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The Buzz, 6-21: Marginalized
Why the Joyce Should Ditch Pilobolus for Michelson

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- New Yorker writer Paul Goldberger's recent dismissal of the Joyce Theater -- Goldberger was pondering out loud, in the magazine's May 30 edition, why "most of the cultural institutions" selected for Ground Zero, which include the Joyce, "are marginal" -- is a damning indictment of an organization that for years has been plagued by plodding administration, stultified programming, and a failure to invest in a vision that reflects a true leadership position in the dance community and the art of dance.

Let's take the case of Sarah Michelson. Regardless of what you think of the work, Michelson, performing at PS 122 through Sunday, is probably the most influential choreographer to emerge in New York in the past five years -- the one most pushing the scene in a new direction. (Whether or not it's a good direction I'm not qualified to judge.) And yet, as she recently told the New York Times's Chris Reardon, Michelson is five months behind in her rent and is "hiding from (the) landlord." Uninsured, she's also got $12,000 in medical bills after an injury which cancelled a previously scheduled PS run. (And she's performing at a theater which didn't bother to tell anyone about the show -- this is not the PS 122 of Mark Russell who, if he didn't exactly discover Michelson, certainly advanced her into the spotlight.) As Michelson told the Times and has previously told the Voice and elaborated upon in these pages, she's thinking of quitting.

Meanwhile, while this important artist flounders for want of sufficient support, the Joyce has given over four weeks -- four weeks, count 'em! -- to presenting Pilobolus. This is not a Pilobolus rant -- regular readers know that this company is my favorite American troupe. (Some of my best friends are fungi!) And yet a) Pilobolus can hardly be said to be pushing the form in new directions and b) it hardly needs support at the existential level that Michelson does.

For this Joyce season alone, Pilobolus and/or the Joyce for presenting the company are receiving funding from the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, New York State Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Joyce Theater Foundation, Altria Group (nom de smokescreen for tobacco company Philip Morris), Carnegie Corporation, Harkness Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Shubert Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Where are these funders when it comes to supporting an artist who really needs -- or needs more -- the support and who, if we care about advancing the art, we need to support? Principally, where is the Joyce when it comes to steering its own funds and this larger funding pool to such an artist as Michelson? And why does a talented mid-career artist like Sean Curran have to present himself? Why isn't the Joyce producing Sean Curran every year? Why didn't the Joyce make a commitment to present the Doug Elkins company every year before it essentially went under? Elkins was our generation's Paul Taylor, and yet with no Charlie Reinhart, he was left to flounder. Sure, he's still working -- setting work at other companies and along the college circuit -- but a choreographer needs his own thriving company to really work his craft and develop and realize his vision -- Taylor even creates works for other companies on his own dancers first -- and now Elkins basically has none. (A look at the calendar on the company's Web site shows no gigs since 2003.)

By letting a choreographer of this unlimited talent flounder -- and he's not the only one -- the Joyce has really abdicated its responsibility.

Am I asking too much? I don't think so. Last week in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, I caught the latest trio from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt. Like the group work presented the week before, this was not "rental." In fact, as with many of the works presented by the Theatre de la Ville, the theater co-produced it. De Keersmaker is one of numerous artists to whom the theater's director, Gerard Violette, has made a commitment, presenting them annually. It's a commitment in which Violette is joined by theater directors throughout Europe; the trio from De Keersmaeker's Rosas company was co-produced by the Opera de Rouen-Haute Normandie and produced by De Munt/La Monnaie theater in Brussels, along with Rosas.

Tonight at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, the theater will present the latest work from Emmanuelle Huynh. If it's Huynh's debut at this theater, she's hardly been floundering. With gigs from the Centre Pompidou to Montpellier, Huynh is the most daring dance artists to emerge in France over the past five years. Indeed her position in repositioning the form might be said to parallel Michelson's. And yet, where Michelson has been left to flounder -- destitute except for a patient landlord -- and is ready to quit, Huynh has been given the means. In addition to production and programming support for her company, last year she was named director of both the Centre Choregraphique in Angers and director of the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine there -- essentially France's only higher education institution devoted exclusively to modern dance. Like Michelson's in the States, Huynh's approach isn't necessarily universally endorsed by the dance establishment -- a recent work had no dance (or dancers) for the first half -- but her importance and utility is recognized.

Where is this kind of support for Michelson by theaters with the resources of the Joyce? Are we just going to keep whining about how nobody funds poor little ol' dance -- thanks, Dance/NYC! -- while yet another dance innovator disappears into the halls of academe or even leaves the field altogether? Is the Joyce going to continue turning its boards over to a succession of regional ballet companies and tired modern troupes (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago?!?! Pascal Rioult?!?!) -- abandoning its one outlet for the occasionally new, Altogether Different, along the way -- or is it going to finally behave like a dynamic leader, not nervously eyeing the box office kitty but the future of the art?


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