The Year in Dance

By Jacqueline Maskey

The perpetual angst that informs the topic of money in the dance community was not relieved by the annual report of GIVING USA, which indicated that while other sectors had received increased support, arts giving had experienced a drop in 1997. (facing page) Alexandra Ansanelli and Charles Askegard in Peter Martins' River of Light at New York City Ballet, choreographed to music by Charles Wuorinen.

On July 29, 1998, the extraordinary career of choreographer-director Jerome Robbins came to a close with his death in Manhattan at the age of 79. Robbins was a kid from New York City, educated in Weehawken, introduced to show biz in the Poconos. He became famous at 25 with another kid, his collaborator Leonard Bernstein, after Ballet Theatre's production of his first choreography, the now-classic Fancy Free (1944). Robbins was without peer on Broadway-there were no better shows than West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and Gypsy. And he recognized only one superior at the New York City Ballet-George Balanchine, at whose death in 1983 he succeeded as ballet master-in-chief with Peter Martins. Among the flood of published testimonials attempting to assess his singular contribution to 20th-century dance, one from a colleague perhaps summed it up best: "I think," she said, " he made ballet American."

Other events sent tremors of varying intensity through the dance community. A new episode in one of Washington's longer-running dramas climaxed in June in a vote by the House Appropriations Committee favorable to continued financing of the National Endowment for the Arts, one which reversed a sub-committee's previous denial. At the same time, the Supreme Court upheld (8 to 1) a Congressional decency test brought against the NEA by Karen Finley and three other plaintiffs. As reported in The New York Times, the endowment was required "to consider decency standards when deciding which artists should get grant money," a decision considered by co-plaintiff Tim Miller to be "a further nail in the coffin of freedom of ideas and images in the country." Earlier the NEA was the center of yet another flurry with its release of American Canvas, a report by Gary O. Larson that branded the arts-yet again-as elitist and disengaged from community life.

The perpetual angst that informs the topic of money in the dance community was not relieved by the annual report of GIVING USA, which, as discussed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, indicated that while other sectors had received increased support, arts giving had experienced a drop in 1997. DANCE/USA's John Munger, however, asserted that of the 23 troupes represented by his organization, an 11 percent rise was recorded from 1996 to 1997, but that smaller companies-those formed to perform the work of a single choreographer-were quite likely to go under in the struggle for funding.

Last year's intense self-examination-who are we? why are we? where are we going?-seemed somewhat more subdued in 1998. Even DANCE/USA's National Roundtable meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, took a turn toward the practical, considering, among other topics, avenues to private-sector funding and preservation strategies. However, one new problem seemed to fire up the opening session of the Dance Critics Association meeting in New York City: the growing power of presenters in determining who and what is to be seen on dance stages nationwide.

AIDS continued to be the object of benefit efforts among organizations like New York City's Dancers Responding to AIDS and Chicago's Dance for Life, as well as a creative impetus among artists, most prominently Neil Greenberg, who in 1998 completed Part 3 (Luck), the final installment of a trilogy begun in 1994 with his Not-About-AIDS-Dance.


The National Endowment for the Arts, with a budget of $98 million for fiscal 1998 (and the addition of six members of Congress to its body of grantors, the National Council of Arts), had by mid-year approved grants to 1,173 recipients, of which 113 were dance organizations. In the largest funding category, Creation & Presentation, $3.29 million of an allotted $17 million was dispensed for 83 dance and dance-related projects. While a handful of companies and organizations received more than $100,000 each-among them American Ballet Theatre, the companies of Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham, and the Brooklyn Academy's Next Wave Festival-most grants were in the modest range of $10,000 to $40,000, confirming a trend in the agency to award smaller sums generally to an increased number of applicants.

While the battles over the NEA focused national attention on that agency, state arts budgets quietly provided evidence of another trend: a slow but steady increase in actual or intended funding. The New York State Council on the Arts, with a 1997-98 budget of $40.8 million, achieved $45.6 million for fiscal 1998-99, and among other boosts reported by state councils were those of Minnesota ($12 million over two years) and California (pursuing an increase from $12.7 to $35 million).

