Transcript, Episode 129: Broadway Controversies, Misty’s Film, and Life Sans Social Media

Margaret Fuhrer:

Hi, dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:

And I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Margaret Fuhrer:

We are editors at Dance Media, and today we’ll get started with a jampacked headline rundown, discussing the controversies that are roiling the Broadway community right now, and Misty Copeland’s new short film, and the World Choreography Award nominees, and a whole lot more. Then we’ll do a deeper dive discussion of a fascinating story about Wonderbound, the dance company in Denver that got rid of all its social media accounts and subsequently saw its subscriptions increase.

First, though, we want to give a little shout out to the fact that we are as of this month back to a weekly format, and that we now have long-form interview episodes alternating with these headline rundown episodes. I hope you caught our interview with Mark Morris last week because it was kind of a doozy, as interviews with Mark Morris tend to be.

Next Thursday, we’ll air our conversation with the wonderful Kiyon Ross, the newly appointed associate artistic director at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and one of the very few people of color in a leadership position at a major ballet company. That was a great conversation. So, if you’re a subscriber to this podcast, those interview episodes should just pop right up in your feed, and if you are enjoying the new format, please do leave us a rating or a review on your listening platform of choice because we really do love hearing your feedback, good or bad or middling, all of it.

All right. Now let’s dive into this massive headline list, starting with a story that has Broadway Twitter all…a-twitter.

Courtney Escoyne:

I think doozy also feels like the right word here.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Oh, yes.

Courtney Escoyne:

So, Patti LuPone has reportedly given up her Equity card, which is by and large a requirement for performers to appear on Broadway. She tweeted on Monday, “Quite a week on Broadway, seeing my name being bandied about. Gave up my Equity card, no longer part of that circus. Figure it out.” A later statement to Playbill clarified that LuPone had decided to resign from Equity after the recent Broadway revival of Company closed. She was also quoted in People saying that Equity was, quote, “the worst union,” end quote, and that quote, “I just didn’t want to give them any more money,” end quote.

It’s widely theorized that her initial tweet was actually referencing another story that’s been dominating Broadway Twitter recently, a recent incident at Hadestown on Broadway in which an audience member was called out during a performance for filming the performance on her phone, when in fact that audience member has hearing loss and was using a captioning device. LuPone, of course, has notoriously stopped performances or even pulled cellphones out of audience members’ hands before, which is probably how that was coming up in conversation. There’s a lot going on here.

Margaret Fuhrer:

I mean, this was a very busy week in Broadway controversies generally too. There was also a lot of talk about an interview that Sara Porkalob gave, the breakout star of the new production of 1776, that she gave to Vulture. We’ll let you Google that one, because it is…complicated. But when Patti first tweeted that announcement, I think a lot of us, or people like me, anyway, who aren’t on top of every bit of Broadway gossip, were sort of like, “What’s happening? Wait, how is this connected to what? What’s going on?” All around, a whiplash-inducing few days on musical theater Twitter.

Speaking of controversies, the Irish dance community is embroiled in a controversy of its own. The CLRG, the prestigious global body that governs Irish dance, is dealing with an alleged cheating scandal, with some of the most successful and well regarded Irish dance teachers and schools accused of fixing competitions. The CLRG announced that it has appointed a former judge to oversee an investigation into the allegations. And the allegations themselves sound pretty damning. The Irish Independent broke the story and we’ve linked to their coverage of it, which has more details.

Courtney Escoyne:

Ten leading dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet have been suspended from upcoming performances after participating in a gala in Uzbekistan, according to Gramilano. Two theories as to the reason are that the poster used the Bolshoi name and logo without permission, or that the dancers did not formally ask permission to perform. Speculation abounds, however, that the state-sponsored company is teaching these dancers a lesson for political reasons, as Uzbekistan is a former Soviet state that has been cooling its relationship with Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. As with pretty much any story coming out of Russia these days, it sounds like we don’t know the whole story.

Let’s talk about happier things, though, namely Misty Copeland’s new short film. Copeland is both starring in and producing the film, which is called Flower. It’s a work of both art and activism. It aims to shed light on the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay area, housing insecurity being an issue with which Copeland has personal experience. And dance is a big part of its storytelling: It features choreography by both Alonzo King and Rich+Tone. Talk about an all-star group. She recently previewed the trailer, so stay tuned on the official release date.

Courtney Escoyne:

Love seeing Misty do basically anything.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yep.

Courtney Escoyne:

As of Monday, Kaatsbaan Cultural Park has a new leadership team. Arts administrator Tricia Reed has been named managing director, and choreographer slash dance historian Adam Weinert has joined as artistic associate. Additionally, former American Ballet Theatre star and Teatro Colón Director Paloma Herrera will serve as artistic director for the Kaatsbaan Ballet Intensive next summer, with outgoing ABT director Kevin McKenzie serving as artistic advisor. So, we’ve of course been wildly curious about what would happen at Kaatsbaan with its most recent leadership team departing for ABT’s JKO School and Baryshnikov Arts Center. So, very curious to see what happens next.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Also an interesting next move for Paloma after her departure from Teatro Colón.

