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The Buzz, 11-14: Arrested Development
Board Brinksmanship at American Ballet Theatre; Editorial Abdication at the New York Times (or, a Tale of Two "Rain"s)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

Just what the Mac Lowry is going on with the board of American Ballet Theatre, and the confused coverage of its machinations by the New York Times? (Not the histrionic board, the histrionics at the board.)

By now, most dance insiders probably know about Robin Pogrebin's report in Wednesday's Times that the Movado watch company, chaired by disgruntled former ABT board member Gedalio Grinberg, has withdrawn a sponsorship valued at $400,000 annually, directing it instead to New York City Ballet. Movado, according to the Times, says it was (quoting the Times here) "forced to do so because of financial mismanagement at Ballet Theater (sic)." The paper goes on to quote Grinberg as scolding the ABT board in a letter (presumably obtained by the Times), "Management's actions and style have been inconsistent with my principles." Grinberg resigned from the board this past June, in protest of what the Times characterizes as the board's "ouster of a fellow member, Lewis P. Geyser," who had "questioned Ballet Theater's financial accountability" as well as the leadership of board chair Lewis Ranieri.

In a statement issued to the Dance Insider yesterday on behalf of the board, ABT spokesperson Kelly Ryan responded:

"There were a number of factual and perceptual errors in the article 'Sponsor Spurns Ballet Theater' which appeared on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 in the New York Times.

"We strongly feel that Ms. Pogrebin's one-sided reporting distorts the real picture. Had Ms. Pogrebin checked the deficit figure at any time during her conversations with ABT's chairman Lewis Ranieri, he could have had the opportunity to correct her reporting. ABT's endowment fund grew from $6.6 million at the close of '02 to nearly $9 million this year. These funds are never co-mingled as alleged by Lewis Geyser in the Times article.

"As to the charge of withholding financial information: Ballet Theatre Foundation prepares and distributes financial statements quarterly. We take our financial responsibility seriously.

"As to ABT's relationship with Movado: We are disappointed about the loss of their sponsorship. However, we are grateful they have chosen to continue to support ballet. Movado and ABT have had a long and fruitful association since 1986, and ABT's dancers have benefited greatly from Movado's generosity. ABT continues to hold Movado in high regard and is proud and grateful to have enjoyed such a long association with this great company.

"In ABT's history, the company has often relied on the extreme generosity of a few great individuals, beginning with Lucia Chase and Richard Pleasant and more recently with Peter T. Joseph and Lew Ranieri. Ballet Theatre is grateful to these individuals and others without whom the company would not be in the stable position it is today.

"Looking toward the future, ABT is working successfully to implement a new strategic direction for the company. ABT's board of governing trustees is helping the company expand its national and international presence, aggressively supporting the artistic vision of Kevin McKenzie and working to provide an enhanced environment for the dancers. These objectives are being accomplished through a carefully thought-out plan designed to lead the Company to growth as well as financial self-sufficiency. Equally important to ABT is the support of over 7,000 donors and a 20% increase in corporate support over the past several years."

It's a little hard for me to examine those quarterly reports from the other side of the Ocean, so I will reserve comment on the accuracy of the Times report. But Pogrebin's follow-up in yesterday's Times included at least one glaring error, the statement, "City Ballet performs twice as much as Ballet Theater (23 weeks)...." In fact, ABT performed 21 weeks last year, plus one week of partial company performances at the Kennedy Center. The company rehearsed an additional 18 weeks, for a total of 39 work weeks.

Regarding ABT's board, I would humbly suggest that its members consider taking two simple steps:

1) Stop taking your problems with each other or your executives to the media, and solve them internally. 2) Hire a new executive director pronto, and sign him or her to a five-year contract to give the organization some administrative stability to match the ABT dancers' artistic consistency.

As regards the New York Times.... For the moment I am more concerned with its critical consistency. The most important and influential European modern dance choreographer not named Pina blew into town this week, and the Times delivered, well..... Herewith, excerpts from two takes on performances of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's "Rain" by her Rosas company, as captured (and tamed) by Jack Anderson reviewing Tuesday's NY premiere at BAM, and as Flash Reviewed by our Rosa Mei at its Brussels premiere:

Rosa Mei in the Dance Insider, February 2, 2001:

"An exceptionally beige piece.... Beige and pastel hues shift to fuchsia, revert back to the original tones, then lighten to beige and white.... A formalist study in an impressionist painting."

Jack Anderson in the New York Times, November 14, 2003:

"This "Rain" was often pink."


"Flat interstate driving to Steve Reich's droning and propulsive 'Music for 18 Musicians.'"

NY Times:

"The score weaves together many chiming and pulsing sounds, all pleasing to the ear."


"De Keersmaeker has a penchant for simulating the dynamics of longing in both the gasping use of breath and the rag-doll flinging of the torso and limbs."

NY Times:

"Sometimes in the past, Ms. De Keersmaeker's patterns have evoked turbulent emotions."


"The movement: simple variations of running, skipping, jumping and turning, tra la la dance in post-modern Isadora mode."

NY Times:

"Women gallop with an exultation that recalls some of the early 20th-century modern-dance works of Isadora Duncan."


"A sample phrase: step, run, run, run, skip, arm fling side, fast roll to ground, stand arch, head fling, head roll, arm fling, another fast roll to floor. "

NY Times:

"They run in circles, again and again."

And finally:


"If everyone could make Kansas look this good, you'd be looking at Kansas in a completely different way. There'd also be far more traffic jams on that barren stretch of I-70."

NY Times:

"This soothing 'Rain' has ended."

Actually, it hasn't; you can catch Rosas in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's "'Rain," New York dance insider, through tomorrow at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. For more information, please visit the BAM web site.

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