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Buzz Flashback, 7-26: Chase Erased
Joyce Should Pay Fired Pilobolus Director

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006, 2007 The Dance Insider

(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Archive and Buzz Archive. This article was first published on June 27, 2006.)

There are 472 seats in New York's Joyce Theater. If the theater's four-week presentation of Pilobolus this summer sells out -- as it often does -- the theater stands to bring in, at $42 per seat, more than $555,000. Allowing that some of those places will go for less, let's say the Joyce will net about a cool half million from performances of works one-third of which were created or co-created by Alison Chase, the dance company's fired co-director (and mother, Pilobolus having been founded in her dance class, 35 years ago). The remaining directors have given no indication they plan to pay Chase anything for the privilege. It is time for the Joyce and its executive director, Linda Shelton, to do the right thing, and ensure that Alison Chase is paid for her work from which the Joyce, and its audiences, will profit this summer.

Unfortunately, the evidence to date indicates that the Joyce would prefer to enable Pilobolus in building its apparent case that Chase has no ownership rights in work she created or co-created with the company over the past 35 years -- essentially, her life's work. If you can believe this, the press release sent out by the Joyce's house publicist does not even credit the individual choreographers (the argument apparently being that the dances were created collaboratively, by 'Pilobolus.') It has not always been thus.

Answering a 2004 inquiry about that summer's Joyce season, co-director Robby Barnett told me: "We're doing, as usual, three new works. "Megawatt" is a new work by (co-director) Jonathan (Wolken).... 'New Company Work #2' by Alison... still untitled, but a nice retelling of the Orpheus myth. Some flying. Nice piece. 'New Duet' by (co-director) Michael (Tracy)...."

Similarly, when I wrote to Barnett last July to ask, in connection with a story I was editing, who should get the choreographic credit for "Walklyndon," Barnett answered, "Robby Barnett - Lee Harris - Moses Pendleton - Jonathan Wolken."

The policy, then, of not listing the choreographers involved in creating a given work appears to have been instituted recently, perhaps in anticipation of building the case for institutional ownership over individual authorship rights. (Last year's release couched the credits similarly; at that point, Itamar Kubovy had already taken over as executive director.)

Also miraculous in this revisionism is an immaculate conception that beats even Jesus Christ's; the company, says the PR,"germinated in the fertile soil of a Dartmouth college dance class in 1971." No mention that it was a woman -- Alison Chase, the teacher of that Dartmouth dance class -- who fertilized these particular eggheads and turned them into a dance company.

PS: The apparent attempt to erase Chase is evidently not the only aspect in which the remaining Pilobolus directors and their corporate executive director appear to be more proficient in mathematics than history: The press release for this summer also states that "Gnomen," a moving work for four men, was created in 1978. In fact it was 1997 -- I was there.

PS 2: In the have they no shame department, the press release also states that the company "has not, however, forsaken its original impetus and remains a deeply committed collaborative effort...." Just its mother.

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