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The Buzz, 11-19: Failing William, Failing Dancers
Dance Publicist Comes Up Short

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

Just after 7 this morning, about 10 p.m. Monday California time, hearing on the BBC that the actor James Coburn had passed away Monday in Los Angeles, I went to Yahoo to search for the AP story. I found it right away. The same day the actor had passed away, the AP had reported the sad but important news, as befits the fate of a star that people care about. Undoubtedly, the AP was able to report the important news because a publicist or agent had done his or her job, and alerted the media right away.

This does not seem to have been adequately enough the case with the death of William Marrie, the former National Ballet of Canada principal who died Saturday morning after a traffic accident in Manhattan, where he had been starring in Twyla Tharp/Billy Joel's "Movin' Out."

The show's dance publicist, Ellen Jacobs, generally regarded as the best in New York, sent out no press release -- at least none that I received here at the Dance Insider. Relying on a tip from a colleague with connections to the show, we reported the death late Saturday night New York time, by which hour those associated with "Movin' Out" and with Mr. Marrie's former company in Toronto were aware of it. And yet, it wasn't until early Monday morning, New York time, that I found the news reported anywhere else. Where Mr. Coburn's passing was reported the same day, Mr. Marrie's was not reported by most media (based on a search of the 'Net) until nearly two days after the fact.

What happened here was a spectacular failure by a publicist to do her job. Not just the dancer, but all dancers were not well-served. The death of a dancer should be announced as major news. It should be announced immediately. It should be announced to all dance media immediately, to send a message that we value our artists and realize the urgency of such news concerning them. If even one of our supposedly best publicists cannot treat the death of a dancer as news that must be gotten out right away to all dance media, how can we expect the public to treat not just the deaths of dancers, but their LIVES as urgent?

The failure continued even up to yesterday afternoon when, in response to our request for a bio of Mr. Marrie, a representative of the publicist simply referred us back to our own story. "We don't have any further information," said the assistant. Well....get it. It's your job.

Because this publicist did not adequately do her job (in my opinion), a person whose job it was not, but who cared enough, was left to inform us of the news. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to send us the word. He transcended his own sorrow for a moment in order to get the news out to us immediately. The person whose job it should have been to do so did not. Dancers deserve better.

Just a few hours after they had spent the night at the hospital and seen him die, Mr. Marrie's roommate and understudy, Laurence Rabson, and his girlfriend, Aliane Baquerot, took the stage for the matinee performance of "Movin' Out." They did so no doubt because they know it is a dancer's job, no matter what the circumstances, to serve their art with strength and beauty. It's too bad that the show's dance publicist, Ellen Jacobs, could in this case not do her job with equal efficiency.



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