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The Buzz, 6-8: Myths, Misdemeanors, & Legends
Why DTH is more than a Black Thing; Martins's Family Affair; Pilobolus in the Underworld; President Reagan's 6-year AIDS Gap; Happy Trails to Finkelstein, Bernhardt, and Wethers

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

(Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in the Buzz are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of others on the Dance Insider staff or among its advertisers.)

More than a Black Thing

The good news is that the New York Times has taken some of the dance news load away from the prodigious but long over-worked Jennifer Dunning, perhaps freeing the Gray Lady's least gray dance critic to review more dance. (Or even take the occasional day off; she's earned it!) The further good news is that Robin Pogrebin is no rookie reporter hoping to move on to something 'more important' than dance; she's a veteran news reporter with a solid grasp of politics and, uniquely in the dance journalism field, finance. The disappointment is that Pogrebin sometimes reveals a lack of knowledge of the big picture, or dance context.

We should certainly be thankful for Pogrebin's thorough report on the latest financial crisis facing Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem. Perhaps because she does not come from the world of dance writers (or fluff feature writers), Pogrebin doesn't grant Mitchell a pass in honor of his considerable accomplishment.

In the news sense, the lead of Pogrebin's May 26 story pulls no punches: "Dance Theatre of Harlem, the ground-breaking black ballet company founded 35 years ago, may disband its 44-member troupe if it fails to come up with $2.5 million to stanch its losses by the end June, Arthur Mitchell, the group's founder, said yesterday."

Ah yes, the black thing. If she nails DTH's financial and infrastructure problems -- the company will never flourish financially until Mitchell agrees to share power and responsibility -- she underestimates the impact this ensemble's loss would have on the art. Yes, in a world where evidently racist white ballet directors continue to fail to hire, promote, or justly cast deserving ballet dancers for no other apparent reason than skin color, DTH (unfortunately) must still play a role as a company that isn't blinded by color from seeing talent. But more than being a repository for gifted black dancers, or a home for ballet located in a predominantly black community, in a town and in a period where New York City Ballet's productions of the ballets of George Balanchine are often (at last viewing by this reviewer, anyway, admittedly more than two years ago) tepid, DTH plays a fundamental role in preserving the ballets of George Balanchine -- for whom Mitchell starred -- as they were truly meant to be seen. Whether in the sublime and leggy (this is a relevant compliment when it comes to Balanchine players) Caroline Rocher's precise interpretation of the Siren in "Prodigal Son," as coached by City Ballet exile Suzanne Farrell, the melancholy tone in DTH's reading of "Serenade," or other lively productions, these dancers in general give more spirited, more human nuances to the Balanchine oeuvre. If this company were to perish, not only talented black dancers unfairly excluded from white-directed companies but Balanchine himself would lose an important home.

Family Affair

Speaking of City Ballet chief Peter Martins, not only is the Orpheus in Thursday's NYCB revival of Balanchine's 1948 ballet of the same name at the New York State Theater not Black, he's also played by the son-in-law (Nilas Martins) of the ballerina playing Eurydice (Darci Kistler), leading the Buzz to ask if Martins has confused his Greek myths....

Pilobolus in the Underworld

Speaking of powerful mothers, and of Orpheus, Pilobolus founding den mother and co-director Alison Chase is putting the finishing touches on what co-director Robby Barnett tells the Buzz is "a nice retelling of the Orpheus myth," featuring "some flying." The work premieres June 24 at the Joyce, in the midst of the fungi's June 21 - July 17 season, on a program with Chase's "Ben's Admonition," Michael Tracy's 2002 Olympics commission "The Brass Ring," and "Day Two," the company's 1980 Moses Pendleton-directed signature piece. Also new this season, to New York or the world, are a Tracy duet for senior company member Renee Jaworski and freshman Mannelich Minniefee and Jonathan Wolken's "Megawatt," to music from Primus, Radiohead, and others. "Super high-energy," Barnett tells us. "Not much partnering but a lot of individual virtuosity. Other big news around here is still our new executive director, Itamar Kubovy. Very cool guy. We like him a lot." The bad news emanating from Pilobolus-land is that besides "Day Two" and the 1975 "Untitled" a.k.a. the Tall Women's dance, the Joyce season is devoid of pre-2000 repertoire, depriving us of some of the company's finest work. What up with that, fungi?

President Reagan's Six-year Gap

Speaking of historical amnesia (that's not intended as a crack about the tragic disease of Alzheimer's), it's a personal tragedy when anyone's beloved dies, and it's culturally monumental when a former president of the United States dies. He deserves to be remembered and honored. I was really sad to hear the news that President Ronald Reagan had died Saturday; when I found an account in a local Paris newspaper that described the Gipper incorrectly as a "baseball hero," I crossed out "baseball" and scrawled in "football." But media remembrances which recapitulate President Reagan's record should not dishonor AIDS victims by forgetting that his record also includes six years of public silence on the AIDS epidemic, which saw its first documented cases no later than 1981, and which epidemic President Reagan did not publicly address until 1987. That silence cost, and continues to cost, the lives of many in the dance and in the broader community, and if we should respect the loss to Reagan's family and the nation when he passed away, we should also respect the memory of those lost because of this abdication of responsibility, and that means not forgetting it. Today's AP report cites one Maura Ripsen of Anaheim as saying, "Reagan was truly the people's president...." Except for People with AIDS, who counted, and who still count among them many dance artists.

Happy Trails

Speaking of gaps, they'll certainly be felt at the 92nd Street Y, where Joan Finkelstein has departed after 12 years directing the Harkness Dance Center, to take up the new post of dance program manager with the New York City department of education, where she'll be charged with developing a dance curriculum; at The Kitchen, where Elise Bernhardt has departed as director after hearing the proverbial call to spend more time with her family; and at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church where, after five years, Marya Wethers will be leaving the post of marketing associate, and taking up new duties behind the Pentacle Help Desk, where she'll serve as coordinator. Happy Trails to all! (And a special tip of the Buzz beret to dance insider Elizabeth Zimmer, for her news tip on Bernhardt.)

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