Among private and corporate grantors, the Ford Foundation found itself once more in the thick of dance philanthropy with five-year grants to the Dance Theatre of Harlem ($1,040,000) as well as to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the [Ailey] Dance Theater Foundation, and the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts ($1 million each). Pew Charitable Trusts underwrote the preservation project SAVE AS:DANCE ($500,000), which through the National Institute to Preserve America's Dance and the UCLA Dance Media Fellowship program channeled grants to the Dance Notation Bureau ($121,880), the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts ($139,060), two members of the Ohio State University Dance Department ($139,060), and five applicants in the field of documentary film ($100,000). Substantial bricks-and-mortar grants went to New York City's Career Transitions for Dancers from Caroline H. Newhouse ($1 million), Michigan's Kresge Foundation to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Miami's Fana Holtz Foundation to the New Performing Arts Center ($500,000). Outreach/audience-building programs attracted a range of grants, including those of the American Express Company to the Boston Ballet ($50,000), the Miami City Ballet ($75,000), and the San Francisco Ballet ($100,000). Touring subsidies came to the Oregon Ballet Theatre from Portland's Meyer Memorial Trust ($350,000), operating support to Ballet Works and Zorongo Flamenco from Minneapolis' McKnight Foundation ($67,500 and $75,000, respectively), and scholarship aid to New York City's Ballet Tech from the Hearst Foundation ($40,000).

Few, however, found themselves in a more enviable position than the American Dance Festival, Durham, with $1.86 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to fund the Doris Duke Millennium Awards for Modern Dance and Jazz Music Collaborations and the Doris Duke Awards for New Work. First-year commissions partnered Pilobolus Dance Theatre with Maria Schneider and David Parsons with Phil Woods. New Work awardees included Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor ($100,000 each), Elizabeth Streb and Nathan Birch ($40,000 each), and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and David Grenke ($15,000 each). The Doris Duke bucks did not stop there: other lucky recipients included New York City's Joyce Theater and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival ($1 million each).


Not quite an annus horribilus, but close enough, was the 1997-98 season of the New York City Ballet: first, the death in October 1997 of the School of American Ballet's master teacher Stanley Williams; then the collapse, amid much criticism, of the company's grandiose plan to celebrate its 50th-anniversary year with a tripartly divided NYCB touring all 50 states; finally, the death in July 1998 of Jerome Robbins, who, with George Balanchine, had secured the place of the company as possibly the greatest of contemporary ballet troupes. Nonetheless, plans marched ahead for a year-long celebration of the golden number, beginning with a replication of the historic City Center opening-night program in 1948-Concerto Barocco, Or- pheus, and Symphony in C-and advancing through a performance series of 100 ballets. Amidst all this, company life went on with a major acquisition in Robbins' Les Noces and two substantial and contrasting new pieces in Martins' contemplative Stabat Mater (Pergolesi) and the dynamic River of Light (Wuorinen).

Loss also assailed American Ballet Theatre with the death of chairman Peter T. Joseph, a fervent and deep-pocketed supporter of the company, one who had contributed much to ensure its present stability. ABT, as demonstrated by its spring season at the Metropolitan House, continued to put its faith in the Big Ballet, co-producing with the Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson's The Snow Maiden (Tchaikovsky) and borrowing the Boston Ballet's Le Corsaire. Premiered in Houston, Snow Maiden charmed chiefly through Nina Ananiashvili's playful and pathetic heroine and Desmond Heeley's robust costumes and shimmering sets. Corsaire, choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev after Petipa right down to the famous shipwreck scene, was vitalized by vivid performances from Ananiashvili, Angel Corella, Jose Manuel Carreño, and newcomer Giuseppe Picone. Among revivals of note were Jirí Kylián's Sinfonietta, Balanchine's Symphonie Concertante, Ashton's Les Patineurs, and Harald Lander's Etudes. And for its fall season the company promised premieres from Twyla Tharp, Nacho Duato, and John Selya.

Among other major ballet companies, the San Francisco Ballet rejoiced at its return to the renovated War Memorial Opera House after two years of gypsying; the Pacific Northwest Ballet celebrated its silver anniversary with an evening of world and company premieres; the Ohio Ballet surprised New York City with Tudor's Judgment of Paris, Limón's The Exiles, Ruthanna Boris' Cakewalk, and Jooss' The Big City, almost-forgotten pieces found alive and well in Akron. And then there was Mikhail Baryshnikov at almost-50, performing a solo program of works by modern rather than classical choreographers, proving that great ballet dancers, unlike old soldiers, don't just fade away-they merely change their repertory.