Courtney Escoyne:

Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:

The World Choreography Awards, which are often called the Oscars of dance, they honor excellence in dance for TV, film, commercials, and digital media, and they just announced their 2022 nominees. The whole list is, as usual, absolutely stacked, but the motion picture category is especially competitive. Just wanted to call that one out, because we’ve got Chris Scott, Ebony Williams, Emilio Dosal, Dana Wilson, and Eddie Torres Jr. for In the Heights, Justin Peck for West Side Story, Jamal Sims and Ky Martinez for Encanto, Ashley Wallen for Cinderella, and Mandy Moore, Jillian Meyers, and Jeffrey Mortensen for Zoe’s Extraordinary Christmas. And that is one category. There are eight other categories with just as many big names in them. The ceremony will be held November 15th in Hollywood.

Courtney Escoyne:

Several leading New York City arts organizations have announced that they will be ending their mask requirements this month, among them the Metropolitan Opera, which is where ABT performs in the summer, on October 24th, and New York City Ballet on November 1st. In an interview with The New York Times, the Met’s general director Peter Gelb cited changing attitudes toward the necessity of masks among audiences, and the hope that making masks optional would help entice younger audiences who were resistant to mask wearing to come to the theater.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Oh, I know there are many opinions on this topic, but I am personally dreading this, even though we all knew it was coming eventually.

Courtney Escoyne:

Yeah, hard same.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Dance Data Project recently released its fourth annual season overview report looking at the gender distribution of choreographers programmed by ballet companies in the United States. This year the organization expanded its list to include 150 companies. It found that during the 2021 to ’22 season, just 29% of all works programmed were choreographed by women. That’s actually a slight improvement from previous years, and this is sort of hopeful news: Of world premieres, 53% were choreographed by women. That said, only 22% of full-length world premieres were by women. It’s a massive report with a ton of information. As always with DDP reports, we’ve linked the whole thing in the show notes.

Courtney Escoyne:

Former Mariinsky principal Xander Parish is organizing a one-night-only performance in California, bringing together ballet stars with ties to Ukraine and Russia. Many of their number, like Parish, are international artists who resigned their contracts of Russian companies after the invasion of Ukraine, such as Jacopo Tissi, David Mata Suarez, and Joy Womack. That’ll be happening on November 12th at the Segerstrom Center for Performing Arts. Kind of wonder, are we going to see Amy Brandt to just disappear to California for a couple of days to go see Xander because she adores him?

Margaret Fuhrer:

Entirely possible, yes. [laughter]

On a somewhat related note, the United Ukrainian Ballet, the company composed mostly of Ukrainian ballet dancers who fled the war, will make its US debut and its only US appearances at the Kennedy Center this February. The group will perform the new version of Giselle that Alexei Ratmansky created especially for them, which premiered in London last month. Yeah, time to book a train to D.C. We’ve got some traveling to do.

Courtney Escoyne:

Yeah. A little group road trip, maybe?

International sanctions on Russia have reportedly created a pointe shoe shortage, according to Bolshoi director Vladimir Urin, who says his request to get permission to purchase pointe shoes made outside of Russia was denied by the Russian Trade Ministry.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Urin’s quote from the story—he said, “There are no high-quality ballet shoes in Russia. We do not manufacture them.” And, well, there sure used to be a lot of pointe shoes manufactured in Russia. My eyebrows went all the way up to the ceiling reading that. Very interesting.

Now for something completely different: Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm, a.k.a. Mel C, will open Sadler’s Wells’ spring season with a contemporary dance collaboration with choreographer Jules Cunningham and dancer Harry Alexander. The piece is called How Did We Get Here? Chisholm trained in ballet and tap and jazz as a child, but this will be her first foray into contemporary dance. The British dance scene recently, does it seem a bit like a game of Mad Libs? Like, a dance version of…the Matrix, directed by…Danny Boyle! A contemporary dance starring…Mel C!

Courtney Escoyne:

It is a little Mad Libsy, but then I also am like, oh, Jules Cunningham is legit.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Legit.

Courtney Escoyne:

They do really interesting work.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Don’t get me wrong—I hope it’s all great! I’m very curious about all of it.

Courtney Escoyne:

We are wrapping up our headline rundown with a couple of obits. The first is Kevin Locke, who died last month at age 68. Locke was a major proponent of Native American culture, sharing traditional wooden flute song and hoop dances all over the world. Born into the Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, he used his background in education as well as performance to help bridge the gap between Native and non-Native cultures in South Dakota.

Margaret Fuhrer:

The second obit is, of course, Angela Lansbury, the renowned stage and screen performer who died last Tuesday at age 96. The whole performing arts world has been paying tribute to her since then. And yes, she was known primarily as an actor and a singer, but she also worked extensively with choreographers and dancers over the course of her career. Back in 2019, she was actually named honorary chairwomen for Career Transition for Dancers, and she gave just the most wonderful interview to Backstage magazine at that time about how much she loves and respects dancers and how dance has helped her shape the characters she’s played. It’s just great. We’ve linked that story in the show notes.

