The Buzz, 6-12: Do the
Union Charges Feld; Cortez Mounts 'Appalachian'; 'Critics' Unclear
on Concept; Happy Trails to Barretto & Pearson; ABT Forgets Petipa
& Ivanov; Troika Turns 10
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
In an April 28 letter
announcing his Ballet Tech company would suspend operations for
the 2003-2004 season, Eliot Feld explained to friends and supporters,
"We have chosen to temporarily forgo the pleasures and immediate
satisfactions of performance so that we might dedicate our limited
wealth but unlimited energy to the Ballet Tech School and its students
present and future." For the 13 professional dancers of the company,
who make it possible for the choreographer to realize his imagination,
Feld was foregoing something a bit more existential -- the employment
for which he is contractually obligated for the next four years.
Accordingly, on May 2, the dancers' union, the American Guild of
Musical Artists, filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the
National Labor Relations Board charging that "the employer has violated
the (National Labor Relations) Act by the partial cessation of operations
without notice or bargaining with the collective bargaining representative
regarding the decision or its effects."
"The first that we heard
that Eliot was suspending operations... was his announcement in
the papers," said Deborah Allton, the union's dance administrator.
"It came as a shock to us as it did to everyone else." While sympathizing
with the decision -- "On a personal level, it is heart-wrenching"
-- and praising Feld's contributions to dance over 30+ years, Allton
stressed that "as a union, it is our function and purpose to protect
our members and to enforce their rights and the contract," which
runs through June 2007. "Every unionized employer has (a legal)
obligation to bargain about both the decision to go out of business
and about the effects on the unionized employees of closing the
company," even temporarily, she noted. "Accordingly, in order to
protect the dancers, we filed an unfair labor practice against Ballet
Tech. The lawyer for Ballet Tech has responded by informing the
NLRB that they are willing to bargain with us, which is where it
stands at the moment. I feel confident that we will come to a positive
resolution which will offer some relief to the dancers displaced
by the closing and which will acknowledge the difficult financial
situation that prompted the decision to suspend operations. "
Contacted by the Dance
Insider to give Ballet Tech's point of view and request a comment
from Feld, a top official at Ballet Tech, Maggie Christ, responded,
"As to your questions regarding AGMA and the NLRB, we have no comment
at this time."
If ever a situation
were made to validate the need for representation for dancers, it's
this one. As Allton noted in another e-mail responding to some comments
made by me, "While, as I said, I admire the contributions (Feld)
has made to the dance community and to the performing arts world,
I also am aware that he can make the working environment an extremely
difficult one for dancers, who often feel vulnerable and powerless
to challenge it. We have been diligent in our effort to protect
their rights and enforce the terms of the contract while still maintaining,
if possible, a productive working relationship with the company.
This is challenging at best, but as always, the dancers come first."
The Union made a similar
accusation after the Martha Graham company suspended operations
in May 2000, and the tenor there changed. While it certainly didn't
get easier for the dancers, who didn't perform for another two years
as a legal battle raged between the Graham center and the former
artistic director, the board subsequently made sure to keep them
more in the loop. Ultimately, this involvement paid off; invested
in the company's future, most of the dancers stuck around, and when
the company mounted its first full season in January, it was with
the core still intact. If Mr. Feld wants to ensure a sound return
for his company, which we all desire, he might involve the dancers
more in his decisions.
Speaking of Graham: On June 1, Cleveland Plain Dealer dance critic
Wilma Salisbury reported, "The Cleveland Repertory Project has scored
a major coup by acquiring performing rights to Martha Graham's most
popular ballet, 'Appalachian Spring.'" Well, not actually. As Salisbury
assures me she knows, the 1944 classic is one of 10 Graham ballets
deemed by a federal court last summer to be in the public domain.
Meaning anyone has the right to mount it -- no coup involved. However,
besides issuing a blooper, Salisbury missed the real story in artistic
director Hernando Cortez's plans to produce the ballet.
That any company "can"
now mount this American classic doesn't ensure it will do it right.
It's no surprise that a company headed by Cortez, the former Paul
Taylor dancer who co-founded Dancers Responding to AIDS, should
set the tone by doing it not just right, but righteous.
Concievably, the well-connected
Cortez could have hired one of his pals with Graham connections
to stage the ballet and done okay by it. But that wasn't enough
for Cortez. Instead, he contacted the Martha Graham Resources, headed
by former Graham star and continuing light Janet Eilber, and as
much as said: What do we need to do in order to do this right?
