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Flash APAP Review, 1-13: Something's Happening Here
APAP Verdict: State of the Art, 2000: All Killa, No Filla


By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

For the past 12 years, through sojourns in San Francisco, Alaska, and New York, I've had one stabilizing weekly ritual: Listening to Scott Simon and "Uncle" Dan Shore interpret the week's events on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Saturday. Dan is what every journalist should aspire to: Smart, Wise, Warm, Witty, Iconoclastic and Independent. Scott is, well--he's Dan's prize pupil. A perpetual work in progress who parrots the journalistic line less than most and whose saving grace is his regular public acknowledgments that he is fallible. (Typified by his pleading "Forgive Me" whenever he flubs a line. Scott, all is forgiven. ) Most of all, these two men are models for me because they are at the same time utterly professional and touchingly humble and human.

So I was damned if being up 'til 5 a.m. New Year's Day spinning the musical, film, radio, and news highlights of the last 100 years for some dancer pals was going to keep me from waking up at 7 for Weekend Edition. (Actually, Weekend Edition starts at 8, but 7 is the slot for "Hearts of Space," whose ethereal mix calms me down from the week just concluded and relaxes me into the weekend.)

Scott and Dan review the news shortly after 9, and for this first edition of the new millenium, they ended with a zinger. Dan noted a holiday card Scott had sent him with a quote from Anne Frank. (My personal connection: I'd played Peter, Anne's boyfriend, in a high school production of "The Diary of Anne Frank.") Scott then repeated the quote, which, to paraphrase, goes something like this: "In Spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."

I'd heard this quote thousands of times before, so one might have thought me numb to its effects by now, but my head started shaking, my cheeks trembled, the ducts welled up, and I could not stop the tears. What saddened me was a larger realization: As long as we were in the 20th century, I still believed that we at least shared a time period, a century, an epoch with Anne Frank and others who had kept us going with their heroic feats and inspiring words. Even those who died before I was born--like Anne--were still more or less of my time. With the turn of the clock, though, I realized that Anne and the others--from societal heroes like Gandhi and Kennedy to pop idols like Sinatra--were now irrevocably locked in the history bins. Heck, even Charlie Brown, the childhood chum of half the century's generations, rode off into centerfield a few days into the new century.

All these personages had lived in the 20th century, but they would never live in the 21st. They would not be continuing this journey with us. Of course, I also thanked God for those, getting on in years (like Uncle Dan) who made it over the hump.

It took this week's New York conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (formerly referred to as APAP, now thumbnailed as Arts Presenters) to awaken me to the breathtaking positive possibilities of this turn of the millennial clock. While we are leaving some behind, we not only can bring their ideas and ideals with us, but have the opportunity to start with a clean slate, throwing all previous presumptions into the history bins as well. Nothing is sacred, and all questions are fair game.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the annual Arts Presenters conference is The Dance Event of the year. It's basically a dance (not to mention music and theater) supermarket. Presenters from all over North America converge to look at showcases by companies from around the continent, and see what they might book. For the companies, especially small to midsize, a lot is at stake. Many get booked on the spot, but even if they don't get signed right away, Arts Presenters lets them introduce presenters beyond New York to their work. This is the performance component, but there are also panels and working groups that, this year, ranged in subject from the potential for building a managers' consortium to women in dance.

Based on what I saw in the conference that started Saturday and ended Tuesday, the field--in the presenting, performing, and managing aspects--is healthier than ever. I say this not so much because of the quality of the performances and the discourse, but because of, well--the truly inquisitive nature of both. It feels like we are truly seizing the new millenium and making a fresh start, with no past axioms accepted as gospel, and everybody asking questions.

So I'd like to put this Flash APAP, er, Arts Presenters report in the form of some questions which emerged, as this not so dispassionate witness saw them.

IMPORTANT NOTE: THE ARTISTS AND OTHERS CITED DID NOT NECESSARILY LITERALLY ASK THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS; IT IS I WHO AM FRAMING MY OBSERVATIONS THIS WAY. If you've got a problem with any of these, don't blame them-take it up with me!

I will finish with some questions, critical and otherwise, of my own.

