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The Buzz Grab-bag, 9-24: Merde!
Who will Stand up for the Dancers?; Monk on Bessie; the Work of Artists, Recognized (by the Bessies)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

Merde, merde, and triple merde! I am looking right now, on the other side of my screen, at the table of contents for the "Brief of Amici Curiae" submitted by Gordon Davidson, Charles Reinhart, and that great friend of dancers -- ;) -- Gerald Arpino in support of Ron Protas's continuing effort to wrest the life's work of Martha Graham away from the dancers whose life work it is. (Mr. Protas doesn't put it quite that way in his ongoing court battle to take the rights to the Graham ballets away from the Martha Graham Center. He lost in federal district court, and is appealing.) (Amicus curiae, Mario Pei and Salvatore Ramondino's "Dictionary of Foreign Terms" tells me, means "an impartial advisor in a case of law." Merde encore!) Here's what the table of contents says under item 1: "The growing domination of arts funding by not-for-profits evidences support for the rights of artists, not a desire to divest artists of the rights to their works." Um, I'm about as much a lawyer as Ron Protas is a dancer, but, who's trying to divest whom here? Yes, there are legal arguments on both sides, and we've published them ad infinitum ("on and on"; "to infinity" -- op. cit.). But for a visceral answer to the question of who owns the dances of Martha Graham, just click here and then you tell me, dance insider: Whose rights will be violated if the work is ceded to Mr. Protas?

How about we submit for the court's, or at least the public's, consideration, a brief from dancers? Who do you think the work of Martha Graham belongs to, dance insider? Please e me at paul@danceinsider.com.

Speaking of the work of artists (this being the slogan of the truly dancer-friendly Dance Theater Workshop, I probably don't need to put a TM next to it), DTW, Danspace Project, the Joyce Theater, and the 2003 Bessies Committee gave out some awards Friday night -- the New York Dance and Performance Awards, a.k.a. the Bessies -- and we thought we'd share the results with you. But first: The Bessies are so nick-named after Bessie Schonberg. Who she? (One-minute pause for Internet search....) Ah, this is good! Here's how Meredith Monk gave tribute to Bessie Schonberg in a 1985 commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College:

"The first thing Bessie taught me was not to take myself so seriously -- that everything that I came up with was not perfect by any means; it could be thrown away (and mostly should be thrown away) in order to start again. She also taught all of us to be respectful of each other -- to appreciate each person's particular talents, styles, rates of growth for what they were. In other words, not to have a preconceived idea of what a body is, a dance is, a song is, a play is. This basic attitude (a kind of psychic anarchy) has given me the courage to try to find new ways of putting art forms together by working between the cracks; it has taught me to never assume anything; it has made the process of discovery one of the great joys of my life and it has kept me curious. Curiosity has a certain vitality to it because at first, it seems to lead to the possibility of chaos. Is there a new or different way of doing something? The prospect of trying something new often becomes so terrifying that we move back to more conventional solutions without realizing that chaos is the first step towards creativity. It's hard, but we have to tolerate moments of uncertainty and disorientation to get to new solutions. This initial confusion was always encouraged by Bessie. She knew that flowers and vegetables only come from a garden of dirt mixed with manure -- that there is no good or bad in the initial stages of creativity, only material to work with."

So that's Bessie. The Bessies Committee -- the folks that decreed this year's awards -- is, in the order I got the names from DTW: David White, arts consultant and producer; Laurie Uprichard, executive director, Danspace Project; Jerri Allyn, artist/educational consultant; Arthur Aviles, artist-artistic director, BAAD; Ellie Covan, founder-director, Dixon Place a.k.a. Open Channels NY, Inc; Aviva Davidson, executive director and producer, Dancing in the Streets; Joan Finkelstein, director, 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center; Boo Froebel, producer, Phat Tuesdays and Performance on 42nd at the Whitney Museum at Philip Morris; Stephen Greco, author, producer, curator; Gia Kourlas, dance editor, Time Out; Brad Learmonth, director of programming, Aaron Davis Hall; Clarinda Mac Low, artist-journalist; Wendy Perron, New York editor, Dance Magazine; Craig Peterson, artistic director, DTW; Alyson Pou, artist, programs-services director, Creative Capital; Debra Singer, associate curator of contemporary art, Whitney Museum of American Art; Sally Sommer, writer-professor, Duke University; Ivan Sygoda, director, Pentacle; Susan Yung, journalist and Publications, Brooklyn Academy of Music (and a contributor to this publication); Charmaine Warren, dancer-writer; and Martin Wechsler, director of programming, the Joyce Theater. White and Uprichard co-chair the committee. The coordinators are Liz Sargent, assistant producer at DTW, and Lili Chopra, gallery curator for the same.

This year, this assembly awarded Bessies for choreographer-creator to Penny Arcade, Derek Bernstein and Amy Sue Rosen, Noemie Lafrance, Sarah Michelson, Vicki Schick and Barbara Kilpatrick, RoseAnn Spradlin, and Yasuko Yokoshi; for installation and new media to Marina Abramovic; for performer to Germaul Yusef Barnes, Christine Dakin, Diedre N. Dawkins, Scott Heron, Robert Swinston, and (as ensemble) Athena Mallow, Walter Dundervill and Tasha Taylor; for composer to Craig Harris, David Kean, and Brooks Williams; and, for visual design, to John Collins, Holger Forterer, Owen Hughes and Laurie Olinder, Fred Tietz, and Bill Morrison and Howard Thies. Special citations went to Sally Banes and Sylvia Waters.

In addition to these awards accorded by the Bessies Committee, an audience award, tallied by Time Out, went to Mark Coniglio and Dawn Stoppiello of Troika Ranch, giving the lie to Leo Durocher's maxim.

If you'd like to read more about the awards -- for example, the work for which the recipients were recognized -- please click here.





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