The Buzz, 10-26: Sit
Down, Stand Up
Sister Rosa's Message for Brother Swan; Denby on the Russe-ians
"She sat down in
order that we might stand up."
-- Rev. Jesse Jackson
on the late Rosa Parks, New York Times, October 25.
the least healthy, least productive Associates are more satisfied
with their (health care) benefits than other segments and are interested
in longer careers with Wal-Mart."
-- M. Susan Chambers,
executive vice president for benefits, Wal-Mart, internal memo,
quoted in the NY Times, October 26.
"When I like something
I am sure I am right; when I don't, I'm not."
-- Edwin Denby
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
In Monday's column, I urged that dancers and dance fans be aware
that one of the reasons Nancy Walton Laurie is able to provide so
well for the artists of her Cedar Lake dance company is that Wal-Mart,
from which she likely derives much of her income as a daughter of
its co-founder, has not provided so well for its workers, effectively
helping to bolster the chain's profits and thus the income of stock-holders
like Walton Laurie. For example, while Cedar Lake's dancers all
get health insurance, only 47 percent of Wal-Mart's workers can
afford the company's plan. I noted that, according to a report Monday
in the Times, Wal-Mart's stance may be improving. Unfortunately,
today's headlines are not so encouraging.
"An internal memo sent
to Wal-Mart's board of directors proposes numerous ways to hold
down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to
minimize damage to the retailer's reputation," report the Times's
Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro. "Among the recommendations
are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people
from working at Wal-Mart."
Among other things,
the memorandum's author, M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart's executive
vice president for benefits, writes, "Growth in benefits costs is
unacceptable (15 percent per year) and driven by fundamental and
persistent root causes (e.g. aging workforce, increasing average
tenure)." (How about insurer greed? Sorry to interrupt.) "Unabated,
benefits costs could consume an incremental 12 percent of our total
profits in 2011, equal to $30 billion to $35 billion in market capitalization.
"While Associates are
satisfied overall with their benefits, they are opposed to most
traditional cost-control levers (e.g. higher deductibles for health
insurance). Satisfaction also varies significantly by benefit and
by segment of Associates. Most troubling, the least healthy,
least productive Associates are more satisfied with their benefits
than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart."
(Emphasis added.) (To read the complete memo, please click here).
This is just sick.
I recently asked Cedar
Lake's artistic director, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, if he thought it
was fair that his employer takes better care of Cedar Lake's dancers
than Wal-Mart, apparently her main income source, does of its workers.
His answer: "Nancy Walton is a private person who loves dancers.
All I can comment on is her gift of Cedar Lake and my own experiences
of working with her which has been a joy. As a friend she has been
a source of great happiness and unflagging personal support. I know
every dancer in the company would echo this feeling."
There you have the problem:
A dancer who essentially doesn't care how his employer got the money
which enables her to lavishly compensate him, as long as he's getting
On Monday, African-Americans,
Americans, and, indeed, the world, lost one of the last century's
greatest heroes. Rosa Parks was a woman who simply said NO -- even
at the risk of her own personal inconvenience. And much more; African-Americans
had been beaten for refusing to relinquish their bus seats to whites,
the heroic act by Parks which galvanized the Civil Rights movement
50 years ago.
At much less risk to
himself, instead of blotting out the outside world because hey as
long as he's got his, that's all that matters, Mr. Pouffer could
take the humble step of talking to his friend and saying "Nancy,
really appreciate your support for dancers, but what about the Wal-Mart
workers who make that financial support possible? Can we do something
about improving their compensation and health care?" How about it,
(Thanks to Dance Insider
P. for the tip on today's Times article.)
It wasn't always that
the arts in the US depended so heavily on private support, nor that
the American social welfare system was so emasculated.
In light of Aimee Ts'ao's
DI review of the new "Ballets
Russes" film, posted today, as well our ongoing discussion of dance
critics, I thought it might be enlightening to see what Edwin Denby,
the pride of my field, had to say about those Ballets Russes or
Russe performances back in the day, along the way sharing some of
Denby's critical manifesto. So I opened up Denby's "Dance Writings"
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), the essential compendium edited by Robert
Cornfield and William Mackay, and voila:
From the November-December
1938 issue of Modern Music:
"The oddly written publicity
for the new Monte Carlo states, 'The arrival each year of the Ballet
Russe de Monte Carlo automatically mobilizes the ballet fans of
the nation, and the resulting enjoyment is prodigious.' This sounds
as though we were to derive prodigious enjoyment from being automatically
mobilized -- almost as though we were to plunk down our shekels,
raise our right arms, and shout 'Heil Hurok.'...
"This new Monte Carlo
is subsidized by our own money, so it isn't a gift horse; we have
a right to look it over, and there are several front teeth missing.
One of them is music by our own composers, whom we have a hard enough
time hearing anyway. Thanks to the WPA and more to the Ballet Caravan,
anyone interested in ballet music already knows that you can get
it as satisfactorily here as abroad. We want it not for the pleasure
of saying it's ours but because we are curious to hear it, and an
American enterprise seems a natural place, especially an enterprise
which promisingly entitles itself 'Universal Art, Inc.'..."
From the October-November
1939 issue of the same journal, in a consideration of the same company:
"The other major novelty
so far, the Massine-Matisse-Shostakovich "Rouge et Noir," was a
disappointment to me." (See Aimee's article, linked to above, for
photos.) "The set and underwear costumes, effective for a while,
became rather professorially meager long before the piece is over
(and rather unpleasantly indecent). The music sounds like a young
man confusing himself with Brahms while in the next room somebody
is cooking cabbage soup. (Such emotions were more charming with
Mahler.) The choreography I am at a loss to describe because it
does not seem to relate itself to anything I feel. I will gladly
accept it as my fault that it all seems to me to happen in a vacuum.
I can see ingenious arrangements and good technique, a touching
opening in the third scene, and an odd feeling of a conventional
anecdote at the very end. When I like something I am sure I am right;
when I don't, I'm not. I should like to read a sympathetic criticism
of this ballet to help me get interested.
Venusberg ballet), notwithstanding a fine easel painting for a backdrop,
turned out to be a kind of charade." (Aimee's article also includes
a photo from this ballet, choreographed by Massine.) "There was
a moment during the first entrance of the Sacher-Masochs (Platoff
and Lauret, who were excellent) when it began to come to life and
be at least a little horrid. It is a shame it didn't jell, because
the idea was all right. Anyway, the audience had a few laughs and