The Buzz, 5-29: Beneath
Graham Books City Center; Topping Remembers Ross; Parker all-WET;
Asian-American Women Center Stage; Paper Bites Ballerinas; Retiring
Dancers; Burning up the Canal
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
The Martha Graham Dance
Company returns to City Center next April, following fall performances
in Seattle and Los Angeles.
"I do not accept the
premise that self-presenting at City Center is a losing proposition,"
said Marvin Preston, executive director of the Martha Graham Center.
The conventional wisdom on presenting at City Center is that companies
are lucky to break even.
"We believe that City
Center has very high costs," Preston told the Dance Insider. "We
do not love high costs. However, the venue is located perfectly
and has capacity appropriate to the kind of demand we generate and
want to fulfill." City Center has 2,753 seats; the company would
need to sell more than 16,000 tickets to sell out its six dates,
April 20 - 25.
"The most expensive
way to appear at City Center (and probably any other venue anywhere),"
said Preston, "is to perform a one night only performance -- as
we did May 9, 2002 there. It is extremely expensive to load-in,
have a day of tech, rehearsal, and press showings; perform; (and)
try to load-out before triple time after midnight kicks in on the
union crew that gets a 41+ percent fringe added to everything they
do, after getting their minimum hours for every aspect of anything
they do as well.
"Despite all of this,
it all boils down to the simple truth that you cannot charge enough
per seat to cover your expenses. That does not mean that you cannot
make money. You must make it by other means -- your audience can
be sustainable, large and loyal with demographics that appeal to
advertisers (who might buy ads in your program, underwrite your
receptions, sponsor some collateral events for which patrons will
pay, etcetera). The economic win-loss situation is most dependent
upon realizable demand. If your product has a large, sustainable,
global demand as ours does, then you have to work hard to market
and generate the collateral income streams that complement ticket
sales. To sit back and whine that it won't work because it's too
hard is a childish (and historically stereotypical) not-for-profit
performing arts (I'm a victim) mindset that will no longer cut it
in the real world."
Amen! It's refreshing
to find a dance company executive who esteems dance and who is ready
to scale mountains for it. And what better quarter for such a model
to emerge from than from Martha Graham's dance company? Tickets
for the Graham company's October 23-25 season at the University
of Washington in Seattle are already on sale; for more information,
please click here. Tickets for the Los
Angeles engagement, October 28 - 30 at Cal-State Northridge, go
on sale June 9.
For those New Yorkers
who can't wait 'til next year for their next taste of Graham, tonight
through Sunday at Marymount Manhattan College, the Martha Graham
Dance Ensemble is in the house with Graham's "El Penitente," "Diversion
of Angels," and "Acts of Light," as well as the late Bertram Ross's
Tonight's opening will
be dedicated to Ross, who ensemble director Kenneth Topping first
encountered in Ross's technique class at the Clark Center when Topping
joined the Graham company, in 1985.
"Because he created
and portrayed characters of such depth and weight, I imagined Bertram
Ross, the man, the artist, to be extremely serious, severe, and
perhaps brooding," Topping recalled recently. "I walked into his
classroom and couldn't believe I was in the presence of the man
who worked so closely with Martha and whose identity was a part
of all the Graham roles he created. I was terrified only to be completely
surprised -- surprised by the freedom in his movement, by his playful
nature, and by the absence of pretension (something I assumed from
an artist of his stature in the Graham world). He walked among the
dancers sitting on the floor, moving with us as we breathed out
and contracted our torsos. He sang the beats of the movement, smiled,
laughed, and made sounds like some animal might do! All I could
think was 'who is this lighthearted, eccentric guy...?' I realized
that a person didn't have to be morose or claim to be profound to
be a Graham dancer. Mr. Ross was humorous and generous. He was profound
without trying to be. He was clever and witty. You had a feeling
that he had discovered something in life that satiated him, that
excited him. And you felt that when you worked with him in the classroom
and when you saw him on the stage."
For more information
on the ensemble season, please call 212-838-5886.
For information on booking
the Martha Graham Dance Company, you can contact Kate Elliott at
Elsewhere in New York this weekend, the Bang Group's David Parker
presides over the inauguration of Soaking WET, a new series at the
West End Theater, 263 West 86th Street. As director of WET's first
dance company in residence, Parker said, "It has been my intention
to use some of my weeks there to produce artists who inspire me.
