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December 12, 2005

Is the shifting center the result of financial realities?


While I do agree that New York City is no longer the creative hub of contemporary dance in the world, I think that Gia missed the opportunity to delve into more of the reasons behind this shift. Yes, New York City is losing its stature in the global marketplace for dance. It is difficult to compete when resources are not allocated to a particular sector of the economy, when the arts are not valued by the government and by the people as they are in other parts of the world. It is an embarassing fact that artists in the U.S., despite living in a wealthy country, are worse off than their colleagues in much of East/Central Europe, where the economies are much less robust.

Funding in Europe – and, to a certain extent, in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada as well – is primarily centered on supporting, on a long-term basis, artists and companies. In the most recent issue of the U.K.’s Dance Theatre Journal, for example, you can read about an experiment involving two Canadian and one Flemish choreographer/dancers who spent a month in Antwerp and a month in Montreal, working blindfolded on a daily basis. While this, or other, experiments may not result in a brilliant product, the sheer fact that artists have the time to really dig into their work offers them the potential to move the art form forward, beyond what already exists. Chunky Move, the Australian company whose Tense Dave was recently seen at DTW and Jacob’s Pillow, could never have created that work (which takes place entirely on a spinning circular platform) without months and months of rehearsal. What U.S. choreographer has the financial support to allow him or her to work like that? There are, of course, exceptions. One can look at the work of Sarah Michelson and Shen Wei to see highly and fully produced new dance work; yet at what sacrifice in their personal lives? Choreographers in the U.S. have no stable infra-structural support; few are able to transcend the financial constraints when rehearsal space must be rented, dancers and other collaborators must be paid, etc. Even if an artist is not state-supported as a choreographer in their home country in Europe or Canada or Australia, there is a basic social net -- they have health insurance and probably some sort of unemployment system that they can take advantage of.

True, many U.S. presenters are not taking risks in their curation of dance companies. But, unlike many of us in New York City who are promoting risk-taking artists (including 651 Arts, P.S. 122, Danspace Project, DTW, and The Kitchen), they do not have the financial structure that would allow them to fail from time to time. For many of them, earned income – box office revenue – makes up 50-75% of their total income. For those of us who are more fortunate, or perhaps simply leaner, organizations, earned income rarely reaches 20%. That is, in my mind, a luxury. Successful funding programs – from the NEA Dance Touring Initiative to the National Performance Network, National Dance Project, and the New York State DanceForce – understand the fiscal reality and offer funding to hedge the risk. More such programs, supported at higher levels, are needed.

Posted by at December 12, 2005 12:28 PM


I first worked for 30+ years as a scientits. I ALWAYS was paid a living age, whether or not my science was good or bad. For the last 15 years I have worked as a dancer/choreographer. I was NEVER paid a living wage....and I worked harder, and like to think much of what I did was 'good'.
I now realize that in the USA science is seen as work, and people are paid for it. Art is in general seen as a choice, aka hobby, and one is left on their own to figure out how to live.

Until that perception changes we will not see what we regard as adequate funding for the arts. Changing that begins with our own self perceptions about the value of our art and ourselves. E.G., if you actually do it for free or less that it costs, it really is a hobby.

Posted by: Don Atwood at December 12, 2005 12:58 PM

I wrote something in the International Arts Manager magazine in Feburary about dance in France. They opened a 20 million dollar National Dance Center just to have space to create new work. The government also pays for 19 National Choreographic Centers around France with names like Preljocaj, Marin, Deschamps, Monnier, and Carolyn Carson, just appointed at Roubaix. There is a hugh emphasis on contemporary work and the Paris Opera ballet is thriving, as are several other traditional companies. With this kind of government support, the results put France at the forefront.

Posted by: Frank Cadenhead at December 12, 2005 3:02 PM

Dear Laurie: Thank you.
When I attend International arts conferences I always laugh when European dance artists complain about how rough they have it. One Berlin manager for an arts group actually sighted as hardship having to walk the streets looking for a rehearsal space!!! As you said, compared to us, they have it good. I have always said that if we all know what's good for us we should all band together for a year and lobby all unions to boycott any production or spin-off of La Boheme. I think greater America still thinks that artists ought to live on NYC air and Chauteau Bloomberg, live in leaky shacks and die of consumption. I had the same thought, as commentator 1, that in time one does get the feeling that one is not doing very good work if no one wants to buy it. I mean, the whole culture is about rewarding excellence with money! When a young dancer comes to me about what lies ahead for her/him, particularly those who want very much to choreograph, I am totally at a loss what to tell them. What DOES one tell them? "Join the club?" "Get a life?"
At least I'm laughing.

Posted by: Michael Mao at December 14, 2005 2:43 PM


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