in midtown Wednesday.

"The kind generosity of Mr. William Witter (husband of board member Inger Witter) has provided us with a pro bono elegant and wonderfully located office for the past three years," Preston writes us. "That 196 square feet of space was fine when I was the only person in the organization and spent most of my time in a cold dank warehouse trying to fathom what had happened over the past 85 years. However, now that we actively employ about 75 people, we have stretched the limits of 196 square feet and gargantuan efforts at self-imposed virtual offices.

"The space that we have now is 2,500 square feet, the entire second floor of a townhouse at 344 East 59th Street, NY, NY 10022, same phones, email, fax, etc. The building is the old Ford Modelling Agency building. We have great visions of being more effective and coordinated. We will also have a place for volunteers to actually come and help us, since we get such offers frequently."

Among those 75 employees is David Pini. The energetic manager of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company has jumped ship to join Martha, indicating -- though we don't have official confirmation of this yet -- a busy touring schedule in the company's not-to-distant future.

Among his many other talents, Pini's French fluency made him an unsung hero to the Cunningham company's strong presence here in France, from which I write you. And speaking of American dance companies in France, in a recent Flash Review Journal, I complained about what I perceive as the inherent prejudice against US dance companies of most major French presenters, particularly in Paris (the notable exception being the Theatre de la Bastille). A reader who performs here regularly with a US company wrote to press me on the issue:

"You stated that there were only four American choreographers who were 'allowed' to tour in Paris regularly; they being Merce, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, and Bill T. Jones. You then brought up Meg Stuart, Jennifer Lacey, and Carolyn Carlson to illustrate other American choreographers who are given representation in Paris -- and as you said, all are choreographers who have relocated, and are living and working in (Europe).

"I wish you had further supported your argument that presenters in Paris are 'innately prejudiced.' Which presenters? Which venues? And which troupes in the United States suffer because of said prejudices? I should tell you that I'm impressed, and in agreement, with your point of view; I too grow tired of seeing the same line-up of American choreographers presented throughout theatres in Paris. There is a recycled feeling to the presenting in the city, though I don't know that I would characterize it as 'protectionism.' In your article, you never fully explain the trend that you're observing, and you abort focus on that trend (which is quite a poignant one), before ever addressing, or speculating as to the complexities behind the problem. I found the argument entirely too thin to digest seriously -- like a creme brulee which had been cooked in a microwave, if you'll forgive the poor simile."

Touche! The reader's points are fair. Let me elaborate just a little. The Theatre de la Ville is considered the largest venue for modern dance in Paris, with two theater spaces (the almost BAM-sized Sarah Bernhardt and the more-than-Joyce-sized Abbesses). In the nearly two years I've been here, with the exception of Merce, Carlson, and Stuart, director Gerard Violette has not programmed A SINGLE US-based dance company.

Taking a more recent example, the laudable and respected Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis apparently does not consider "International" as including the United States. Of the 16 companies-artists booked for the festival, which opens April 23 in Bobigny, NONE are from the US. Yes, there's former Cunningham dancer Foofwa D'Imobilite, performing with Thomas Lebrun, but the program identifies this partnership as Swiss-French. Note to Rencontres director-curator Anita Mathieu: Words matter. The festival may have much to recommend it, and I look forward to checking out many of the artists -- but international it isn't.

Who suffers from this? Audiences who believe the hype that what they are seeing represents an international selection, when it doesn't and excludes -- yes excludes -- some fine and innovative US dancemakers. And US companies, slighted by the inference that they are not precious enough to be included in a festival that presents itself as international.

Speaking of words mattering, in his recent review of the Stuttgart Ballet's Berkeley performance of John Cranko's "Romeo & Juliet," San Francisco Chronicle critic Octavio Roca writes:

"Four decades on, the late Cranko's masterpiece remains a thrilling spectacle. His company, under the direction of Cranko's muse Reid Anderson, is one of the treasures of the dance world.

Make room, Stanton; we have one more to join you in the Ballet History 101 course. While Anderson certainly danced with the Stuttgart Ballet early in his career and late in Cranko's, he was not one of Cranko's muses. Those would include the likes of Marcia Haydee, Richard Cragun, Egon Madsen, and Birgit Keil -- but not Anderson. Why does Roca's error matter? Because criticism in mass-circulation media is perceived by the general public as authoritative, critics should not abuse that podium by forgetting or mis-reporting our history.

Speaking of Cranko's Romeo, essaying that role in Sydney this month with the Australian Ballet is longtime principal Steven Heathcote. A week or so before the opening, Heathcote was feted on the Australian version of the television show "This is Your Life." For the inside scoop on that affair, we turn to dance insider Maina Gielgud, former director of the OZ Ballet, who was guest of honor for the surprise event:

"What a lark, and what an honor!," Gielgud writes. "Bertrand d'At, director of Ballet du Rhin, where I am staging 'Giselle,' was good enough to allow me time out from rehearsals -- so I left after rehearsal last Saturday March 22. I had such a fabulous time, even though I had to be in hiding (behind an enormous straw hat, sunglasses, and a blonde wig) whenever I set foot out of the Hotel room. I did manage to bribe them to allow me to watch performances of "Romeo & Juliet" which they are doing now, although only the first act of Steven's one, which was just before the taping, and consequently rehearsal! It had to be an absolute surprise for him -- and it was!"

Our Suzanne Davidson will have the complete Oz production of Cranko's R&J for you Thursday, dance insider. Until then -- Parting is such sweet sorrow, 'til we meet and it be 'morrow.


This one goes out to Tareq Ayub, correspondent for the Al-Jazeera satellite television station, who, according to the station, died this morning from injuries sustained after a US missile attack on Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Baghdad, leaving behind a wife and two children. A US spokeswoman denied the station was targeted.)

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