featured photo
The Kitchen

More Buzz
Go Home

The Buzz, 5-1: While George's Guitar Gently Weeps
ABT Honors Bush; Who is David Koch?; San Jose Salutes McKayle; Izzies Honors Bay's Best; Hodes Remembers Ross

"I don't know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you....

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps."

-- George Harrison

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

His name is David Koch. Since 1994, he has served as vice chairman of the board of governing trustees of American Ballet Theatre.

With his brother, David Koch is the executive vice president and co-owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately owned oil company in the United States. In 1996, a faulty pipeline operated by Koch Industries caused an explosion in which two Texas teenagers, Danielle Smalley and Jason Stone, were killed. As noted by the Austin American-Statesman, both were burned beyond recognition. A Kaufman County, Texas jury later awarded the Smalley family $296 million -- the largest award for damages for a wrongful death suit in US history. The company appealed, and later reached a settlement with the Smalley family for an undisclosed amount. In another case, in January 2000, Koch Industries agreed to pay a $30 million civil penalty, according to the Justice Department "the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company under any federal environmental law to resolve claims related to more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states." In May 2001, as reported by CBS News, Bill Koch (David's brother) and Koch Industries announced a legal settlement of all their disputes in which Koch Industries agreed to pay $25 million in penalties to the US government for improperly taking more oil than it paid for from federal and Indian lands. About a third of it goes to Bill Koch or bringing the lawsuit, according to CBS. In September 2000, according to a Justice Department release, a federal grand jury in Corpus Christi, Texas, returned a 97-count indictment against Koch Industries, charging the company and four employees with environmental crimes, alleging that it had intentionally released large amounts of cancer-causing benzene from a Texas refinery and then tried to cover it up. According to the Justice Dept. press release, Koch Industries faced potential penalties of up to $352 million if convicted. During the 2000 presidential campaign, David Koch and his wife, Julia, donated $487,500 to the Republican Party, its candidates, and conservative political action committees, as documented by Mother Jones magazine. Additionally, reported BBC commentator Greg Palast, Koch Industries donated $970,000 to the party during the Bush campaign, among energy companies third only to Enron and Exxon. In April 2001, the Justice Department, under President Bush, accepted a guilty plea in which Koch Petroleum Group agreed to pay fines of $20 million.

On Monday, President Bush and his wife have been tapped as honorary chairs of ABT's Spring gala -- despite Mr. Bush's having lead an illegal invasion of another country causing, as of this date, the deaths of between 2,180 and 2,653 civilians, as reported by many sources. An invasion in which soldiers under Mr. Bush's command have stood by during the systematic, organized pillaging and destruction of Iraqi cultural institutions, including the burning of a Koranic library. Asked why ABT has chosen to honor Mr. Bush, ABT spokesperson Kelly Ryan responded, "As America's national ballet company, ABT has a long tradition of having members of the First Family serve as Honorary Chairman of the spring gala. Each year, for the past several years, ABT has consistently had the President and First Lady as Chairmen. Hilary Clinton and Tipper Gore personally attended many of these galas. George and Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Jacqueline Kennedy have also served in past years."

Through Ms. Ryan, and after detailing the stories I have referred to above, I also requested a response from ABT board chair Lewis Ranieri or president Robin Neustein to the following question: What is a person whose company has the track record of Mr. Koch's, as detailed above, doing on the ABT board of trustees?

Beyond Ms. Ryan's statement that Mr. Koch had served on the ABT board since 1984 and as its vice chairman since 1994, no response was forthcoming. While all of the cases above are well-documented, in fairness I also attempted to contact Mr. Koch, through both ABT and his company, to request comment; none has been received.

One more interesting fact: As noted by the Sierra Club , Mr. Koch helped found a group called "Citizens for a Sound Economy." What exactly do CSE's policy papers and experts argue? Writes the Sierra Club's Curtis Moore: "CSE's representatives have appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows and published 235 op-ed articles. What do they tell us? Among other things, that 'environmental conservation requires a commonsense approach that limits the scope of government,' acid rain is a 'so-called threat [that] is largely nonexistent,' and global warming is "a verdict in search of evidence.'"

In 1994, Donald McKayle created, for San Francisco Ballet, a work, "Gumbo Ya-Ya," which treated a post-(environmentally) Apocalyptic society. The ballet was inspired, McKayle told me, by his witnessing first hand, during a tour with the Martha Graham company in the 1950s, environmental devastation wrought in Malaysia and elsewhere. Would that ballet have a chance at entering the rep. of Mr. Koch's ABT?

Fortunately for its audience, another ballet company, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, has made a home for three of McKayle's ballets, in a tribute program which opens tonight and runs through Sunday at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. The program includes "District Storyville," "Death and `Eros," and "House of Tears."

And while we're in the Bay Area, San Francisco Ballet principal Muriel Maffre -- who created a principal role in "Gumbo Ya-Ya" -- was among the winners of the annual Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, or "Izzies," announced Monday in San Francisco. Joining Maffre as an awardee for individual performance were Diablo Ballet's Kelly Teo and Oakland Ballet's Erin Yarbrough. Michael Lowe's "Bamboo," also on Oakland Ballet, won forbest choreography. Ensemble performance went to Joanna Berman, Julie Diana, and Katita Waldo in the SFB company premiere of Jerome Robbins's "Dances at a Gathering." Company performance went to Jess Curtis/Gravity Physical Entertainment and fabrikCompanie in "fallen" at the ODC Theater, and to Na Lei Hulu Ka Wekiu in Patrick Makuakane's "The Hula Show" at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Best revival/restaging/reconstruction went to Shelly Senter for Trisha Brown's "Glacial Decoy" and phrase material from "Foray Foret," sound/music/text to Joan Jeanrenaud for the sound score from "Be With," for Anna Halprin and Eiko & Koma. Patty-Ann Farrell got the nod for visual design for the same show.

Special awards went to Lines Ballet for "The People of the Forest" and to Theatre Artaud for, among other things, closing the theater responsibly after financial insolvency. Sustained achievement awards went to the San Francisco Butoh Festival and the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Individuals receiving the award included founding Lines member Marina Hotchkiss, and director emerita of Berkeley Ballet Theater Sally Streets.

Speaking of sustained achievement, the late Bertram Ross, seminal Martha Graham dancer, certainly qualified for that recognition, as did his Graham colleague, who writes with this reminiscence of Mr. Ross, who passed away last month:

So many stories about Bertram, and yet volumes would yield no more than a hint of his brilliant, lovable, complex self. Peter Sparling's piece is splendid, and he's right. Bertram lives.

I most remember that Bertram made it fun to be serious about dancing. After a long day of rehearsal when we were all aching to get out of the studio, his pinpoint concentration and rampant imagination would ignite, energy would zoom, and something marvelous would happen. To have Bertram in a new dance made the dance, and the choreographer, better.

His humor could be devastating yet was never hurtful. He liked to make up song parodies. In Natural Bridge, Virginia, to the tune of Sweet Adeline: "I lost my bridge, on the Natural Bridge..."

After the 1950 European debacle, to the tune of "Besame Mucho": "Bethsabe, Bethsabe Rothschild. There's been a rumor that you lost mazuma on us!"

And to the logo tune of the old Arthur Murray Dance Studio:

"Martha Graham taught me dancing in a hurry
I do contractions with ease.
To Martha I'm beholden
My spiral thrust is golden
But I can't get off my knees."

Have a great week-end, dance insider, and don't bow down to anybody.

More Buzz
Go Home