Margaret Fuhrer: Hi dance friends and welcome to the Dance Edit podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.
Amy Brandt: And I’m Amy Brandt.
Margaret: We are editors at Dance Media, here with a headline episode this week. So as usual, we’ll start with a quick look at a list of recent noteworthy dance news items, including two tragic shootings that have impacted the dance community. Then we will have a longer discussion segment unpacking a recent story about the move away from live streaming in the performing arts, after much of the sector embraced live streams during the pandemic, and about how that shift back toward the in-person status quo has left many disabled arts lovers feeling excluded, once again.
First though, I wanted to do a call out for next week’s interview episode, which will be out on Thursday, April 27th. Our guest this time is Melissa M. Young, the artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She’s been with the company for decades for 29 years now, and we had a great conversation about the mission-driven work they’re doing there, how the company has been quietly fighting equity for years. So, I hope you can tune in next week. Again, that one will be out on Thursday the 27th.
Okay, now it’s time for our headline rundown, beginning with two fatal mass shootings that have affected the dance community.
Amy: A shooting at the Mahogany Masterpiece Dance Studio in Dadeville, Alabama killed four people and injured 28 others on Saturday night. A group of teens had gathered at the studio for a sweet 16th birthday party. The brother of the girl celebrating her birthday, a high school senior and a local football star, was killed, and her mother was among the injured. Just horrible.
Margaret: And I cannot believe this is reality, but it is: There’s yet another shooting that happened recently. Just a few days earlier, in Kentucky, a gunman opened fire at a bank on the same block as the Louisville Ballet building. That shooting left five dead and eight injured. Louisville Ballet said on social media that nobody from their organization had been harmed, thankfully.
Amy: Thank goodness. Kalakshetra, a prominent cultural institution in India, famous for teaching bharatanatyam, has been rocked by allegations that a dance professor sexually harassed a former student. Hari Padman, an assistant professor, and accomplished dancer was arrested earlier this month after a former student filed a complaint against him. At a protest of over 200 people, students at the school alleged that harassment had been going on at the institute for years and that administrators had ignored complaints. The Kalakshetra Foundation has launched an investigation and a suspended Padman, who denies the allegations.
Margaret: In the show notes, we have a link to the BBC’s in-depth coverage of the story, because it’s a complicated story.
Okay, now we have some happier news, thank goodness. Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose—which is a phrase I will never tire of saying, “Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose”—will return to host the Tony Awards again this year, after she brought big theater kid energy to the job last year. I’m eagerly awaiting both the memes that will inevitably arise from her performance and also her own embracing of those memes, because I love that after her rap from the BAFTAs went viral, she literally started selling tote bags printed with “Angela Bassett did the thing,” and then donated the proceeds to a nonprofit that supports transgender and non-binary children, which is like the best possible response.
Amy: I know I love her, and I love how famous she is now. Like I just love seeing dancers just enjoy this kind of success…
Margaret: Become real superstars! Yeah. Not to imply that they weren’t real superstars before—become mainstream superstars.
Amy: Here’s some more good news. Amy Seiwert has been named associate artistic director of Smuin Ballet in San Francisco. Seiwert, who started her dance career with Smuin Ballet in 1999 and served as its artist in residence from 2008 to 2018, will work closely with artistic director Celia Fushille, overseeing day-to-day operations. Seiwert has had her own Bay area-based company, Amy Seiwert Imagery, since 2011, and briefly served as artistic director of Sacramento Ballet from 2018 to 2020. So, I think this is great, fantastic news for Smuin Ballet.
Margaret: Yeah, for sure. Here is some news out of Hollywood. John M. Chu, the director of the film versions of In the Heights and the forthcoming Wicked, has signed on to direct a movie version of the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. No word yet on really anything else about the film, but we do know that John loves dance and dancers never forget that he also directed Step Up 3D. So, stay tuned.
Amy: And I can’t wait to see that. Youth America Grand Prix wrapped up its 2022–23 season with its final round earlier this month. 16-year-old Fabrizzio Ulloa Cornejo of Switzerland’s Ballet Theater Basel, who you may remember from this year’s Prix de Lausanne, won the coveted ground prix. Ana Luisa Arantes Negrão of Brazil and Venezuelan dancer Daniel Alejandro Guzman, who trains in Florida, won first place in the senior division. Among the juniors, Chae Eun Lee of South Korea and João Pedro dos Santos Silva of Brazil won first place. And keep your eyes on 11-year-old Morgan Ligon, who won this year’s Hope Award.
Margaret: Lots of congrats to go around today: The Clive Barnes Awards, which honor rising talents in dance and theater, just announced its 2023 finalists. The dance category nominees are New York City ballet’s, Victor Abreu, Complexions’ Christian Burse, Paul Taylor’s Devin Louis, and ABT’s Andrew Robare. The winner will be announced at the award ceremony on May 22nd. Great list.
