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The Buzz, 7-23: Life's a Beach
Paris Festival Cancelled; Graham Ensemble Explained; Parting Words of White; One More Great Publicist; Altogether Different Solicitation

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

OOSTDUINKERKE, Belgium -- So it has come to this, in the long hot summer of the strike called by freelance performance artists and technicians in France. The Paris Quartier d'ete summer festival having been cancelled, including this week's run of Stephen Petronio in the garden of the Royal Palace, as well as the popular (and free) outdoor movie festival (this year's theme: A world of storms), summer fun options in the City of Light have been reduced to Paris Plage, in which you can go to the beach but can't get in the water. (Parks regulation number 5473293.) Sans spectacles to review, and before the city could dump tons of sand along the banks of the Seine, I hied last week to this coastal village where you are permitted to wade in the water (even if you have to pay for it in restaurants) to do that and review the beer, as colleague Rosa Mei's dog Nemo reviewed the passing procession of kites by barking at them to descend at once. Hands-down winner: St. Bernardus. (A trappist brew like Chimay but with more bite, and I only tried the 8 percent version.) But before I headed out Tuesday for a week of R&R in the Dordogne region in the southwest of France, I wanted to send you this Buzz.

...Starting with the ongoing strike of the Intermittents, as the freelance performing artists and technicians here are called. As you've been reading in the DI, they're pissed because the government and the employers association wants to cut their unemployment benefits from a year to eight months, and narrow the window in which they have to log the 507 hours to activate the bennies. Worker power -- even freelance worker power, and amen for that -- being what it is here in France, the greving artists have succeeded in shutting down most of the major dance and performing arts festivals here, including those in Avignon, Montpellier, and Aix-en-Provence. (The last was cancelled after Intermittents made a racket outside a performance of "La Traviata," pausing only for the Pause.) As in Montpellier, organizers of Paris quartier d'ete -- this city's equivalent of the Lincoln Center Festival, more or less -- decided to shut down because, they said at a press conference Friday (as reported by Le Monde Sunday), the "incertitude" of a "reconductable" strike, in which workers voted each day whether to strike that evening's performances, wasn't fair to the audience or artists. (The artists' contracts, organizers added, will be honored.")

But the unity in the Intermittents' cause is starting to crack. In Chalon-sur-Saone, as Le Monde reported Sunday, the 700 artists and technicians have been sharply divided over whether to greve the Chalon dans la rue festival, with 51.27 percent supporting an action. (An accompanying photo shows demonstrators holding aloft signs reading "Moi.")

Speaking of vox populi, we always appreciate your corrections, including this one from Martha Graham Center executive director Marvin Preston, who, following a recent Buzz column, writes to clarify:

"The Martha Graham Ensemble is not a junior company. It is the student performing group which, instead of growing into an increasingly well-integrated group, provides at most a two or three year experience prior to professional level dancing. It does not focus on performing Graham works other than to ingest and master elements of the Graham technique. It does focus on new choreography, on innovation, invention, and new works. It is a bit of a laboratory. It is heavily involved in educational outreach. I believe that over time the content of the programs that are performed by the Martha Graham Ensemble will make clear the distinction between the company and the ensemble. They fill distinctly different purposes and are not in any way junior or senior to each other."

Speaking of respected dance organization leaders, David White, who departed earlier this month as executive director and producer of Dance Theater Workshop, tells the Buzz he chose this time to leave "simply because the timing is right, after getting the (DTW) building up and open in a successful inaugural season, and after overseeing my intended transition to Cathy, Craig, and Marion." Cathy Edwards and Craig Peterson have succeeded White as DTW's artistic directors, while Marion Dienstag becomes its executive director. As with Edwards and Peterson, says White, Dienstag's elevation was "always part of the anticipated change in leadership, given that DTW has become a much more complicated beast to manage and given that she has a paranormally elevated capacity both to strategize and to ride herd."

Also a factor in his decision to hand over the reigns after 28 years at the helm, White adds, was that "having lived apart from my wife and daughter a good part of the time since December, I missed my family deeply." White will join his family in St. Paul, where his wife, Betsy Gardella, is an executive with the Minnesota Opera.

We also asked White to what he attributes his uncanny timing in spearheading DTW's purchase of its Chelsea building just ahead of a dot.com boom which forced many dance organizations out of theirs, and then in securing the funding for the building's reconstruction before the bottom dropped out of the New York City economy.

"Dumb luck. Desperate thinking. Deciding not to go to business school in 1970 because of the Cambodia bombings. Hallucinatory flashbacks to a higher plane, the result of one too many substances ingested in the late '60s. Really good people around me, and really good artists to work for." No longer around DTW are marketing and PR director Nolini Barretto and marketing and PR manager Tom Pearson, the latter of whom would like you to know he's still in business as a publicist. If you've got an upcoming concert and would like to take advantage of Tom's legendary press release eloquence and deserved respect among the dance media, you can e him at tpearson@nyc.rr.com.

Speaking of really good people working for artists, one of my heroes in this department is Martin Wechsler, who with executive director Linda Shelton programs the Joyce Theater, with a particular brief for its signature Altogether Different festival. Each year, they have to put together a program of five or six companies who a) in some manner suggest "altogether different," b) serve the Joyce's various demographic and dancer constituencies, and c) can draw enough that the theater won't go broke. Oh and then there's nattering back-seat drivers like moi to contend with.

For next year's festival, the Joyce has just announced a line up of John Kelly, Margie Gillis, Peter Pucci, Rebecca Stenn, and Ben Munisteri. (Pucci will be presenting a new evening-length solo; details are sketchy on the other works.)

This time around, I thought I'd ask you, dance insider, what you think of these choices. Please send your responses to me at paul@danceinsider.com. Please specify if you'd like your response to be anonymous.

....Speaking of e, I'll be travelling in the southwest of France and out of e-mail reach through noon New York time next Tuesday. Nicole Pope, freshly elevated from Bennington, will be watching things here at Dance Insider Paris and fielding your urgent e-mail queries to paul@danceinsider.com or nicole@danceinsider.com. Bonne vacance, dance insider, and a bientot!


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