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Flash Review 2, 4-21:
"The Art Bosses"
TV's Take on DTW's Fresh Tracks
By Ben Munisteri
Copyright 2000 Ben Munisteri
I remember vividly the
first time I received my Fresh Tracks audition rejection letter
from Dance Theater Workshop in the mail in 1992. Shocked at the
wallop, I burst into tears. And I am not a man who cries easily.
How had this happened? Hadn't I auditioned the same piece Jennifer
Dunning had praised in the Times? To me the message was undeniable:
I was not going to make it as a choreographer. A small group of
powerful panelists had decided this.
Last night's airing of
"Egg: The Art Bosses" on the local PBS station included a segment
on the Fresh Tracks audition process, which began with a quote from
-- I assume -- an auditioning choreographer who gave the showcase
similar weight: "Once you get this gig, you've kind of arrived."
(From my living room couch I smiled sadly at her naivete.)
The show was full of
such attitudes and beliefs -- that Fresh Tracks is the ultimate
validation of young dancemakers' work. And though last night's episode
didn't address the authoritarian overtones that color the audition
process, I believe that because of the way it is structured, competing
for a spot is seen as a kind of rite of passage: The harsh tone
of the instruction sheet, the refusal to accept videotapes, the
inflexibility of the appointment times, the requirement to pay a
DTW membership fee before auditioning (I'm not sure if this rule
is still in effect). Punitive and unfriendly, the Fresh Tracks audition
experience gets choreographers excited in a way few other dance
showcases do. Like a gymnastics event or a day in court, choreographers
are out to win.
Although very similar
to a segment aired for the show City Arts a few years ago (and produced
by the same Executive Producer), this episode of EGG focussed more
on the panel of judges than on the artists. How revealing it was,
then, to see and hear the panelists actually doing their work. Unlike
the curators profiled in the preceding segment on the Whitney Museum's
biennial, who were self-described as "technicians, not poets," the
Fresh Tracks panel was composed largely of other dance artists.
Whereas the Whitney curators frequently expressed their disappointment
at not being able to include some artists whose work they "cared
about deeply," the Fresh Tracks crew mostly complained that they
weren't seeing anything, well, fresh.
Clearly, the panelists
have a difficult job. Yet they whined about seeing in the audition
process the same type of modern dance movement repeatedly without
any innovation. They seemed almost affronted by the barrage of poor
work they'd apparently been watching. (I felt the same way as an
adjudicator at a college dance festival; it was very difficult to
stay positive as the process wore on.) But unlike the Whitney show,
which exhibits only established artists, Fresh Tracks takes choreographers
who are just beginning their work. I would guess many of the them
are only a few years out of college, where they learned to choreograph
according to the rules explained to them by their professors. No
wonder the work doesn't look fresh.
The panelists argued
about a dance piece's worthiness. I wondered if they were looking
for the kind of dances they themselves might make. Panelist Peggy
Peloguin says she is "looking for a connection the artists have
with themselves that I can learn something from." Someone else objects
angrily to dances with themes whose movements are not related to
these themes. Panelist Craig Petersen (not a choreographer) says
he is looking to know why a choreographer made a particular piece
without his/her having to explain it verbally. I'm sure they are
also looking for other, more concrete things: gender and racial
diversity among the choreographers and performers, group pieces
as well as solos and duets, funny pieces as well as serious ones
-- though these considerations were not discussed on camera.
In the end, DTW's executive
director David White addresses the widespread belief among auditioning
choreographers that inclusion in Fresh Tracks will launch them into
the "big time." He does not believe that Fresh Tracks will do this,
despite DTW's widespread, implied rhetoric that it will. As the
EGG episode ended, a familiar example of this appears on the screen:
"Dance Theater Workshop's Fresh Tracks series has launched the careers
of such choreographers as Bill T. Jones, Doug Elkins, Molissa Fenley,
and Donald Byrd."
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