The Buzz, 9-26: Hello! Goodbye!
DTW Opens Brave New Era; Stretton Quits Royal Ballet
By Darrah Carr
and Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider
NEW YORK -- Before a
crowd so large half a city block had to be closed, Dance Theater
Workshop staff and associates Wednesday evening proudly cut through
ribbons stretching across the sparkling glass facade of DTW's Doris
Duke Performance Center. The brand new building at 219 W. 19th Street,
with its brushed aluminum detailing, beige brick, and large, airy
windows is not only sparkling, it is spacious, inviting, and perfectly
tailored to the needs of the artists and audiences it will serve.
Longtime executive director David White gave props to the donors,
staff, and supporters who enabled what was only a dream in 1991
to become a reality, noting that now "the future will be built by
the artists who use the space." The center, said White, was "built
for kids and for the public constituencies we work with." He enjoined
those gathered, "Come on in, it's your building," and quipped, "When
the going gets tough, the weird turn pro."
Indeed, the $11.5 million
facility is absolutely state of the art. Located on the site of
DTW's former building, the new center comprises 28,700 square feet
and occupies the first three floors of a soaring 11-story building
designed by Ed Rawlings (who happens to be married to a dancer).
The 192-seat Bessie Schonberg Theater boasts a house and stage nearly
twice the size of its predecessor, offering excellent sightlines.
In one of just many examples of the design's incredible attention
to detail, radiant heated flooring will keep the dancers' barefoot
toes warm, even as the audience relaxes in the air-conditioned theater.
Speaking of flooring,
the sprung wood floors of both upstairs studios will make those
dancers' toes smile also, as will the name of the Cheryl Henson-funded
"Miss Piggy Dressing Room." The back studio opens onto a beautiful
terrace with a striking view of the Empire State Building. The facility's
other amenities include expanded office space, the Lucky Star Gallery
(whose glass doors beckon the passersby), and an artist resource
and media laboratory. Nicknamed ARM, the new center for technology
aims to further DTW's commitment to artist services. Choreographers
will be able to edit videos of performances and rehearsals and create
computer-generated designs and pictures.
After a very busy few
days (between the Bessie Awards and last night's
open house/ribbon cutting ceremony) DTW's staff deserves to have
a few not so busy days -- but only until October 2, when the new
center officially opens with an evening-length premiere by Ronald K. Brown/Evidence. Meanwhile,
the building height isn't the only thing that's soared. Ticket prices
for some events, including the seasons of Ron Brown and David Drake,
are $30, with other events going for $20. Becoming a DTW member, for as little as $65 per year,
drops the ticket price by 40 percent. (This last note on price from
PBI; the rest of the report above from Darrah Carr.)
LONDON -- Yesterday was a busy day on both sides of the Atlantic.
While DTW was saying hello to its new building, Ross Stretton was
waving goodbye to the Royal Ballet after just one year as its director,
effective immediately, according to a company spokesperson.
Stretton has been dogged,
particularly this summer, by accusations from dancers, critics,
and audiences about last-minute changes to announced casting, James Morrison reported in London's
Independent newspaper earlier this month. "Of the 22 shows in the
ballet's summer season," the paper said, "only two went ahead with
the originally advertised cast."
According to the Independent,
the performers union, Equity, was to meet with the dancers earlier
this month to discuss concerns "about the unorthodox management
style of...Ross Stretton. The union is investigating a series of
complaints about the maverick Australian, who has been accused of
infuriating his company by making last-minute casting changes that
leave them unsure if and when they are to perform." Before coming
to the RB, Stretton, a former assistant director of American Ballet
Theatre, served for 18 months as director of the Australian Ballet.
In August, veteran dance
critic and historian John Percival, also writing in The Independent, summarized audience
frustration with this pattern by noting:
"The Royal Opera House
has just set an unexpected world record. Every patron attending
the Royal Ballet's summer season found themselves with only a one
in ten chance of seeing the cast that had been announced when the
box office opened. People who paid as much as 65 (pounds) a ticket
-- and had to send the money months ago to be sure of their first
choice -- found that they weren't getting the dancers they chose.
