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The Buzz, 11-23: The Voice & The Voiceless
Gardening with Meredith & Bessie; Dancers Left Outside by P.S. 122?

By Paul Ben-Itzak & The Dance Outsider
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider & The Dance Outsider

Manna from Manure

That's my by-line on top but today the Buzz is just a collator. We begin, in honor of Meredith Monk's 40th anniversary of artmaking -- Flashed in Chris Dohse's review of today and feted in a star-studded benefit performance tonight at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church -- by inviting you to return with us to the days of yester-Monk. When young Monk arrived at Sarah Lawrence College, the artist recalled in a 1985 commencement speech at her alma mater, "This walking bundle of intensity called Meredith was definitely in need of some laughter, some balance and perspective. All these things and more were given to me by my don and teacher, Bessie Schonberg.

"Bessie was and is a woman of the theater. I say that in the widest and fullest sense of the term. She knows and loves the breadth of the field, and for that reason she encouraged and allowed me to develop my different interests (music, dance, theater, film) without rigidly demanding that I specialize. What this gave me was the room to grow in a way that was right for me. It was at Sarah Lawrence that I got my first glimpse of what I would spend my life working on: a performance form that combines music, movement and drama into one mosaic of sight and sound with an underlying base of human emotion.

"The first thing Bessie taught me was not to take myself so seriously -- that everything that I came up with was not perfect by any means; it could be thrown away (and mostly should be thrown away) in order to start again. She also taught all of us to be respectful of each other -- to appreciate each person's particular talents, styles, rates of growth for what they were. In other words, not to have a preconceived idea of what a body is, a dance is, a song is, a play is. This basic attitude (a kind of psychic anarchy) has given me the courage to try to find new ways of putting art forms together by working between the cracks; it has taught me to never assume anything; it has made the process of discovery one of the great joys of my life and it has kept me curious. Curiosity has a certain vitality to it because at first, it seems to lead to the possibility of chaos. Is there a new or different way of doing something? The prospect of trying something new often becomes so terrifying that we move back to more conventional solutions without realizing that chaos is the first step towards creativity. It's hard, but we have to tolerate moments of uncertainty and disorientation to get to new solutions. This initial confusion was always encouraged by Bessie. She knew that flowers and vegetables only come from a garden of dirt mixed with manure -- that there is no good or bad in the initial stages of creativity, only material to work with."

Is Dance the Outsider at the New P.S. 122?

Speaking of manure -- you knew I'd go there, dance insider -- the merde really hit the fan last year when Mark Russell "resigned" as director of P.S. 122, the East Village theater whose world-wide reputation he'd built over a reign that spanned some two decades. Just as it benefited from Russell's tireless courage and faith, the dance community has been no less affected than other artistic communities by the tumult around his departure and the uncertainty that's followed. Notwithstanding his theater background, Russell's penchant for risk-taking included programming untested choreographers and nurturing, often uniquely, sophomore and veteran dance makers as they continued to develop. Not being reared as a dance specialist became an advantage, as he was less locked into traditional programming strictures and often able to look at talent without pre-conceived notions or biases.

Russell's departure, then, understandably left the dance community as nervous as the theater world. Not helping restore confidence have been the nebulous digital dreams of P.S. board head Donald Guarnieri; that the board appointed one of its own members, Ann Dennin, to replace Russell in his role as executive director; that the artists' advisory committee no longer exists (according to the P.S. web site, it's being "re-assembled'; what, digitally?); and that the departed P.S. press agent Ron Lasko -- universally respected among dance artists and writers -- has been replaced (again according to the theater's web site) with "please contact P.S. 122's marketing staff." Finally, nearly a year after Russell's resignation was made public, the theater has yet to announce a successor to his duties as artistic director -- at least not in and to the dance community.

However, word has filtered up to us from a reader calling him or herself "The Dance Outsider" -- this is what happens when a theater severs its ties to the dance community, we're forced to rely on anonymous e-mails for any news -- that the theater may have appointed one Vallejo Gantner, director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, as its new artistic director. We're not generally given to printing anonymous letters here, but lacking any news from the theater itself and in view of the stakes of the community in P.S. 122's future, the Buzz has decided to share the Dance Insider's report and related views. (References to Jesse McKinley refer to Mr. Mckinley's item on the appointment in the New York Times.) The floor remains open of course for Mr. Gantner to share his views directly with the dance community in this space.

From: dance_outsider
Subject: Are we being spun?
To: paul@danceinsider.com

With apologies to Jesse McKinley's polite reportage, should we view 2005 as the dawning of Don Guarnieri's bold new digital age at P.S.? Can we ferret out some detail about this so-called "search committee" and ask if PS has any intention to re-instate an artist advisory council? Or is the 25th anniversary season Performance Space's fine farewell to the pioneering voices and visions that demand 450+ words of news coverage in the "Paper of Record" for their recent appointment...?

Obviously, when a writer cites "Matt & Ben" among PS's claims to fame, I'm going to consider the source. But shouldn't either Ms. Dennin or Mr. Gantner be expressing more than a passing concern for the ARTISTS?! What is PS's plan with a new artistic director to make the space accessible to the local arts community? Will a "dynamite digital dingo" receive budget priority ahead of a Tim Miller, Kriota Willberg or Ishmael Houston-Jones?

Does PS have any desire to finally find a way to be supportive of the young and emerging talent pounding down its doors, or will the Sarah Jones's of the world still need to go out in search of a patron Streep, in spite of stealing the show on Danny Hoch's hip-hop theater festival bill...?

I think the question begs to be asked sooner rather than later. When a board forms a private cabal to appoint a successor who will inherit a long and storied (albeit troubled at times) history, aren't we owed some indication of an artistic vision or programming framework? So, there's a lot of interesting international work. Quelle schoque! What does that mean when the traditional policy of mixing presentation with "curated rentals" has already forced most artists and companies to either self-subsidize their runs at P.S. or seek other outlets? Will NYC artists now need to subsidize the venue's costs associated with presenting far-flung international projects, or will they be asked to "shake-up" their tired-old, self-indulgent "art" to do something wacky and audience friendly? Or should we imagine that chaotic clowning isn't that far behind...?

Is it unfair to ask for some words from young Mr. Gantner? Or perhaps, some of the artists that have travelled from NYC to appear on the Dublin Fringe might be prepared to comment on their experiences. Or artists (dance artists, no less) from Irish shores could offer their insights. Inquiring minds want to know. More important, those who love and respect the living legacy of P.S. deserve some indication of what lies ahead.


A ranting reader


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