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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.

"Most troubling, 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

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

Swan's Shame

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 his.

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, Swan?

(Thanks to Dance Insider P. for the tip on today's Times article.)

Denby's Manifesto

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.

"'Bacchanale' (Dali's 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 didn't mind."



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