Among the moderns, Mark Morris continued to attract attention whether winning (as director-choreographer of Rameau's 1745 Platée in its American debut at Berkeley) or losing (as director-choreographer of the $11-million Broadway flop The Capeman) or just doing his thing (the new Medium for his own group). But there was extraordinary activity among other modern dancemakers as well, including Merce Cunningham (Pond Way), Paul Taylor (The Word), Mark Dendy (Dream Analysis), Ralph Lemon (Geography), Elizabeth Streb (Fly), David Parker (Cloven), Daniel Ezralow (Mandala), Joanna Haigood (Invisible Wings), and Susan Marshall's The Most Dangerous Room in the House.

Retrospection became respectable as a number of revivals declared the intention of modern dance to recover its own history, as in Victoria Koenig's recreation of Carmelita Maracci's Evocation for the American Repertory Dance Company and Shane O'Hara's The Nagrin Project, a program of solos devoted to the unique and overlooked work of Daniel Nagrin. ADF, Durham, continued its programming and recording of classic "Masterpieces of the Black Tradition," with works by Talley Beatty, Asadata Dafora, Katherine Dunham, Donald McKayle, and Eleo Pomare performed by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. McKayle's work was also honored in performances and discussions by the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival. And, safe at last: the Martha Graham Archives, purchased by the Library of Congress for an estimable $500,000.


Artistic directors continued their to-and-fro movement. Among the most surprising leave-taking was that of the Hartford Ballet's admired Kirk Peterson in a budget-directed down-sizing that decimated administrative and artistic staff, performers and trainees alike. The same restructuring elevated Peggy Lyman and Enid Lynn as co-directors for the 1998-99 season. Fort Worth Dallas Ballet's Paul Mejia made way for Bruce Marks, most recently artistic director emeritus of the Boston Ballet. Among other ascendencies: Robert Weiss, in charge of the brand new Carolina Ballet; William Pizzuto, heading Ballet New England; and Mihailo Djuric, newly named as leader of the Festival Ballet of Rhode Island. Lengthy tenures were brought to a close by founder-director Heinz Poll of the Ohio Ballet, announcing his retirement at the end of the 1998-99 season, and by Frederic Franklin, designated director emeritus by the Cincinnati Ballet. Retirees of more modest years included ballerina Nichol Hlinka from the New York City Ballet; Devon Carey from the Boston Ballet; and Helen Starr from the Louisville (Kentucky) Ballet. And among administrative leave-takings and arrivals were those of William Ivey, succeeding Jane Alexander as chairperson of the NEA; Martin Cohen following Bonnie Brooks as president and executive director of Dance/ USA; and Ella Baff taking over Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival from Sali Ann Kriegsman.

Elisa Monte Dance became ElisaMonte/David Brown Dance, and Trey McIntyre left the Houston Ballet to assume the post of resident choreographer of the Oregon Ballet. The most dramatic upheaval came in the declaration of bankruptcy by Colorado's DanceAspen after 29 years as a school and festival, abruptly derailing ballerina Merrill Ashley's career change to director of its school.


While touring groups seemed to arrive in the United States from all points of the globe, for sheer charm none could match the 65 pupils of St. Petersburg's Vagonova Ballet Academy. They set up shop briefly at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, accompanied by a number of young stars from the Kirov Ballet and joined on one occasion by students of the School of American Ballet. Other exports from the former Soviet Union: Georgian State Dance Company; StanislavskyBallet; Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg; Red Star Army Chorus and Dance; Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company; and members of the Kirov Ballet, visible nightly at Lincoln Center during the Kirov Opera Festival. European representatives included Germany's Stuttgart and Hamburg ballets, long absent from the local scene but part of the international contingent of the Lincoln Center Festival 98, and the Frankfurt Ballet, seen briefly at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; France's Ballet National de Marseille Roland Petit and the Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse; Italy's Balletto di Toscana; the National Ballet of Spain; and the U.K.'s Broadway-bound Swan Lake, choreographed by Matthew Bourne to include a corps of male swans. From Asia came the Hong KongBallet and Seoul's Universal Ballet, and from South America and the Caribbean, Brazil's Ballet Bahia, Ballet Argentino, and Cuba's Ballet Nacional. Canada sent O Vertigo, Montréal Danse, and the National Ballet of Canada. And, to dance-goers at least, Israel celebrated its 50th birthday in enlightened fashion by touring the Batsheva Dance Company, the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, and troupes headed by Neta Pulvermacher, Zvi Gotheiner, and Ido Tadmor, as well as the team of Barak Marshall and Inbal Pinto.