Squonkopera is asking: Can choreographers Peter Kope and Michelle delaReza actually make our summer 1999 P.S. 122 smash show even better, as we prepare to take it to Broadway and the Helen Hayes in February?

Zvi Gotheiner is asking: How can I use world music and world-class stars (Michael Thomas stands out) to push the art of the duet even further and bring out the beauty of the music and dance, to reveal the beauty of the dancers?

Alonzo King of LINES Contemporary Ballet is asking: What would happen if I took a trip up the Congo, going deeper even than many journalists have gone? And if I used what I learned to make a ballet?

Pilobolus Dance Theater is asking: What would happen if we got ace agency IMG to represent Pilobolus and Pilobolus Too? Will it increase our bookings?

Elsie Management is asking: What would happen if we showcased Doug Elkins? Would it increase the company's bookings to the level that his ground-breaking, hip, accessible-and-intelligent at the same time choreography, and his killer dancers, deserve?

Mark Haim is asking: What would happen if I let people in the audience determine which Goldberg Variation I will dance to next? And if I moved to this incredible music not as a virtuosic, technique & abstract-driven choreographer, but as a normal earthling might, being moved to his spirit and bones by the Bach music?

Michael Mao is asking: What would happen if I took my audience on a journey back to Shanghai in 1937, when a Jewish refugee married a Chinese acrobat? And if I then sent this couple and their family on a journey around the globe, with each port featuring a different dance? And called this Chinese-Jewish Nutcracker "The Firecracker"?

Eun Me Ahn is asking: What would happen if I fucked with the audience in a sort of a reverse-expectation way, by presenting a more mainstream, lovely lyrical work for tastefully-costumed women, accompanied by a live cellist, as opposed to the in-your-face avant garde trips I usually take them on? And then refused to let them off too easily, by following up with one of my Eun-of-the-painted-naked-breasts solos?

If she read the above, Eun Me Ahn and many of y'all are probably now asking: Is that all you saw? Look beyond the breasts, dude!

Randy James is asking: What would happen if, instead of bringing canned music to my Arts Presenters showcase at City Center, as many artists do, I brought a live quartet?

Jane Comfort is asking: What would happen if I wrote a dance play with a male protagonist for once--specifically, a DJ? And if to do this I pulled together collaborators like DJ Spooky, Carl Rux, and Toshi Reagon? And if I presented it for my showcase, even though it's still a work-in-progress. (Answer: "Asphalt," to premiere at the American Dance Festival this summer, rocks!!)

Jane Comfort, Sara Hook, Wendy Perron, Ellis Wood, and JoAnna Mendl Shaw are asking, in a panel on Women in the World, Women in Dance: Why is it still so much tougher for women than men in this field? And, why is it easier for men to get scholarships to study dance at college? And to get jobs? And grants? And a better paycheck than a woman performing an identical job? And Sara is also asking: Why do women start their choreographic careers by experimenting with and creating work, and then forming a company, while men form a company, and then create the work?

Bill Bragin and Alison Loerke, leading a discussion on presenting world music, are asking: Can agents and presenters find a better way to follow up with their summer festival world artists, so that they are not just one-hit wonders, but have the possibility for sustained touring, growth, and nurturing?

Laura Colby, Ivan Sygoda, Art Waber, and Jodi Kaplan are asking, in a working group on managing contemporary dance artists: Can we, as artist managers and agents, actually pool our resources? And, what can we do to be better liaisons between artists and presenters? To help presenters program contemporary dance? To address the "I don't DO dance" question? OR the "I USED to do dance" situation? And, to make our artists more accessible to audiences, can we ask them to give us program notes? And can the media not pounce on the program notes, and understand that they are not promises on what will be delivered, but helpful cheat-sheets for audience members who may not be as used to watching dance as are the critics?

Jodi Kaplan is asking: When we, as managers, don't have an artist in our stable to meet a particular presenter's needs, can we actually recommend another manager's artist?

Tony Powell is asking: Can my company, please God, throw up a showcase despite arriving barely on time after our bus broke down en route from Washington D.C.? (While the rest of us ask: Tony, who's your vitamin supplier? We want some!)

