The Buzz, 12-19: Inside Track Encore
DTW Programs Another Employee on its Own Stage
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
Well campers, this article didn't start out this way; today's third posting was supposed to be a Flash Press Release, in which we would simply publish the entire announcement of Dance Theater Workshop's winter/spring 2007 season. It definitely merits the attention, chalk full as the line-up is of 34 world or New York premieres and all-stars like Douglas Dunn, Rennie Harris, Lawrence Goldhuber, John Jasperse, David Parker and Vicky Shick, plus mini-festivals or series programmed by Tere O'Connor, Brian Brooks, and RoseAnne Spradlin. And my favorite part is there are so many names I don't know! I was genuinely looking forward to surprising the kindly publicist with the publication of his PR in its entirety. Unfortunately, in checking the unusual spelling of one of the unfamiliar names on the DTW site this morning, Fresh Track artist Tara O'Con, I discovered that, voila, guess where Ms. O'Con works for her day job? Yes, the theater that last year programmed its own marketing director in its own festival has now given one of the much sought-after spots in next month's Fresh Tracks to the woman listed on its website as its own receptionist.
As I wrote the last time this happened: "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... 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."
Let's give Ms. O'Con's employers, as well as the Fresh Tracks panel, the benefit of the doubt and say that in their own minds, they chose her over other applicants for one of the six spots available solely on the merit of her audition and the quality of the work presented. Doesn't matter; whether the artist in question is talented is irrelevant -- she has an unfair edge. By any professional standard, it is simply inappropriate and unfair for a publicly-funded theater to program its own employees -- it's called CONFLICT OF INTEREST. Or, if you prefer, appearance of conflict of interest. When this issue has come up before, DTW's defenders have suggested that I would deprive dance artists of the right to make a living, e.g. by holding down day jobs. No one's saying this; they can do both. They just shouldn't do them at the same theater. If the artist is talented, he or she should try to get programmed at another theater; her DTW employers can even help her with an introduction. And/or, if her employer really believes in her talent, then simply tell her to come back and audition when she's working somewhere else for her day job.
Peoples, I didn't get up this morning intending to criticize DTW. I literally expected just to change a few 'smart-quotes' into not-so-smart quotes in the formatting so that we could throw the entire press release online. When I discovered the resurgent conflict of interest curating, I even paced around a bit deciding if I really wanted to go there; why dispose of a nice gesture and demonstration of good will -- publishing the entire press release -- over one little itty-bitty programming choice? Why lose the chance at a 'thank you, Paul' and risk more nasty letters from a minority of DTW acolytes? I can only ask you to believe that I am less angry than disappointed. Why does a theater which has done so much good for the community and programmed so much good work continue to sabotage itself with its insider culture?
PS: Speaking of insider cultures, when I've levied this criticism of DTW in the past, some (or at least one -- former DTW director David White) have pointed out that the Dance Insider, which I edit, has reviewed work in which its own reviewers are involved as performers. The parallel doesn't hold. First, there are less venues for artists to get reviewed by than there are theaters for them to get programmed by; a talented artist excluded from DTW's stage will have an easier time finding other theaters than will an artist excluded from our pages finding other places to be reviewed. Second, unlike DTW, we receive no direct public funding. Third, we have strict disclosure rules. When we review the performance work of someone who has worked for us, we mention the connection. Fourth, and perhaps most important, we review a lot more shows than there are available slots in Fresh Tracks; when we do review someone with whom we have a connection, it does not mean someone else is denied the opportunity because they're not connected.