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The Buzz, 5-29: Beneath the SurFACE
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 "Nocturne."

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 kelliott@marthagrahamdance.org.

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.


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