For one thing, he needs
the Isamu Noguchi sets and the Aaron Copland score, both of which
cost money. "Also, no one can perform the dance without the proper
accredited 'regisseurs' -- our restagers were Diane Gray and Gary
Galbraith, both still very much affiliated with the Graham company.
They 'needed' to be hired for a minimum of four weeks; that's two
restagers times four weeks of rehearsals -- imagine the costs. Our
total costs from the MG Resources add up to about $40,000 to restage
'Appalachian Spring.' Not the 'public domain' thing that everyone
thinks of.... You can't just 'perform' the work in your basement."
Or, as Graham center
executive director Marvin Preston IV put it: "People who wish to
mount professional productions of Martha Graham dances (even public
domain) are prudent and wise to seek assistance from us and negotiate
a services contract, by means of which we provide all of what they
require in an integrated, supportive manner at a cost that is very
real but also very equitable. We're not trying to exploit anyone,
we're determined to make it increasingly feasible for those who
wish to undertake meaningful productions of MG dances to make use
of the Martha Graham Resources that are available." Those resources
can include, in addition to the regisseurs, costumes, lighting designs,
stage plot designs, pedagogical videotapes, commercial grade recorded
music on a CD ready for use, or scores for an orchestra to practice
with.... The practicalities of how to deal effectively with the
details are being worked out on a daily basis as we proceed to work
with numerous organizations setting about doing Graham works. (There
Among other organizations,
said Eilber, the center is currently in discussions with Ballet
San Jose Silicon Valley over a possible "Appalachian Spring" production.
The Cleveland Repertory Project opens it August 6 at Cain Park.
Speaking of critics getting it wrong, the Unclear on the Concept
award of the year has to go to the Dance Critics Association. In
a conference (beginning next week at Barnard College) entitled "The
New World of Dance Writing: Coping With Changes In What We See,
How and Where We're Publishing," who do you think the DCA gets to
host the opening reception? A dance magazine publisher who doesn't
publish dance reviews!! That's right friends -- Lifestyle Ventures,
publishers of Pointe, Dance Teacher, and Dance Spirit, publications
which, by and large, neglect to include reviews of actual dance
performances in their pages, the last time I checked or had someone
check for me (yesterday). Now, that's certainly their purview, and
they may well publish other useful information for young dance students,
but without reviews -- without CRITICISM -- they are presenting
only the veneer of the art, and hardly imbuing their young readers
with an understanding of its consequences, value, and rewards. Why
an organization purporting to represent dance CRITICS would kick-off
its marquee event with a party hosted by a publication which doesn't
welcome dance criticism is beyond me... unless, a)the corporation's
publisher plans to announce a change of heart, or b)the DCA's president
plans to ask him why he doesn't welcome her members' criticism in
Speaking of dance writing, the most important to you, dance company
director insider, may well be your publicist's. It ain't easy to
describe in words a thing that's meant to speak as words can't,
often before the thing has even been performed. And yet unless you're
Merce Cunningham, a riveting press release can be essential -- if
you're an established artist, to explain why your latest work merits
a review, and if you're less than established, to explain why you
do. Publicists who can avoid dance cliches and actually describe
a promised dance (rather than praise it with unsupported superlatives)
in an intriguing fashion are all-too-rare. So we lament the departure
today of Tom Pearson from Dance Theater Workshop as manager of marketing
and publicity, especially coming on the heels of that of the brilliant
Nolini Barretto, DTW's director of marketing and PR. There's no
funny business involved; Nolini is taking a break, and Tom wants
to concentrate on artistic projects. But I hope their promising
successors, Joanna Mintzer for Nolini and Aaron Rosenblum for Tom,
won't be offended if we say to Nolini and Tom: You will be succeeded,
but you will never be replaced.
Speaking of press releases, American Ballet Theatre's on an upcoming
performance of "Swan Lake" left out an important, er, detail in
stating "The ballet, with choreography by Kevin McKenzie and sets
and costumes by Zack Brown, will be given its first performance
of the season on Tuesday evening, June 17." Um, that should read
"by Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov." Let's not
forget our history, folks.
And speaking of DTW, Troika Ranch, directed by Dawn Stoppiello and
DTW fellow Mark Coniglio, invites you to a benefit party to celebrate
its upcoming tenth anniversary season, this Wednesday at Remote
Lounge. For more info, please cyber yourself here.
Darrah Carr in New York contributed to the reporting, though
not necessarily the opinions, in this column. Special thanks to
the dance insider who tipped us on the AGMA complaint.