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The Buzz, 8-14: Heroes and Misdemeanors
Move Over, Arnold -- Ammiano Fights for Arts; DTW Lowers Ticket Prices; Joyce Sells "Nikolais Dance Theatre"; More on Hines

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

Late last month, at the initiative of Democratic representatives, California's legislature slashed arts spending to $1 million per year. (It had been $38 million just three years ago.) While movie tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger has yet to say how he would solve California's arts funding crisis if he's elected governor in October, another entertainer, comic and San Francisco mayoral candidate Tom Ammiano, has called for an amendment to the city charter which would mandate spending as much as $340 million on arts, library, and sports programs in the public schools over the next ten years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday.

The city's governing Board of Supervisors, of which Ammiano is a member and the former president, has long all but disowned the city's school system and the funding crises which have dogged it since 1978. That's when California voters passed property tax restrictions which drastically winnowed the amount of money available to public schools, which receive most of their money from state rather than municipal funds. The Board of Supervisors has largely been content to leave the problem to the city's Board of Education. As the student member of that board in 1978-79, I recall well that as we rallied to save our schools, city supervisors were conspicuous by their absence.

Ammiano, a public school teacher and former member of the Board of Education, would force the city to finally take responsibility for its children. "Schools have been more and more at the mercy of a fluctuating economy," he told the Chronicle. "It's an important issue to the people of San Francisco."

According to Chronicle reporter Rachel Gordon, the proposed charter amendment, which would need to be approved by voters, would mandate the city set aside $10 million for the school district the first year (it now spends less than $5 million), increasing to $40 million by the fourth year. Half the money would be spent on arts, library, and physical education programs.

To read more about how Ammiano's plan would work, check out the Chronicle story.

Speaking of funding, having just erected essentially a new building, one could hardly blame Dance Theater Workshop for jacking ticket prices as high as $32 for some events last fall. But the hike took many in DTW's audience by surprise, and made its concerts unaffordable for some. The theater tried to address the problem by introducing a performing arts card, available to all working performing artists, which provided a 40 percent ticket discount, but this was not enough.

So it's good news that for its new season, DTW has actually reduced prices, with tickets dropping from $32 to $25 for engagements billed as "main events," and from $27 to $20 for all other shows. Prices drop even further, to $15 and $12, respectively, for those who purchase at least four tickets -- whether to one show or to multiple events. The DTW member discount has been eliminated, but the performing arts card reduction retained.

"Ticket prices were lowered to encourage ticket sales during these tough economic times," explains Joanna F. Mintzer, DTW's new director of marketing and communications. "Like all performance venues, we want to fill seats during these challenging times."

If this is the case, DTW might consider taking two additional steps: First, the performing arts card only secures a discount for one person. So, if you're an artist inviting your non-artist friend to see, say, Tere O'Connor's "Tere Lawn" this October, you'd find yourself paying $15 and asking your friend to fork over $25. DTW's audience is already one of the most inbred in town -- or was the last time I checked -- so it seems that if the theater wants to build its audience, the last thing it should be doing is segregating non-artists into a higher ticket bracket. I propose that DTW introduce a "performing arts card for two," perhaps for an extra fee of $10 or $25, which would entitle card-bearers to discounted tickets for themselves and a guest. The second step DTW might consider to fill those seats is to give patrons more time to reach them, ditching the very un-New York time curtain of 7 p.m. adapted last year.

The DTW season kicks off September 3 with Company Felix Ruckert, a joint presentation with the Joyce. To read more about the season, please click here.

Speaking of DTW's toney neighbor, the Joyce continues to misrepresent that an entity called "Nikolais Dance Theatre" is performing on its stage October 28 - November 2. First, the theater sent out a press release whose calendar includes "Nikolais Dance Theatre," explaining elsewhere that it's actually the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company performing the work of the late multi-media dance pioneer, Alwin Nikolais. A Joyce spokesperson confirmed this, explaining, "The performance at the Joyce is called 'Nikolais Dance Theatre,' and mentions of the program should refer to that title. It is a retrospective of works by Nikolais, which is being performed by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company."

Well, context is everything. What I'd like to know is why, in a list of the fall season on its web site in which every name is clearly that of the company performing (as opposed to the program being performed), is the Joyce still promising "Nikolais Dance Theatre," with no mention of "Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company"? As I wrote last week, the issue is not whether Ririe-Woodbury, headed by dancers steeped in the work and technique of Nikolais, can perform the dances. I've talked to some veterans of the REAL Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance Company, and they're confident that R-W can do the work proud. The issue is that the company, apparently abetted by the Joyce, is misleading potential ticket-buyers into thinking they'll be seeing the Nikolais Dance Theatre (the actual name of Nikolais's first company), as opposed to a little-known (by the general public) company from Utah performing the work of Alwin Nikolais.

Gregory Hines performs in 2001 at the first annual New York City Tap Festival at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street. Peter Petronio photo courtesy New York City Tap Festival.
Gregory Hines, captured in 2001 at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street, while performing at the first annual New York City Tap Festival. Carolina Kroon photo courtesy New York City Tap Festival.

Speaking of dance legends, we're pleased to share with you two photos of Gregory Hines, who passed away Saturday. The photos are provided by Tony Waag of the New York City Tap Festival, which Hines often graced with his presence. "The tap world will not be the same without our hero Greg Hines," says Waag. "He did more for the form than anyone. He was our ambassador. A great friend, a great mentor, a great performer and a great man. We will miss him forever." Adds Elizabeth Zimmer, dance editor of the Village Voice: "Hines was an extraordinary teacher, too; I had the pleasure of watching him give a lesson to a kid who'd 'won' him in a competition, and it was one of the high points of my years in Los Angeles."

If you're still missing Hines, you can find more words on him, from the Voice's Deborah Jowitt, by clicking here.



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