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Power Play.

DANCE IS LIKE A MIDSUMMER GARDEN IN SO MANY WAYS: THE ORGANIC CYCLES OF GROWTH, MATURATION, HARVEST, AND DECAY REMIND US, PERHAPS UNCOMFORTABLY, THAT NOTHING IS PERMANENT, INCLUDING DANCE COMPANIES. Not only are sources of essential funding starting to dry up, but there is also a dangerous shift of power within dance companies away from the artistic side toward the management side. Very fine work, which points to a healthy future, is being done by companies with artistic leaders on the rise, such as Tulsa Ballet Theater (under the forceful direction of Marcello Angelini for the past six years) or the Carolina Ballet (under Artistic Director Robert Weiss since its founding three years ago--a remarkable flowering in the professional-dance desert that is Raleigh). But the changes occurring at Boston Ballet, an old and venerated organization, are a good example of this kind of power shift.

I visited Boston at the end of March, well aware that the company had been shaken by the loss of its artistic-director-to-be, Maina Gielgud, only a short while before (see Presstime News, Dance Magazine, May, page 39). I was there for the opening of British choreographer Michael Pink's ambitious The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This production had been, of course, negotiated by Anna-Marie Holmes, whose Kirov-based Sleeping Beauty in May officially ended her long-standing directorship at Boston. Notwithstanding the fact that, for several years, Holmes has provided Boston with the kind of repertoire the public seems to want and the classically trained dancers need to perform, she has been wedged out by the new general director and CEO, Jeffrey Babcock, whose background is not in dance. Conflict.

We have only to look, over the past decade, at numerous examples of companies brought to their knees by just such in-fighting over authority--who is the final arbiter, the management or the artistic director? Boston Ballet's board of directors wants to make the company one of the top ten in the world; it already is fourth in America in terms of size and budget. The board wanted a new director with international connections, and it seemed to prefer a foreign, preferably English, accent, in a sort of romantic haze of Anglophilia. OK, they got all that, as well as an excellent prospect for artistic director in Maina Gielgud. But she left six months before she was supposed to start--this month--because of "misunderstandings" over finances. It was also clear that Gielgud could match Babcock, insisting that her name, as artistic director, should go above his in all matters. Good for Maina. But bad for Jeffrey. Maina departed.

Babcock seems to have made an Augean mess in a very short time--but is this prophetic of the beginning of that inevitable organic, cyclical slide downhill? For many years, Boston was at the top of its league. It had what it seems to have lost and now wants back: to be a leader among dance companies.


Ballet. We've lost too many companies recently: Cleveland Ballet folded very abruptly not long ago; Hartford Ballet was dealt some cruel blows by its own management in ousting Artistic Director Kirk Peterson; we are still in an extensive and expensive court case over who owns Martha Graham's name and works.

It's bad enough that companies face internal strife. But conflict also occurs on a much larger scale, involving funding and artistic freedom. Through ignorance, people in both the Congress and the Senate would like to put the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington out of business. This battle, waged by conservatives, has been going on for more than a decade. For 2002, the NEA has asked for $105 million of your money and mine to be granted by our House of Representatives, only $450,000 above the 2001 level. But we might also remember that the total NEA appropriation in 1991 was $174 million. And President Bush, like so many conservatives, is wavering on support.

Since 1958, the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris has been a large, primary source of contributed dollars for dance. According to PM's director of corporate affairs, Karen Brosius, the company still "remains committed to supporting the arts and a broad range of other community concerns, such as hunger and domestic violence." PM is increasing, not downsizing, the dollars given, she says. And yet, if one believes in finding fire where there's smoke, an article in Crain's New York Business in March suggests chillingly that, as a result of recent tobacco lawsuits, the emphasis in funding will shift away from the arts. PM worked with Crain's in the preparation of that article, which concludes: "The company always appreciated the upscale association that went with the arts, but now Philip Morris has been forced to project a different image."

What will this do for--or rather, to--dance?

On another front, there is an attempt to pulverize artistic freedom under New York City's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. At the time of this writing, he had proposed a panel that would define "a decency standard" in New York City for publicly financed arts--anything that gets a piece of the city's important arts pie. (Unfortunately, in 1999 Mayor Giuliani was offended by a painting in the Brooklyn Museum that expressed the artist's contrary opinion about religion as it is practiced today.) The members of Giuliani's proposed watchdog panel include the mayor's own divorce lawyer, a NYC parks commissioner whose job depends on Giuliani, a painter who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, and a former Nixon White House official who wants city financial backing for a jazz museum in Harlem. No dance. The city has a long tradition of artistic freedom and free speech. Giuliani's assault with oppressive and perhaps illegal measures suggests a serious threat to the city's artists. Is this indicative of a new era, heading our direction?

And what can we do? Do what we do best, only better. You'll never win a battle if you decline to enter the fray.

Richard Philp has been with Dance Magazine since 1970, first as managing editor and then for many years as editor in chief. He is a writer, editor, and speaker, known for his strong support of the arts. He can be reached at
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Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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