Amy: The 2023 class of Guggenheim Fellows have been announced, and they include a lot of really great dance artists, including Jon Kinzel, Petra Kuppers, Liz Lerman, Richard Move, Meg Stuart, and Nejla Yatkin.
Margaret: A first-rate list, as usual. New research by Dance Data Project reveals that 29% of global classical ballet companies are led by women. That is actually down from 33% in the organization’s previous leadership report, even though it feels like we’ve been hearing about lots of high-profile women getting these jobs recently. Overall, it’s down. As ever with DDP, this new report includes a ton of useful stats and information, so we’ve linked the whole thing in the show notes.
Amy: New York City Ballet has announced its 75th anniversary season. The season will open in September with Balanchine’s full-length Jewels. And its fall season will also recreate the company’s first ever program, that was at City Center, with Concerto Barocco, Orpheus, and Symphony in C. They also are bringing back Suzanne Farrell to stage Balanchine’s Tzigane, which has been renamed Errante, which she owns the rights to and is something I danced myself many times when I was part of her company, so I’m kind of excited to hear that. And I believe Merrill Ashley is also coming back to stage some works on the company. The spring season will feature some of the company’s more contemporary repertoire, including world premieres by Justin Peck and the company’s new artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky, Amy Hall Garner, and principal dancer Tiler Peck.
Margaret: Here is some news that I know delighted our co-host, Courtney. Rogers: The Musical, a live production of the formerly fictional Avengers musical featured in the pilot episode of the streaming miniseries “Hawkeye,” will premiere at Disney California Adventure this summer. Let me just untangle that for a second, there’s a lot going on there. [laughter] So, “Hawkeye,” a show that takes place in the Marvel cinematic universe, its pilot included a performance of one epic musical number from a hypothetical show called Rogers: The Musical. At that point, the show did not exist outside of that one song. Now Rogers: The Musical has been fleshed out into a 30 minute real live stage show chronicling Steve Rogers’ journey to becoming Captain America. And that’s what they’re about to debut at California Adventure. So, are you with me? Did that make sense?
Amy: Okay. I think so. Sounds like fun, whatever it is. [laughter]
And finally, the dance world said goodbye to three incredible artists recently. Dancer and actor Valda Setterfield, who performed for Merce Cunningham and formed a vibrant creative partnership with her husband David Gordon, passed away on April 9th. French dancer and choreographer Pierre Lacotte, who devoted much of his career to reviving lost ballets, has died at the age of 91. Choreographer Jennifer Mueller, a former principal with Limón Dance Company and founder of Jennifer Mueller the Works, has died at age 78.
Margaret: A hard month for the dance world.
So that is the end of our headline rundown this episode. But please don’t forget to check out the Dance Media Events Calendar as well, because it has a lot more information about all kinds of dance world events. So, to see the full list and to add your own events to it, if you’d like, head to dancemediacalendar.com.
Okay. Moving on to our discussion segment. So, during shutdowns, we talked a lot about pandemic silver linings, and one of them was that the surge of virtual class and performance offerings made dance much more accessible to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. And dance artist Jakki Kalogridis described the profound effects of that shift in an excellent essay for Dance Magazine back in September of 2020. Wow. It does not feel like that long ago.
Now, with live performances pretty much back to normal, those digital options have begun to dwindle. This week the New York Times published a piece about how most performing organizations have cut way back on live streams and other digital programs, for a range of reasons, which we’ll get into. And many arts lovers with disabilities and chronic illnesses are feeling that loss really acutely.
So, a lot of questions to think about here, but the crux of the problem is: What would need to change, what resources and shifts in perspective would be required, for the performing arts community to maintain and build on the digital options developed during the pandemic instead of eliminating them? Like, is there a way to keep moving down that path toward accessibility, instead of reverting to pre-pandemic norms?
Amy: It’s such a good question. You know, for a while, every company was exploring digital offerings, virtual seasons, dance films, classes, meet and greets, because the pandemic forced them to get creative and invest in technology and provide something to their communities and to their artists as far as like an income. And you know, while I guess it hasn’t completely gone away in some ways, it has really tapered off. And I feel like now, at least in the ballet universe—which is what I mostly kind of pay attention to at Pointe, you know—I’m really only seeing kind of mostly like the big budget companies continue with a digital type of season. And, you know, you might see like an archive of past virtual performances or live streams, but investing in new digital seasons feels like it’s been relegated to like an extra or a plus now. Which kind of surprised me. Although I guess there are of course still digital subscription services like Marquee TV where you can access and stream performances. But does your local company participate in something like that? You know? And same with online classes, they still exist, but the plethora of choices that we all had during the pandemic has gone down big time.
