Dance: June 2002

Sunday June 30

BACK ON TRACK IN BOSTON? The Boston Ballet has had something of a tumultuous few years, with executives and dancers alike departing the company unexpectedly and under less than ideal circumstances. But this week, the company’s artistic director announced that the ballet will soon be hiring 16 new dancers and four new administrative staff. It’s probably too soon to declare a turnaround, but it’s the first positive sign in what the company hopes will be an eventual reestablishment of its national reputation. Boston Herald 06/29/02

JUILLIARD NAMES HARKARVY SUCCESSOR: “Lawrence Rhodes, an internationally known ballet dancer and administrator and the former director of the dance department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has been appointed artistic director of the dance division of the Juilliard School, effective on Monday. Mr. Rhodes succeeds Benjamin Harkarvy, who died in March.” The New York Times 06/29/02

Thursday June 27

DANCING TO VICTORY: The games have been fun. But this year’s World Cup has set a new standard for celebratory dances. “As every anthropologist knows, dance is one of the oldest, most potent ingredients in human ritual. If dance can function as the language of mating, prayer, supplication and commemoration, what more proper way for a team to mark its amazing progress in the World Cup?” The Guardian (UK) 06/27/02

Wednesday June 26

JAFFE’S LAST CURTAIN CALL: 40 may not be particularly old in most professions, but for a ballerina, it is a ripe old age, and one at which most dancers have already hung up their toe shoes. So it was for Susan Jaffe at the American Ballet Theater this week, as the company favorite took her final bows in a well-received performance at the Met. “The 25-minute ovation at the end left Ms. Jaffe, a heap of flowers at her feet, mouthing ‘I love you’ to the audience.” The New York Times 06/26/02

Monday June 24

MISSING INGREDIENTS? In the old days of New York City Ballet, it was a joy to watch talented young dancers come into the company and grow into artists right before your eyes. The stream of promising dancers continues. But somehow these dancers aren’t developing in the ways they once were. “Presumably, part of what is holding the dancers back is their new repertory.” The New Yorker 06/24/02

THE GREAT AMERICAN DANCER: Anyone with eyes can tell why Fred Astaire was considered the great American dancer. He was the first with the most — the pioneer who was also the supreme refiner. On the high end, Mikhail Baryshnikov hailed him as the dancer of the century, and Jerome Robbins created a ballet in tribute to Astaire’s I’m Old Fashioned dance with Rita Hayworth. Starchy Teutonic theorist Siegfried Kracauer praised him for injecting realism in Hollywood films by ‘dancing over table tops and down garden paths into the real world’.” Time 06/22/02

Friday June 21

TALKING ABOUT THE STATE OF DANCE: In Miami 400 dance adminstrators from around America gather for Dance USA. “As the artistic directors of ballet companies from across the country discussed the trials of the past year, money troubles seemed outweighed by advances, such as the number of troupes moving into new buildings or performing arts centers. And in a forum for modern dance choreographers, strategies for attracting audiences ranged from offering birthday cakes at concerts to casting local religious leaders in dances.” Miami Herald 06/21/02

DANCING IN THE REAL WORLD: How to grow the audience for dance? Take it to where people are – the pubs, the streets, the offices. “Site-specific choreography, as Ashford defines it, is a relatively recent phenomenon, although the use of unconventional venues, such as art galleries, museums, warehouses and lofts, for what is known as location-based dance, has a much longer history. These venues provide choreographers with a natural performance space, without the formality and conventions of the theatre. They also allow the audience to experience the performance in a different way.” London Evening Standard 06/21/02

TECHNO DANCE: A Bay Area dance group has created a piece that “combines animation, dance and electronic music to simulate a video game world. The 3-D animation of the characters was created using motion capture – the same technology used to make video games. ‘We’re emulating … the creation of a video game, but we’re creating live performance’.” Wired 06/21/02

POINTE OF DEPARTURE: At a time when many artists are just hitting maturity, dancers reach the end of their careers. This season two of New York’s most prominent ballerinas are retiring: Susan Jaffe of American Ballet Theatre and Helene Alexopoulos of New York City Ballet. New York Post 06/20/02

Thursday June 20

STEVENSON TO DFW: Houston Ballet director Ben Stevenson has been named artistic director of the Dallas Fort Worth Ballet. In 27 years in Houston, “Stevenson doubled the size of the Houston corps, built up a major school of ballet and recruited significant talent. As a choreographer, he gained attention for a great variety of works but was particularly acclaimed for evening-length ballets in the romantic tradition.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram 06/19/02

A NUTCRACKER GONE WRONG: Donald Byrd’s company is shutting down after 24 years. Of course it’s a funding issue, but Byrd says the company’s gamble on a major production didn’t pay off. “For the company, The Harlem Nutcracker was supposed be like capital campaigns for some organizations. It was supposed to push us to the next level of institutionalization. And when you fail at that, you’re like a presidential candidate who doesn’t win the election. You are tossed out and forgotten.” Los Angeles Times 06/19/02

UNCOMMON PRIMA BALLERINA: Royal Ballet star ballerina Darcey Bussell is “tall, beautiful and with that unconscious grace that marks out natural talent; the world has never seen a ballerina quite like Bussell. In today’s age of celebrity, she’s managed what few other dancers before her have: a fearless dedication to her art, as well as an enormous following that has brought her almost pop-star status, with fan clubs, websites, a stint modelling for Vogue, TV appearances, and even interest from Hollywood.” The Age (Melbourne) 06/20/02

