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The Buzz, 12-5: Conflict of Interest
Inside Track: DTW Books its Own Marketing Director for Fresh Tracks

You only gonna dance in a loft,
Loft, loft, downtown loft.

-- New York choreographer Tyler Bills

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

Having received a couple of complaints about Gia Kourlas's review of Dance Theater Workshop's latest Fresh Tracks program in last Monday's Times (including one from one of the artists reviewed), I thought I'd mosey on over to the Gray Lady and check Gia's story. Well, dance insiders! Forget about what Gia wrote; it's what she didn't that caused my jaw to drop. Among the artists DTW selected for a berth in this highly coveted showcase was (wait for it) ITS OWN MARKETING DIRECTOR, John Wyszniewski.

Yes, choreographers, you might work your butt off and you or your parents spend tens of thousands of dollars for years developing your craft, you might submit the best danged piece ever to the Fresh Tracks panel, you might even be the second coming of let's-haul-out-her-name-again ancient Fresh Tracks success story Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, but the message this leading New York presenter has sent here is that if you don't happen to be one of its employees, you're out of luck.

Where are the ethics here? Simple rule suggestion: "Employees of DTW and their families are not eligible for Fresh Tracks consideration." Message to DTW artistic director Cathy Edwards: This is not the family basement show. This is a publicly funded theater. Even if Mr. Wyszniewski IS the second coming of ATDK, if he works for you, he shouldn't be appearing on your stage. Whether he is talented or not is completely irrelevant. You simply have no right to program your co-workers, thus depriving someone else of a performing berth and the press attention simply because you don't see their face every day at the office. Why is this so hard to understand? (Ancillary rule suggestion: DTW might also want to place a moratorium on considering performances employing bubble-wrap.)

Peoples, if we are going to program our buddies and colleagues for supposedly curated supposedly competitive showcases, we forfeit our right to criticize critics (like Gia) who say that modern dance is dead in New York. (Subsidiary question for Gia: Why the Judy Miller moment? Your readers deserved to know about John W.'s DTW connection.)

I'd love to see Mr. Wyszniewski's draft press release on this, by the way: "This year's Fresh Tracks, selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, features Isabel Lewis, Rachel Bernsen, Paule Turner, Jessica Morgan and... me!"

Maybe DTW should change the name of its program to Inside Track.

PS: Predictably, since I first issued this opinion last week in the DI e-mail, the self-validators in DTW's extended, inbred family have started circling the wagons. Weeding out the immature invective and foul language ('inbred' may strike you the same way, but I think it's exact), their defense of their institution boils down to two arguments:

1) DTW's own rules say this is appropriate, therefore it is, and I should shut up. (Never mind that DTW receives public funds and benefits as a non-profit.)

2) How DARE I question John W.'s credentials as an artist, or DTW's right to employ artists? No one's questioning John W.'s merits; I haven't seen him perform (that I can recall), so I don't have an opinion there. But if he's as talented as -- giving them the benefit of the doubt that they did make this decision solely on merit -- DTW and its Fresh Tracks panel think he is, let him compete for a showcase somewhere else, where he doesn't have an unfair advantage and won't be denying someone else an opportunity simply because they're not so lucky as to be able to say hello to the artistic director every day. And where he won't be compromising the integrity of the institution and, by inference, the seriousness and professionalism of the dance world.

PPS: I've also received mail on this issue that says, in effect, "Surprise, surprise."

PPPS: Disclosure: When Mr. Wyszniewski joined DTW a year ago, the institution's relationship with this publication changed dramatically. I am mentioning this because here at the Dance Insider, we prefer that YOU, the reader, be the judge of whether we have a conflict of interest. I would emphasize, though, that this is not about Mr. Wyszniewski, but conflict of interest at DTW. As longtime readers will know, I have never had any compunction about criticizing presenters -- including DTW, where this issue has popped up before.

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