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The Buzz, 12-14: Felasco
The DTW/Jones merger; the dance/dancing merger

Michelle Nadal and Rolf Alexander at a bal musette or popular ball in Kurt Jooss's "The Big City," one of the images that will be on display in the exhibition "Scenes de bal, bals en scene" at the Centre National de la Danse in Pantin, outside Paris, February 9 - April 30, and the Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris, May 5 - June 10, part of a season of performances, conferences, and dances open to the public. Photo: Anonymous, s.l., 1953, and couresy the Centre National de la Danse.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010 Paul Ben-Itzak

It's no wonder that the powers that be at New York's Dance Theater Workshop and the Bill T. Jones company got their story out first through a friendly non-specialist reporter at the NY Times before they bothered to tell the dance press that they'd merged. This thing is ill-considered. Dance Theater Workshop -- the actual presenting and (theoretically) dance service institution in the deal -- sacrifices a known brand, consecrating its name and the four+ decades of history behind it to the dustbin of history. Bill T. Jones gets a institution with its own building and only has to perform there once every two years for a couple of weeks. Little attention appears to have been given to the impact the absorption of DTW by Jones's organization will have on the community of dancers, let alone the wider community.

For some perspective: A prototype actually exists for combining an established choreographer with a presenting organization. It's called the centre choregraphique, and there are 20 of them spread across France. The difference is that there, the 'home' company, usually that of a renowned international choreographer, also maintains a significant presence at home, with a mission that includes real outreach to the non-dancer community, in stark contrast to the inbred way that Dance Theater Workshop has always defined what it means by 'community.' At the French regional centers, this typically includes, for example, open rehearsals by the home company. While the performance aspect is usually focused on that troupe, there are exceptions: Angelin Preljocaj's company, for its choreographique center in Aix-en-Provence / Marseille built its own new space, the Black Pavilion, which presents a full-fledged season as well as regular performances and open rehearsals by the Ballet Preljocaj.

There's little to indicate that besides the negative act of jettisoning its name -- its brand, essentially -- Dance Theater Workshop will undergo any type of true metamorphosis because of this merger, embracing its local community, nor that Bill T. Jones will make a substantive creative investment in the new entity and its role in the community. And it's a shame. Because I have covered the scene there for over a decade, people often ask me why dance is so popular -- not just among dancers, but the populace -- in Europe, while modern dance companies and theaters struggle in the United States to find an audience besides themselves. One answer, in France anyway, is the regional choreographic centers, which have succeeded in universalizing dance and essentially turned it outward, in stark contrast to the inward navel gazing that has often characterized modern dance in the US and particularly Dance Theater Workshop. Bill T. Jones, of course, has long been one of our most outward-focused creators. It would be nice -- and useful -- if he could bring this inclusiveness and expansiveness to DTW, but I fear that the DTW vortex is so strong it might just suck him into the narcissistic pool.

On danse

The French choreographers Dominique Hervieu and Jose Montalvo went beyond just making their choreographic center in the Parisian suburb of Creteil accessible to locals in their economically strapped community. The dances they created themselves are known for embracing popular styles even as they make concert styles more accessible. So it's no surprise that the Theatre National De Chaillot, now under their direction, will be collaborating with France's Centre National de la Danse (also based in an economically challenged Parisian suburb, Pantin) on "Bals en scene, scenes de bal," a major season of conferences, performances, exhibitions and, yes, balls beginning February 9 and continuing until June 10. Highlights include an exhibition of vintage photographs of balls or popular dances, work by Nadine Beaulieu and others, a program on 'dances and society' featuring the work of Marius Petipa and Doris Humphrey (together again!), a conference on 'the encounter between the savant and the popular in the history of balls and of flamenco.' and real balls following performances at Chaillot in which the public is invited to dance, including an African ball March 26 following the performance of Boyzie Cekwana, Aicha M'Barek and Hafiz Dhaou, Seydou Boro and Salia Sanou, a Sevilian ball May 28 following the final show from Pastora Galvan, a Celtic ball June 3 and a "Gershwin Ball" on June 10 hosted by Montalvo and Hervieu, who recently created a dance around Gershwin's themes.

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