This time I'm sliding our stage under the capable feet of choreographers
Mary Barnett, Sara Hook, Rachel Lynch-John/Kathryn Tufano, Dixie
FunLee Shulman and Amber Sloan."
His mission, Parker
told the DI, is "to bring together esthetically diverse choreographers
of various levels of experience in order to break down some of the
barriers between various kinds of contemporary work. I hope to strike
interesting sparks here. All the choreographers (except Rachel Lynch-John)
have worked as dancers with me. I'm starting from the inner circle
and moving out one ring at a time. Because my own dance language
has so many sources (tap, historic modern, pomo, Cunningham, Cecchetti
ballet, Flamenco, folk, toe-tap) I've ended up knowing a lot of
dancers and choreographers that might not otherwise find themselves
in the same spaces."
At $5 a pop, the ticket
price, Parker pointed out, is "user-friendly" and, taking a page
from Bill Graham, "everyone who attends gets a cookie." Soaking
WET runs tonight through Sunday at 8 p.m. For more information,
please call 212-337-9565.
Speaking of bang for your buck, also $5 for admission, and no doubt
worth every cent, is this weekend's Women's Solo Performance Series
at the Asian American Writers' Workshop, 16 West 32nd Street. Denise
Uyehara inaugurates the series tonight at 7 with "Big Head," which
contrasts the experience of Japanese-Americans incarcerated by the
government during World War II with the treatment of those the Bush
government would label suspected terrorists. On Friday, Maura Nguyen
Donohue, a contributor to this publication, performs "SKINning the
surFACE: SOLO," which, says Donohue, "uses the 1987 Amerasian Homecoming
Act between Vietnam and the US as a springboard into a heated exploration
of the bi-racial body and its personal and political repercussions."
And Dawn Akemi Saito wraps up this heady weekend Saturday with "Blood
Cherries," reviewed here by Peggy H. Cheng. For more info, please call 212-494-0061.
Speaking of strong women, the good news is that dancing Balanchine's
"Four Temperaments" tonight at the Sydney Opera House will be the
Australian Ballet principals Simone Goldsmith, Lynette Wills, Lucinda
Dunn and Nicole Rhodes . The bad news is the patronizing tone towards
the dancers in today's Sydney Morning Herald report on the occasion.
"Pointes of difference set aside as four (sic) primas go toe to
toe," announces the headline, in which reporter Sharon Verghis assures
us that "the newest principal, Wills, is keen, too, to puncture
any perception of rivalry. 'You learn so much from each other. If
someone is finding it a bit difficult, and you have a little secret
on how to do it better, you let them know.'" Um, perception by whom?
Even raising the question is an insult to professionals who have
trained for this moment since they were three years old. Had the
news concerned stars in Tap Dogs, I doubt the paper would have given
the story quite the same slant.
Speaking of ballerinas and other dancers in the news, despite what
you might have read recently in another publication, women dancers
at the Paris Opera Ballet are not required to retire at age 40.
According to an Opera spokesman, both women and men have the option
to retire at 40 and start receiving their pension; at 42, dancers
of both sexes are required to step down.
Speaking of false alarms, and as long as we're in Paris, this past
Saturday night they set fire to the Canal. If you've seen the film
released in the U.S. as "Amelie," you know the Canal St. Martin
as the place where Amelie's parents dump her rebellious goldfish.
Well, all along the canal, giant metal sphere-shaped frames draped
with wire baskets which contained flowerpot torches were floated
out into the water, and the flowerpots set aflame. Under the bridge
near the rue Lancry -- this would be where "Amelie" goes to skip
stones and solve tout le monde's problems -- a three-accordion band
was pressed by a crowd of young people, all in their twenties on
average, singing and dancing to standards from the 1930s. The U.S.
equivalent would be if they lit up The Lake in Central Park and
a crowd of twenty-somethings danced around it singing Woody Guthrie songs. Except, not having studied the
lyrics in school (unless you went to Rooftop School) as French kids
learn the lyrics to chansons (from all cultures), no one would know
the words to most of the songs. And I suspect we'd never get past
the fire codes. "What? Float torches on The Lake? You'd set it on
fire!" "Can't start a fire...." Have a great rest of the week and
week-end, dance insider -- however you light yours.