Some of them are rather angry." Among audience favorites who were
replaced after having been advertised as appearing were longtime
principal Darcey Bussell, replaced in 'Don Quixote,' and Tamara
Rojo, replaced in John Cranko's "Onegin."
Percival allowed that
"ballet is a hazardous job and every company gets its share of injuries,
but the Royal Ballet right now seems worse than most. Possible causes
are choice of repertoire, overworking dancers through casting policies,
and the quality (or lack of it) in teaching -- all of which must
end up on the director's plate. Not a wonderful end for Ross Stretton's
first year in charge."
Percival found little
to cheer about from a critic's standpoint either, saying that Stretton's
"ideas on repertoire are probably the biggest single cause of complaint;
witness the almost unanimous critical drubbing of his gala to mark
the Queen's Jubilee, consisting of bits and pieces from the year's
productions. Next year doesn't look like being any better. First,
in spite of claims about enlivening the programmes, he seems to
rely even more than his predecessor, Anthony Dowell, on the 'safe'
classics: compare the number of Tchaikovsky performances announced
for next winter and spring with those allowed for modern works."
The Dance Insider attempted
to reach Mr. Stretton so that he could respond to these accusations,
but, according to Royal Ballet spokesperson Simon Magill, he will
not be commenting, beyond the explanation for his resignation given
in an RB press release issued Wednesday:
"The last eighteen months
have been enormously challenging and rewarding both professionally
and personally. Even though I have enormous respect for the great
heritage of this Company, my interest lies primarily in developing
the future of ballet, and that is what I want to spend my time doing.
I have discussed this matter with the Royal Opera House Board, and
I feel that I am choosing the most appropriate course of action.
I am delighted that I have had the opportunity to experience this
remarkable company first hand, and work with a team of dedicated
and world-class dancers and artists. I feel I am leaving The Royal
Ballet in the same good health that it was in when I arrived here,
and wish the dancers and staff all best wishes for a successful
future, in particular over the coming season."
Sir Colin Southgate,
chairman of the board of the Royal Opera House, said, "It is with
deep regret that I have accepted the resignation of Ross Stretton
with immediate effect.... The Royal Ballet has been introduced to
some new and interesting works under Ross's stewardship. In the
last season he has brought us John Cranko's 'Onegin' and introduced
audiences to further work by some of the finest living choreographers,
including Mats Ek and Nacho Duato. As we enter the 2002/3 season
we look forward to seeing further examples of such work, as well
as the strong line-up of heritage ballets in particular the work
of Sir Kenneth MacMillan and Sir Frederick Ashton."
As to the preservation
of "heritage ballets," in his summation of September 5, Percival
noted that "even looking only at British creations, the neglect
is scandalous. We have a remembrance of Kenneth MacMillan coming
up to mark the 10 years since his death, but it won't include anything
out of the ordinary, and meanwhile, the Royal Ballet's greatest
choreographer, Frederick Ashton, will have only a single short work
to represent him. You can see more Ashton ballets from American
Ballet Theatre (and much praised they are, too). No doubt there
will be an Ashton commemoration in 2004 for his centenary, but I
am worried about this apparent pushing of him and MacMillan into
a ghetto, to be called out on special occasions. What's the betting
that we soon start losing some of their best ballets simply through
The RB announced that
assistant director Monica Mason will lead the Royal until a new
director is appointed.
From the other side
of the Channel, I'd like to humbly offer two suggestions to Sir
Colin as he looks for a director who will fit the needs of the Royal
Ballet's dancers and audience.
First suggestion: Next
time you hire a director, TALK TO THE DANCERS OF HIS/HER FORMER
Second suggestion: Judging
from press reports in the UK, audiences and critics are looking
for a Royal Ballet which will both cherish its storied past, and
create a distinct future in its choice of modern ballets. There's
only one ballet director I can think of with links to the RB's own
past -- specifically, its font, the late Dame Ninette de Valois -- and a commitment to encouraging
new but rigorous work in the ballet vocabulary: Maina Gielgud. (Royal
Ballet report and commentary by Paul Ben-Itzak.)