American travelers overseas included Trisha Brown in London's Barbican Festival series "Inventing America" with her direction of the Monteverdi opera Orfeo; the Pacific Northwest Ballet (Edinburgh Festival); Momix (Italy); Mark Morris Dance Group (New Zealand, Portugal, Canada); José Limón Dance Company (Italy, Portugal, Hungary); Merce Cunningham (France); Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Germany, Italy); Irene Hultman Dance (Sweden); Stephen Petronio (Germany, Italy); Paul Taylor Dance Company (Portugal); David Parsons Dance Company (Canada); Elisa Monte/David Brown Dance (Philippines, Austria, Germany); the Martha Graham Dance Company (Lebanon, Spain, Italy, Portugal). Disappointed: the Atlanta Ballet, which after months of negotiation regretfully cancelled its Nutcracker-to-China tour.


Capezio's 47th Annual Dance Award was bestowed upon the plucky Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, while Dance Magazine Awards went to the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's Jeraldyne Blunden, American Ballet Theatre's Julio Bocca, School of American Ballet's Suki Schorer, and the founder of England's Royal Ballet, Dame Ninette de Valois, who is now in her 100th year.

Honored by the American Dance Festival, Durham, with the $25,000 Samuel H. Scripps Award were tap legends Fayard and Harold Nicholas; the ADF also named Pauline Koner and Matt Mattox as co-recipients of the Balasaraswati Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Chair for Distinguished Teaching. DANCE/USA's Honors went to Judith Jamison and Bruce Marks and its Ernie Award to critic Deborah Jowitt. Named Guggenheim Fellows in Dance were Ann Hutchinson Guest, John Jasperse, Demetrius Kline, and Donna Uchizono, while academia welcomed Murray Louis as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar and critic Arlene Croce as a senior fellow at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Tapped as inductees were Donald Saddler (Theater Hall of Fame), PBS's Merrill Brockway (Dance Library of Israel's Hall of Fame), and Eliot Feld (immortalized in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Celebrity Path), while Gregory Hines garnered the Flo-Bert Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In an about-face, Capezio found itself accepting rather than giving an award, the Outstanding Achievement Award presented by Career Transitions for Dancers. In competition abroad, Lindsey Thomas won a Gold Leo for jazz choreography at Germany's Jazz Dance World Congress, while Chicago's Trinity Irish Dance Company blew away contenders by sweeping every category at the 1998 Championship of Irish Dance, Ennis, Ireland. And on Broadway, Garth Fagan's choreography for The Lion King captured both a Tony and an Outer Critics Circle Award; TDF's Astaire Award went to the fabulous Kit Kat Girls and Kit Kat Boys of Cabaret.


The dance world recorded the loss in 1997-98 of Boris Belsky, Richard Bull, Gisella Caccialanza, Bill Cratty, Fred Danieli, Richard Ellner, Ibrahim Farrah, Tamara Geva, Lotte Goslar, Maria Grandy, Alma Hawkins, Christine Hennessy, Peter T. Joseph, William Louther, P.W. Manchester, Valentina Pereyaslavec, Jerome Robbins, Stanley B. Sussman, Georgie Tapps, Capezio's Albert Terlizzi, Nancy Topf, Galina Ulanova, and Stanley Williams.

Longtime Musical America reporter of the Year in Dance feature, Jacqueline Maskey has covered the dance scene for The New York Times and Dance Magazine and is a former staff member of the New York Public Library Dance Collection at Lincoln Center. She is a contributor to the forthcoming American National Biography.




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