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The Buzz, 8-5: The Show Must Go On
Mona Lisa en greve; AGMA Should Pick up Pick-up Dancers; Berman Picks up DRA; Ballets Russes Reunion Album; Denby on Toumanova; Zimmer on Stage; Fringe and Anti-Fringe

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

LES EYZIES, France -- Good morning, over-heated Dance Insider, from, well, actually Paris, but the dateline is because I had to go all the way to this prehistoric village, where you can still see the caves families lived in 12,000 years ago, to find a spectacle that hadn't been cancelled by the strike of the Intermittents, or freelance performing artists and technicians. (Over the week-end, even the Mona Lisa was on strike, Intermittents and their supporters having blocked the entrances to the Louvre.) And maybe the only spectacle remaining in France that's invulnerable to being shut down by labor action is the family circus, although if I were one of the tired lions or Pekingese made to walk the tightrope by the Cirque Ullman during its tour of the Perigord region, I would surely consider organizing.

Speaking of unions in action, props surely go to the American Guild of Musical Artists for securing an agreement that gives the dancers' union parity with Actors Equity Association in representing performers in the new category of "crossover productions," such as the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical "Movin' Out," which highlight dancing and dancers. The agreement, says the union, "recognizes AEA's expertise in establishing standards for Broadway productions and AGMA's expertise in negotiating contracts for operatic music and ballet dancing." (Whether AGMA will also negotiate for modern dancers in dance-oriented Broadway and touring productions is unclear.)

The agreement lasts until the end of 2005, at which point the two unions may decide whether to merge, with an eye to strengthening representation for performers all around. (In the meantime, any disputes over authority will be decided by Theodore Bikel, a sort of uber-union official, and who could ask for a better Solomon than the one-time Tevye?)

And what might that powerful union achieve? Well, as Dance Insider readers know, on this side of the pond, we've seen a powerful performing arts union all but shut down summer in France to protect a regime that secures FREELANCE artists and technicians 12 months of unemployment benefits after 507 hours of work. As they are freelancers, those hours can be spread among multiple companies, over the course of a year. Imagine -- imagine, freelance dancer or technician insider -- what it would be like if AGMA were to start representing not just dancers on contract with the big companies, but ALL dancers. They might even regularize pay schedules at ALL dance companies. Of course the freelancers would have to pay union dues, but beyond that, why shouldn't AGMA represent them? If you agree, you can e-mail AGMA executive director Alan Gordon by clicking here, and dance executive Deborah Alton by clicking here.

Speaking of taking care of dancers, Dancers Responding to Aids, which has been doing that for more than a decade, just got some new aid in the form of La Berman, Rachel that is. The luminous former Paul Taylor dancer writes us, "After all these years of performing in many of DRA's benefits -- at least one of every event they sponsor, the Remember Project, Dances from the Heart, New York Festival of Dance, Fire Island Dance Festival -- now I will be involved behind the scenes. We have a joke that I am now the 'R' in DRA...along with 'D'enise and 'A'riadne." Ariadne Villereal is the organization's producer, while Roberts co-founded DRA with Hernando Cortez after dancing for Taylor -- where, if memory serves, she was replaced by a young dancer named Rachel Berman. At DRA, Berman will be in charge of audience appeals. She'll also help produce events such as the New York Festival of Dance, whose free shows at Bryant Park, August 27 - 29, include a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company. "It's another stepping stone in my ongoing transition," concludes Berman, who will also continue, "as much as possible, with the staging of Paul's works and various guest teaching opportunities."

Speaking of reunions, dance insider Joy Williams Brown, a compatriot of Margot Fonteyn and Leonor Fini, among others, writes in to let us know that you can still get Terry de Mari's book of reminiscences and photographs culled from the reunion of the various Ballets Russes companies three summers ago in New Orleans.

The book includes 35 rare photographs; we've reproduced here the cover shot of the teen-aged Tamara Toumanova, one of the three 15-year-old 'baby ballerinas' who dazzled audiences of Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo from the moment they joined the company founded in 1932. An initial printing of 200 sold out in a thrice. A revised, limited edition with new written material and photographs has now been prepared, but only 100 orders will be accepted. If you'd like to get one of them, please e-mail Terry DeMari. You can also phone him at 402-342-5677, or write to Terry DeMari, 2838 South 35th Street, Omaha NE. The price, DeMari tells us, will be between $25 and $30, depending on the number of orders received.
Tamara Toumanova, from the cover of "Reminiscences of Ballets Russes Dancers." Photo courtesy Irina Borowska Musil and Terry DeMari.

