Kicking the habit.
Since 1981 alone, Philip Morris has distributed more than $27 million, and this year it plans to spread million dollars among twenty-five companies to fund new works. Grants will range from $10,000 to $150,000. Almost every major company and not a few smaller ones have benefited from this largesse.
But is it truly a benefit? We asked representatives of Philip Morris for a statement about the issue of dancers and smoking, but they declined to comment.
Richard Philp, editor in chief of Dance Magazine, set forth one side of the controversy raised by the dance world's acceptance of cigarette money. In his no-holds-barred November 1996 Kickoff, he states, "Cigarette money continues to haunt the image of dance. Smoking is a controversial to haunt cigarettes kill an estimated 400,000 people a year in the United States. Philip Morris is also the single largest contributor to dance, addicting dance companies to its financial support in much the same way that it conspires to addict young people to its deadly products. If saying this seems harsh, then so is lung cancer."
Jeffrey V. Kuo, M.D., responded in the March 1997 Readers' Forum: "Mr. Philp does all of us a great service by raising a question about the morality of accepting cigarette money. If we lie to ourselves about the message conveyed by linking the splendor of dance to the power of tobacco. we allow a falsehood of the mind that will eventually lead to one of the heart. And what could be more of an anti-thesis of everything that dance represents?"
To get a feel for how artistic directors are dealing with the question, I spoke with -- or in some cases tried to speak with -- the artistic directors of companies across the nation. It is interesting to note, first, those who did not respond to my request. After a flurry of conversations, when the topic of the interview was known I stopped hearing from San Francisco Ballet until after my deadline had passed; Houston Ballet never returned my calls. Paul Taylor, a chain-smoker himself, sent the following quote through his press representative: "If others don't want to smoke that's their business."
By and large, most directors consider the topic quite seriously. There seems to be a unanimous wish to discourage smoking within their companies, but they are aware that each person must make his or her own decision. There is a very real, very American respect for the rights of the individual. As Gerald Arpino of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago puts it, "The dancers are grown-ups who have the right to choose. I can advise them, but that's my only role. We can't be overrighteous; I'm for clean lungs and safe sex, but it's the dancers' choice." Kevin McKenzie of American Ballet Theatre, while recognizing the health hazard that smoking presents, says: "Unless it noticeably affects the dancer's work I cannot say they absolutely cannot smoke."
Although the companies generally do not have formally stated nonsmoking policies, without fail the directors all insist on a smoke-free workplace. All are concerned, however, with what to do with the smokers. Nobody has a satisfactory answer; mostly the smokers are required to go outside their buildings. Their directors worry about chill, injury to cold muscles, or, if doors are left ajar, the effects of secondhand smoke. No one has the luxury of a free space with adequate ventilation. Bruce Marks says that the Boston Ballet was even willing to invest thousands of dollars in renovation to accommodate the smokers and isolate them from the non-smokers, but not adequate solution could be found.
Within that overall context, the directors' attitudes toward smoking ranged from angry concern to grudging tolerance. Francia Russell of Pacific Northwest Ballet is the most outspoken. "I hate it," she says. "It is so damaging to our dancers, to their breath control and their stamina." Carla Maxwell of the Limon Dance Company calls it a nonissue: "Even the smokers agree it's not good to have it in the studio."
All of the companies have dancers who smoke. The Limon company consist mostly of nonsmokers. In the Boston Ballet, fifteen of its forty-five dancers smoke, while Pacific Northwest reports that of their ten smokers, none of whom are principals, only two are adamantly confirmed while the other eight are trying to stop. Both Boston and Pacific Northwest have taken steps to help the dancers who wish to stop, with Boston actually offering a Smokenders program. Marks has even toyed with the idea of not hiring dancers who smoke. Pacific Northwest has company dancers speak with professional-division students about the hazards of smoking.
Russell says the trick is to convince the younger generation that it is "uncool" to smoke, that it will hinder their careers; the problem is always the same -- that youngsters have a sure sense of their own infallibility, as well as a need to be "wicked." Pacific Northwest has an interesting experiment underway. Their physical therapist and their orthopedist are conducting a study to determine if there is any relationship between smoking and the occurrence of stress fractures. The calcium drain from smoking and its effect on bones will be investigated.