Bill T. Jones, speaking at the closing plenary session, is asking: Why do we, as artists, presenters and managers, do what we do? And throwing out various answers to this question in a session bookended by his singing and moving.

And now, some questions I am asking: (Important note: the following are my opinions and my opinions only, are not necessarily informed by any inside information and may even be built on erroneous factual suppositions. It's a Flash, folks. Corrections welcome.)

Will Tony Powell find a way to give his dancers the boost in technique essential to giving justice to his actually quite spatially interesting and dynamic choreography?

Will not just Tony, but Rebecca Stenn (DI staffer who performed with her own company, PerksDanceMusicTheatre, Saturday, and Pilobolus Too Sunday) reveal her secret vitamin stash so I can be as energetic as her at next year's Arts Presenters conference?

Can world music and dance presenters build better alliances with world music record labels, leading to joint tour/record promotion that can benefit them and the artists?

Can Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company get listed in the Arts Presenters showcase schedule next year, so it can get a better turn-out for a varietal showcase that was rigorously prepared and performed? (Diplomatic caveat: This question is not an indictment of anyone, it's really just a question. I would have loved to see more people there to enjoy what I enjoyed, and to book what I have enjoyed and learned from these past two years.)

The next time The Gender Project offers such a stellar panel (including Comfort, Hook, and Perron) can more than two men show up to see how their female colleagues feel about their place in dance? After all, Wood and Shaw are interviewing men, too, for their project. We could at least listen to them. Remember, guys, they're not men-haters, but women lovers. There IS a difference. And since they're still the majority, best listen-up!

Can the mainstream media, which was definitely in the house this year (the NY Daily News and NY Times being among the attendees) continue to improve its coverage of Arts Presenters, the most important event to this industry, and the greatest opportunity to gage where the industry is at, as an art form and business?

While it was great to see my colleagues from Dance Magazine at the above-mentioned star panel on Women in Dance, where were our (female) dance journalist colleagues from the mainstream media, such as the New Yorker, Times and the Village Voice? (Helpful suggestion: It's not too late for them to check it out; the dance collection of the New York Public Library taped the discussion.)

Can someone tell me how we can produce a study of the economic effects of the arts on their communities, so that we can have some real, money-driven artillery the next time we go to Congress or foundations to show why support of the arts is essential not just to 'weird' artists and their 'elite' audience, but to the economic vitality of their communities?

And I think that's--oh, wait, my alter ego, DJ Yo' Mama has one last, if less portentous question. Take it away, Yo'.

Okay y'all, check it out: So I'm sitting on my phat one all day watching others dance, and yo, that's nice-it's all killa, no filla--but check it out, it makes me want to get my freak on and move MY fanny-pack. So I check my watch and my look and I go downtown to Dance Theater Workshop, where they're supposed to have a LIVE DJ and shit, and what do I discover, to the vast disappointment of my fanny and my ears? Yo, check it out: The food is great sampling, but the records on the turntable do not, Yo, repeat, do NOT match the delectables on the hors d'oevres table. Like, the DJ creed is don't disrespect your fellow turntable artist, and I'm down with that, but this cat was no turntable artist. Yo, it's not just that he's playing, like, "Runaround Sue"--like I can even respect the old school shit like Beethoven and Bach and I'm down with my early second millenium sistah Hildegard von Bingen--but the mix has got to be right. Yo, you can't just throw things in a blender and call it a mix. So my question is, Where did you get this "DJ", and can you PLEASE give us something to move to next year? 'Nuff respect Peace out.

.....Okay, thank you, DJ Yo Mama, and keep working on that Danny Hoch imitation. And, to send out 'Nuff respect to David White and the DTW Cru, I'm asking--but not complaining!--why I thought DTW was supposed to be closed starting now for renovations, but I just got a press release announcing events through April. What's up with that? If this is not just APAP-induced delirium, I say all the better; judging from all the great and potentially great dance I saw at APAP, we need all the theaters we can get to house this great art.

'Nuff respect and a shout out to Amita Sheth and Jennie Sussman for their help in covering the conference, webmistress Robin Hoffman for posting this longer-than-usual Flash, and any of y'all that made it to the bottom.

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