Speaking of Toumanova, here's how Edwin Denby described her strengths in the New York Herald Tribune in 1944, reviewing a Ballet Theatre program which he felt didn't take full advantage of those assets:

"What really thrills in Toumanova's dancing is its horizontal and downward drive -- the velocity with which she travels perfectly stiff, the force with which she rams her squared-off toe shoe into the floor, the solid slowness with which her free leg deploys its mass from the leg she stands anchored on. These are thrills where her prowess and her dance instinct coincide. She can simulate the motions of airiness -- she did it perfectly in her second 'Giselle' performance and in 'Sylphides' -- but she does not sustain for any length of time the impulse upward, the lyric breathing on which these roles are based. On the contrary you see her natural genius in (Leonide Massine's) 'Tricorne,' when she sits down grandly and massively like a Roman river deity on the floor and waits for the farucca to begin. The true expression of her dancing comes from her passion for the floor and its rhythm is one of pressure and explosion. The tone is an unexpected one in ballet, it even recalls Mary Wigman at her best. Toumanova has some of Frau Wigman's scorn for the amenities of the theater, her force of self-isolation on stage, her hectic smashing rhythm. A ballet in which Toumanova could oppose her record feats and her quasi-Wagnerian grandeur to the airiness of the rest of the company would be completely sensational; what she needs is a choreographer to show her as she is." (Excerpted from Edwin Denby's "Dance Writings," Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1986, edited by Robert Cornfield and William Mackay.)

Speaking of dead white poets, dance insider Elizabeth Zimmer, who moonlights as dance editor of the Village Voice, performs her "North Wing: A Cautionary Tale with Poems by Dead White Men" Friday August 15 at Here Arts Center. Described as "a monologue about a post-college political crisis, an illegal abortion, and a very literary nervous breakdown, circa 1967," "North Wing" shares the bill with "Before the Fall." Curtain's at 8:30 p.m. For more info, please visit the Here web site. Oh, wait, what's this? A "psychotic episode engendered by eating too many marijuana brownies" is also involved.

Speaking of...where was I...? And why I am I enormously hungry all of a sudden? Oh yes: Speaking of critics taking their act to the other side of the podium, Darrah Carr Dance, featuring choreography by the DI's own Darrah Carr, takes the new "Reverie" and works from the repertory to the Washington Square UMC, August 16 at 7:45 p.m., August 18 at 5:30, August 20 at 10 pm., and August 23at 1:30 p.m., as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Also on the dance card at the Fringe, which kicks off Friday: Mujeres en Ritual, Garung, Six Figures Theatre Co., New York Performing Artist Company, Girl Factory, Dharma Road Productions, Treaders in the Snow, KyoRyuKan, Refractions Dance Collective, Ksenia Vidyaykina, Preksha, and Eva Dean Dance. For more information, please click here.

Speaking of Fringe NOT (he said, not trying to make a crack but stretching for a segue), the line-up for the coming season at the Joyce rolled in last night, and here it is, in order of presentation:

Momix, Akram Khan Company, "Nikolais Dance Theatre" (more on that in a moment), George Piper Dances, Garth Fagan Dance, Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Savion Glover, Altogether Different Festival, James Sewell Ballet, Buglisi/Foreman Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Lines Contemporary Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Compania Maria Pages, Armitage Gone! Dance, Bodyvox, Peter Boal & Dancers, Stephen Petronio Company, Ailey II/ABT Studio Company, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Dancebrazil, Richard Alston Dance Company, Philadanco, BalletMet Columbus, the Parsons Dance Company, Jennifer Muller/The Works, Pilobolus Dance Theater, Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre, Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, and, just when you thought it was safe to come back to New York in the summer, Ballet Tech.

On the subject of "Nikolais Dance Theatre," the press release on the Joyce season is a bit misleading, and it's a bit of confusion that merits discussion. While elsewhere in the press release, and in a subsequent query to the publicist, it's clarified that what's actually promised is Utah's Ririe-Woodbury company performing the works of the American multi-media performance pioneer, a roster of the companies performing lists "Nikolais Dance Theatre," not Ririe-Woodbury. I don't know about you, dance insider, but to me this would suggest that what audiences will be getting is not just the work of Alwin Nikolais, but the performances of his company, featuring dancers trained extensively in the work. Another company performing the work -- no matter how qualified -- is not the same. An analogy might be Oregon Ballet Theatre presenting itself as New York City Ballet because it's giving an all-Balanchine program. This is not an arcane distinction; the legacy of choreographers like Alwin Nikolais is found not just in his work, but in the bodies of the dancers he trained. If these are not the dancers presenting the work at the Joyce, let's not mislead the audience into thinking so.

For the rest of the season, there's much to recommend it, but one has to wonder about the curatorial message sent by the inclusion of Amitage Gone! (oh that it would be!) Dance among the six companies (not including those in Altogether Different) the Joyce has chosen to present itself this year. As I more than indicated the last time the Joyce let Armitage sully its stage, about all that Karole Armitage seems to have picked up during her long sojourn in Europe is the trash.

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