Courtney Escoyne:

RIP, Mrs. Potts.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. So, that’s the end of our headline rundown for this episode, but please also be sure to check out the Dance Media Events Calendar, which has tons more information about upcoming performances and auditions and other dance world events we don’t always have time to get to here on the pod. So, to see the full thing and to add your own events to it, head to dancemediacalendar.com.

Okay. So, time for our longer discussion segment. This week, we’d like to talk about a dance company that recently made a very unconventional choice, one that many marketing professionals would probably consider disastrous, but that has actually worked out pretty well for them so far. Over the summer, Wonderbound, the contemporary troupe based in Denver that was formerly known as Ballet Nouveau Colorado, quietly took down all of its social media pages, every one. They had nearly 15,000 followers across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and TikTok, so a small presence relative to some other big dance organizations, but still a significant following. But Wonderbound director Garrett Ammon didn’t think the company needed to invest resources and creative energy into social media at all. So far, he seems to have been right. The company’s subscriptions this season are actually up 34%, and not from last year, pandemic times, but from 2019 to 2020, the season before the pandemic.

So, what might other dance organizations be able to take away from this experiment, is the question. Courtney, I know you’ve followed Wonderbound for a while now and you have a good sense of the context here.

Courtney Escoyne:

Yeah. Wonderbound’s one of those companies that I’ve always found them fascinating, and one of the things that’s always been super striking to me about them is how embedded they are in their community. I checked their website before we recorded to see if this is still the case, and it appears to be: Their rehearsals are open to the public. Their space is actually designed for that, and on their website is an open invitation to just drop by and watch along with their usual rehearsal schedule, and they invite artists to come in if they want to sketch, if photographers want to come in, as long as they don’t do flash, or if you just want to come hang out and watch, as long as you’re respectful.

They’re super open to that and super into letting people into the creative process. So, they already kind of have this ethos of wanting to be connected to the Denver arts community, and also just art lover community and the community in general. When I saw this, that Wonderbound’s no longer on social media, and this is what they did instead, it was like, oh, yeah, this all completely tracks for their whole ethos and philosophy on how they think about dance and sharing dance, to my understanding, at least.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. Yeah, the importance of not just connection, but in-person live connection, being in the same room around bodies as they are dancing, not just watching them on a screen.

Courtney Escoyne:

Yeah, and it was just also interesting because it’s not just that, oh, they decided one day to take down all their social media. They kind of spent a year really paring back how much they were on social media and then replacing the time and energy that had been going into that with doing direct outreach to former and potential future ticket buyers. They were noting, “We’ve never seen a correlation between how well a post does on social media, regardless of whether or not it’s boosted, versus actual ticket sales.” So, instead they just went to, “Okay. Well, who is our audience, really? Because that’s who’s important.”

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, that’s true. Social media campaigns, it turns out, often do not lead to bumps in ticket sales. It’s not the most effective marketing effort if your goal is to get butts into real physical seats. Of course, there are other goals that you can have, too, for marketing efforts. But Garrett made the point in the article that he was really bothered by the contrast, the contradiction, between the fact that social media is inherently impersonal and dance is inherently deeply personal. And that tension between the medium and the art he saw as a really profound problem. He actually cited that column that Ezra Klein wrote in The New York Times a little while ago about falling out of love with the internet because of that realization that in fact, the medium is the message. When you’re watching a TikTok dance, you’re not falling in love with dance. You’re falling in love with TikTok.

Courtney Escoyne:

That quote really struck a chord with me in this whole thing. So, it was like, oh, yeah, no, this is designed to get me to stick with the platform, not necessarily designed to get me to go see dance.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Totally. And it does seem like this choice that Garrett has made reflects a sort of course correction. Because for a while there was a feeling that social media was going to be huge in dance’s growth, it’s going to help dance reach new audiences, dance in particular was really well suited to these kinds of platforms as a highly visual art form. And then, of course, during the pandemic, social media was one of the only ways people could encounter dance. But now maybe the pendulum needs to swing back the other way a bit. Wonderbound of course falls on an extreme end of that spectrum, but I wonder too if other parts of the dance community are moving away from or will start to move away from social engagement as a goal in and of itself, specifically.

Courtney Escoyne:

Yeah. Well, and I think if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that reinvesting in our communities, whether we are talking about as artists or just as people, is one of the most important things we can do, and something that I think maybe had been lost sight of for a while, and I think if we’ve learned anything, it’s really reiterated the importance of that. So, it’s interesting to see this particular approach to how are we going to do that.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah, for sure. It’s a fascinating article, this piece in the Denver Gazette. We’ve of course linked to the whole thing in the show notes. Please do give it a read.

All right. That’s it for us this week. Thanks, everyone, for joining. We’ll be back next week. Keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:

Mind how you go, friends.