Most of the directors are reformed smokers themselves. (Arpino says he gave it up at age nine because hi sister beat him up when she caught him smoking.) They point out that in their generation, the hazards of smoking were not well known. Most smoked because their idols did: Diana Adams, Royes Fernandez, Toni Lander, Lupe Serrano, and Sallie Wilson were among those mention.
And what about the question of financial backing? It is an open secret that many dance companies receive generous support from Philip Morris Companies Inc. or its affiliates, such as Kraft Foods. All of the dance companies with whom I spoke are recipients of that generosity, and all are unequivocal in their praise and gratitude for it. They have few, if any, misgivings about accepting it.
Bruce Marks points out that the problem is not the growing or selling of tobacco; it is the consumption. He posits that we need to concentrate on educating the public about the hazards; if there is no market, there will be no marketing.
Says Arpino, "Do I have support from Philip Morris? Yes, and I'm grateful for it. Smoking is a product of our own will to do or die" He point to the Nobel Peace Prize, founded with money from the development of explosives, as precedent.
Carla Maxwell states that accepting the money is not an endorsement of the product. She feels that Philip Morris's support comes from its genuine philanthropic desire to help the arts: "Should we have refused government support because we don't agree with all government policy? The smoking issue has more to do with our society; Philip Morris is one of the few who are giving back to that society. Our goal is to reach people who have never seen us. When we toured the Soviet Union, we dance for all of the people. We certainly weren't endorsing the government."
Kevin McKenzie states that in a perfect world he would probably have some misgivings, but in the present climate he finds it is not possible to refuse such support: "Smoking is not healthy, but nobody forces anyone to smoke. What if it were alcohol?"
Francia Russell admits that she is relieved that accepting such funding is no unilateral decision but must be jointly agreed upon by the managing director, director of development, and the board. The "hard call or double bind" has to be balanced by the fact that the people at Philip Morris are so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They seem to be the only ones interested in supporting new works; other contributors are so often project-oriented. What companies don't need is to design more projects to fit someone else's guidelines. "We are responsible members of our communities. We know what needs to be done and how to do it; we need only to be given the means," says Russell.
All of the directors have the same plaint: Where is the money to come from to keep their companies alive? Is it the moral high ground to put choreographers out of the business, to fire dancers, or to deprive audiences of the inspiration, excitement, and solace that the art form provides? Here is what they are saying about whether there is anything the dance world can do:
* Russell: " Alternative funding is the only way. We are all beating the bushes as hard as we can. We need enlightened funding that looks at quality."
* Maxwell: "While [the source of funding] is an interesting paradox, money is important. I guess some people feel they are murderer, but lot of foods we eat, things we drink -- our lives -- are filled with destructive things. We're just not told about them."
* McKenzie: " Refusing such support would vastly affect how much work we could do. At present, I don't think that it is possible.'
* Arpino: "The arts are only surviving because major support is coming from such companies as Philip Morris and Absolut Vodka. How can I refuse money when I have a tin cup in my hand? It needs to be filled with cigarette butts and alcohol."
Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was away on vacation and could not be interviewed; however, she sent this statement: "Philip Morris is a leading corporate supporter of the arts with one of the most well-respected giving programs in the United States. They have a twenty-five-year track record of support for dozens of dance companies of all sizes and styles. They have been recognized by their peers and the arts community and have been presented with many awards for their unwavering commitment to the arts."
Meanwhile, the debate goes on. Private citizens continue to sue the tobacco companies; the attorneys general of forty states have negotiated a settle with the companies that would require them to assume educational and financial responsibility for a decline in smoking among young people; tobacco advertising would also be banned from all sporting events. (At press time President Clinton and Congress have challenged this agreement and have insisted on changes.) Sooner or later the dance world will have to come to grips with the anomaly of being funded by the very companies which are endangering its health.
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|Title Annotation:||acceptance of donations from tobacco industry by dance companies|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1997|
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