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Buzz, 10-31: Nightmare on W. 30th Street
DANCE NOTATION BUREAU LAYS OFF STAFF
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
The Dance Notation Bureau -- whose mission of recording
and preserving choreography makes it one of the most critical dance
organizations in the world, with a library of more than 600 dance
scores by dancemakers from Petipa to Bill T. Jones -- Friday laid
off most of its paid staff, including executive director Ilene Fox
and veteran notators Leslie Rotman and Sandra Aberkalns, the Dance
Insider has learned.
According to sources
close to the DNB, employees were informed Wednesday of the decision,
which board chair Lynne Weber explained by citing factors including
the failure of anticipated grants to materialize and low membership.
The DNB was founded
65 years ago in New York City by Ann Hutchinson Guest, Helen Priest
Rogers, Eve Gentry and Janey Price, with the purpose of recording
and preserving dances in an intelligible, comprehensive notation
-- Labanotation, first published in 1928 by Rudolf von Laban. While
details were sketchy at presstime, the lay-off of five of its six
paid staffers could potentially have far-reaching consequences for
the recording and preservation of major works of choreography so
that future generations of dancers can render them accurately.
What makes a notated
score more accurate than a video or oral record is not just the
scrupulous system developed by Laban, which enables the notator
to chart every movement on paper, effectively creating a movement
'score,' but the scrupulous work of the certified Labanotators,
who work alongside the choreographer as he or she creates the dance,
or, where that's not possible, as he or she or a trusted associate
re-stages it. This allows the notator to record not only the end
dance, but how the choreographer got there, often appending the
choreographer's comments to the finished score. Completing the score
can take years.
Finished scores don't
just sit on shelves at the DNB's W. 30th Street offices accumulating
dust in between visits from scholars; their practical uses are legion.
The DNB's notation of Eugene Loring's "Billy the Kid" in 1942, the
first ballet notation in the United States, came at the request
of the choreographer, who wanted it to help establish his ownership
of the choreography. The score for Doris Humphrey's "Shakers," produced
in 1948, is today the basis of stagings of the work all over the
Staff reportedly laid
off Friday include Fox, the DNB's executive director since 1991;
Leslie Rotman, director of stagings, who has notated works by Balanchine,
Isadora Duncan, Sophie Maslow, and Antony Tudor, re-staging for
Ballett Frankfurt, Hamburg Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and other companies;
Aberkalns, resident notator for the Paul Taylor Dance Company from
1987 to 1993 and also a leading notator of works by William Forsythe,
Alvin Ailey, Jerome Robbins and Mark Morris; administrative assistant
Doris Caravaglia; and notation assistant Mira Kim. Librarian Mei-Chen
Lu has been retained, reportedly because her salary is not paid
by the DNB.
Unclear was whether
and how the lay-offs would affect future notation work or notations
currently in progress.
If the reasons indicated
for the lay-offs are accurate -- lack of grant funds and low membership
-- they point to what has long been the organization's Achilles
heel. The DNB's functions make it one of the most crucial organizations
in dance, and there's little doubt that its executive director and
tireless and dedicated other employees realize this in the energy
they devote to the DNB's principal work of preserving and re-staging
dances. However, its employees' unquestioned commitment to notating
and re-staging has not been matched by an equal dynamism in fundraising
and publicity by the organization and its board. While the DNB receives
some funding -- including, in 2004, a $20,000 Heritage & Preservation
grant from the National Endowment for the Arts -- the resources
allocated to it, relative to those granted some individual companies
and tours, have not been commensurate with its unique role and importance
to the field. If the DNB -- and its critical mission -- is to not
just survive but to flourish, it may need to bring some aggressive
development and public relations muscle onto its executive and board
team. The stakes are just too high for it to fail.
PS: Because of the paramount
importance of the DNB to the community and the present and future
of dance, we have put this breaking story out before we've had the
chance to speak with officials on the DNB staff or board. Our intention
-- and the intention of our sources -- is not to stir up trouble
but to sound the alarm and thus galvanize the community. DNB staff,
board, or professional advisory committee members with more information
or comments are encouraged to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.