Sunday June 16

DONALD BYRD COMPANY CLOSING: After 24 years, Donald Byrd/The Group is closing because of money problems. “A lot of it has to do with debt issues that have been ongoing since Harlem Nutcracker. The $1.2 million production, which had its premiere in 1996, was artistically successful and toured extensively throughout the United States. But Mr. Byrd said he had struggled for six years to pay off the debt arising from it, now about $400,000. His 10-member company, which has an annual budget of just under $1 million, also has an accumulated deficit of another $400,000. Byrd, 52, has been among the most innovative and busy of choreographers in recent years, tackling unusual themes in an unusually eclectic style.” The New York Times 06/15/02

Thursday June 13

TOO LONG AND ELECTRONIC: Generalizations are sometimes dangerous, but it is possible to hold a few obvious truths about this year’s Canada Dance Festival. Choreographers from Toronto and Montreal dominated, the pieces were too long (most were hour-long full-lengths designed to satisfy presenters), and original electronic music seems to be the accompaniment of choice “which seems to be developing a universal template that is best described as cinematic-cum-atmospheric soundscape.” The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/13/02

BOULDER CUTS BACK: The Boulder Ballet and Philharmonic in Colorado is cutting back operations becauise of mounting deficits, reducing its $2.6 million budget by $400,000. The ballet cuts a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, while the orchestra cuts two of its nine programs. “We have to stop the financial hemorrhaging and we’re close to doing that.” Denver Post 06/13/02

Wednesday June 12

DANCE OLYMPICS: One hundred and eighteen dancers from 25 countries are converging on Jackson Mississippi this week for the USA International Ballet Competition. It’s held every four years, and “the competition is an expensive, stressful, and time-consuming proposition. But for dancers ages 15 to 26, it offers a chance to network and showcase their skills for representatives of some of the world’s most noted dance companies. Outstanding performers are often rewarded not only with prizes, but with job offers and guest opportunities- a real boon for emerging talents.” Boston Globe 06/12/02

IRELAND LEARNS TO DANCE: Contemporary dance has struggled in Ireland for decades. But last month an international festival of dance played to full houses. Is dance finally finding a place in Ireland? “The question is, can a country of fewer than four million with a capital city of about one million support a thriving contemporary dance scene? Fewer than 30 people in Ireland, mostly choreographers and administrators, rely on dance for full-time employment. If the calculation included all members of Irish dance companies, who mostly work part-time as actors or teachers, the total might reach 60.” The New York Times 06/12/02

Sunday June 9

SPEAKING UP FOR DANCE: Modern dance needs an advocate. As an artform it has a lot going against it in developing infrastructures and acceptance. Contemporary dance is often overlooked in mainstream culture. But in New York “some 400 dance companies, of every aesthetic stripe, are at work in the five boroughs. Dance/NYC aims to give them a unified voice.” The New York Times 06/09/02

BACKSTAGE AT THE BALLET: Running the backstage operations of American Ballet Theatre is a complcated manouevre, a ballet of its own, composed of “scene changes, the size and positioning of the sets, the wardrobe, lighting design and electrical needs. It requires coordination with the ballet masters over rehearsal schedules and artistic changes that crop up over the course of performances. And it demands adherence to a budget that comes out of the $4 million a year allocated to production costs.” The New York Times 06/09/02

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME: New York is home to two of the world’s great ballet companies. But “as excellent as the two companies still are on a good night, both seem to be struggling to reinvent themselves, to reach beyond powerful past identities. Ballet watchers have complained that ABT is neglecting its heritage – the profound works of Antony Tudor and the popular ones of Agnes de Mille. City Ballet’s public has complained about the stewardship of the company that Peter Martins has run since the 1983 death of its cofounder, George Balanchine. Martins hasn’t regularly invited key keepers of the Balanchine flame back into the fold to teach the ballets to a generation of City Ballet dancers who never knew the master. Former company luminaries are instead scattered across the country.” Boston Globe 06/08/02

Thursday June 6

BOLSHOI RESCUE: The Russian government has decided to allocate $180 million to fix up the badly-decaying Bolshoi Theatre. “Four and a half years of rebuilding work would start in 2003, performances would continue while work was being done, and the theatre would only be closed for a few months during the summer.” BBC 06/06/02

Tuesday June 4

ABT COMING UP FOR AIR? American Ballet Theatre is one of the country’s great dance companies. Also one of its most financially troubled in recent years. “After a financially trying two years in which productions were canceled, staff members quit, donors defected and the executive director was forced to resign, could Ballet Theater be heading for fiscal and spiritual health? Apparently not just yet.” The New York Times 06/04/02

REPRIEVE IN FRANKFURT? Last week it was reported that the City of Frankfurt planned to close Frankfurt Ballet and cancel director William Forsythe’s contract. Now Forsythe says that “Frankfurt city officials have told him they want his acclaimed dance company, the Frankfurt Ballet, to continue working in the city after his current contract ends in 2004. But he added that a deal was not assured, as the city’s finances are in dire straits.” The New York Times 06/04/02

Sunday June 2

THE BOLSHOI’S MARKET FORCES: For much of its 200+ year history, the Bolshoi has set its budgets based on artistic need rather than theatre economics. This meant ticket prices could be low. Now things are different, and the Bolshoi has implemented a new ticket pricing scheme that more properly reflects the marketplace for its efforts. “This new ticket-sales system increased ticket revenue by 82 percent in its first month. Further price increases, made possible by a new distribution system with many sales points, should push up ticket revenue to $10 million—almost three times higher than last year’s figures—in the 2001–02 season.” McKinsey Quarterly (registration required) 06/02