So yeah, I think there are a lot of reasons why. It’s probably very expensive. And they’re probably reallocating funds back to their live performance seasons. I’d be interested to see how that like fits into their budgets and all of that. And then there’s contractual issues as well. You know, the New York Times said a lot of contracts call for paying artists and rights holders more money to do live streams. I think a lot of companies are afraid that if they offer a live stream or a digital version of a live performance that people will opt out of going to a live performance, when they’re trying to get people to come back. And this is just me, but I think like, especially when it comes to class offerings, I think there’s a little sense of burnout, Zoom fatigue. Maybe there just isn’t enough staffing to go around. I think there were a lot of staffing shakeups.
So, these are I guess some possible reasons why we may not be seeing as many virtual offerings, but unfortunately as a result it leaves out this really critical group of people, audience members who love dance and want to participate. There was a quote in the New York Times story from a professor at Vanderbilt University who said that the decisions to cut back on streaming options were not made with disabled people in mind. And, this person is probably right in most cases, I would think.
Margaret: It’s interesting that you bring up that quote. You were saying before that you felt surprised that this cutback was happening, and I was too. One out of every four people in the United States has a disability of some kind. This is a huge audience. Like, equity practices are incredibly important, but this is also good business practice, and it doesn’t seem like organizations are thinking about that as they’re cutting back these digital options.
One thing that Jakki Kalogridis brought up in her Dance Magazine essay was that virtual options were not only more accessible to disabled artists, but also allowed them to be seen in a way that most traditional models did not. And I think the hope was that companies and schools would then notice, like, hey, we have more disabled dancers participating in our classes with a virtual option. Look, they’re there on screen. There they are. And that something similar could happen in performances, and that recognition would help level the playing field. But it does not seem like that is happening.
And I think that is a critical misstep on the part of a lot of these organizations. Acknowledging, as you said, that yeah, this type of programming is expensive and challenging, there are a lot of logistical hurdles. But now that we know it’s possible, now that it has been done, taking it away feels, especially wrong.
Amy: Yeah, I know, it’s like, we learned so much about what was possible during the pandemic. What do we do with that information? How do we take it with us going forward? What I also think is interesting, so many dance organizations are really making investments in other kinds of accessible programming, that revolve around live classes, and live performance. There are incredible dance classes to serve those with Parkinson’s Disease. There are sensory friendly performance options everywhere now. It’s really wonderful to see. The article mentions Lincoln Center’s Moments program that offers live performances to those with dementia and their care givers. I know Scottish Ballet has this incredible dance health program, with tons and tons of programming. But it does kind of feel unfortunate to abandon the virtual stage after spending and investing so much time learning about it.
Margaret: Amy you just basically made the point that I had been trying to and failed to make before, which is that it’s not that there aren’t lots of good intentions in dance around accessibility. It’s just that streaming and other digital options are not being seen as accessibility efforts. Which they are, inevitably. They’re just not being thought of in that way. And partly for that reason, not being invested in as heavily.
Amy: A live option and going someplace in person isn’t always easy for someone who has a chronic illness, or who has a disability. Theaters may not have ramps, or elevators. You could invest in tickets and not feel well the day of the show. Or, theaters have dropped their COVID masking mandates.
Margaret: Yes! COVID is still such a significant factor.
Amy: Another thing that Jakki mentioned in her Dance Magazine essay is that there are a lot of financial pressures that these dancers and dance lovers are under. Many of them are relying on supplemental security income benefits, or paying large amounts of their income towards their medical expenses. There’s also that, which I think, virtual seasons were more accessible that way as well.
Margaret: Accessibility in multiple senses of the word, yeah.
Amy: Yeah. Or just like, the headache of making sure you’re getting an accessible seat when you’re ordering tickets.
Margaret: I think the argument against continuing streaming that I’m sort of tired of hearing is, “Oh, nothing can replace the energy of in-person class or in-person performance.” Which, OK. But if those options are just not options for you—and that is the case for a sizable chunk of the population—does that mean then that you should just be excluded? That’s sort of the subtext of that argument, whether people mean in that way or not.
As we were sort of saying before, it seems like most dance organizations have good intentions, that this is an issue of, first of all, awareness, and second of all, resources, figuring out how to allocate limited funds. But I also think, as is often the case, those two things are connected. The more that we talk about this, the more likely it is that money will be directed toward those kinds of initiatives.
Amy: Yeah, I hope so!
Margaret: Anyway, in the show notes we have links to both the Dance Magazine essay from 2020 and the recent New York Times article. Please take a moment to read them, they’re both really great.
Alright, that’s it for us this week. Thanks everyone for joining. Keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.
Amy: Bye everyone!