Transcript, Episode 77: Slow Ticket Sales, BAAND Together, and K-pop Dance Covers

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

Lydia Murray:
And I’m Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media. In today’s episode, we will talk about a sort of split screen that’s happening in the Broadway world, where performers are putting in a ton of work to get ready for September reopening dates against this backdrop of worryingly slow advanced ticket sales. Then we’ll discuss the weekly meetings that the directors of five renowned New York City dance companies have been having during the pandemic—meetings that ultimately led to this week’s BAAND Together Dance Festival—and then also talk about the larger potential for collaborative problem solving between dance institutions. And we’ll talk about the K-pop dance cover trend, and specifically about a plaza in Paris that has become a gathering place for young dancers to film their K-pop covers, which is fascinating.

First though, here is your reminder that we are not just a weekly podcast, we are also a daily newsletter. You can sign up for The Dance Edit newsletter, which is a super quick roundup of each day’s top stories, at thedanceedit.com. It is free. It is handy. It is often quite fun. It’ll keep you up to speed on everything happening in the dance world between podcast episodes. And while you’re visiting our site, click on over to thedanceedit.com/podcast to find out more about The Dance Edit Extra, which is our new premium audio interview series, launching literally any day now. Again, that’s thedanceedit.com/podcast.

All right, now it’s time for our weekly dance headline rundown, which is super busy this week.

Lydia Murray:
So The Australian Ballet recently canceled the rest of its Melbourne season due to continued COVID lockdowns and the threat of the Delta variant. This means that 44 performances will be postponed to next year, including Romeo and Juliet, Harlequinade, and Anna Karenina. The new festival DanceX, which is set to bring The Australian Ballet together with seven other companies, will also shift to 2022. And at the end of next month, a decision will be made about whether the remaining 2021 Sydney season can move forward.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I mean, I guess it’s worth noting that Australia’s vaccination rate is significantly lower—

Lydia Murray:
Much lower, yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
—than the rate here in the US, which is why Delta’s an even more urgent cause for concern. But that’s still so disheartening, given how well Australia was doing for so long. I remember they were always the beacon of hope across the ocean.

Lydia Murray:
I know, yeah. Sending them lots of support.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. In much more cheery news, dance icon Debbie Allen will receive the 2021 Governor’s Award during this year’s primetime Emmy Awards broadcast on September 19th. The Governor’s Award honors someone whose accomplishments just go beyond traditional Emmys categories. The release said that it’s recognizing Allen’s “unprecedented achievements in television, and her commitment to inspire and engage marginalized youth through dance, theater, arts, and mentorship.” I mean we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: just give Debbie Allen all the awards forever.

Lydia Murray:
All the things. Yeah. It seems like she’s really getting a lot more for long overdue recognition and has been for the past year or two. And so that’s just really great to see.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah! It’s like a cascading effect. Everyone’s sort of like, ” Oh right, she got that award. Why haven’t we given her our award yet? Wait a minute.” Yeah, love to see it.

Lydia Murray:
The New York Dance and Performance Awards, the Bessies, recently announced the nominees for this year’s awards digital performances that were presented between March 15th 2020 and May 31st, 2021, as well as in-person performances presented between June 1st, 2020 and May 31st of this year were considered for nominations. The 37th annual Bessie award ceremony is set to be live streamed on Monday, October 11th at 7:30 PM Eastern time. And we’ll link to the list of nominees in the episode description.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You can also file this next item under “extraordinary artists getting the recognition they deserve”: Choreographer Camille A. Brown is going to make her Broadway directorial debut this spring. She will both direct and choreograph the previously announced revival of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Producers say that Brown is the first Black woman to serve as both director and choreographer on a Broadway production in more than 65 years. And she also choreographed the off-Broadway production of for colored girls… in 2019, so she’s not unfamiliar with the show. I mean, this is so incredibly major.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah. The International Association of Blacks in Dance has announced the 25 companies that will join its 2021 collective cohort. Each will receive $41,000 over the next three years. The group includes AIM by Kyle Abraham, Dimensions Dance Theater, and Urban Bush Women, to name only a few.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Congratulations to all of them. That’s great news. So, yet another ballet leadership change was announced this week. Orlando Ballet artistic director Robert Hill is stepping down after 13 years with the company. Jorden Morris, who is the company’s current choreographer in residence, will act as guest artistic director for the next season. Hill’s statement said he wants to focus on his recovery after a knee replacement. There might be more to the story, but we don’t have any insider information, so stay tuned, is what we’ll say.

Lydia Murray:
After multiple delays, the Museum of Broadway will open next summer. It’ll be the first museum devoted to the history of Broadway shows, and it will be located, of course, in the heart of the theater district, on West 45th Street.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s one of those things that it’s kind of hard to believe doesn’t already exist.

Lydia Murray:
I know! But I guess maybe Broadway itself is sort of its own museum, in a sense?

Margaret Fuhrer:
I think that’s very true, actually.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah. And now that it’s been closed for so long, I think it’s kind of more apparent that, oh there’s this void that can be filled. But it’s exciting that it’s finally hopefully opening its doors next year.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Very curious to see it in all its glory. Here is some dance and cinema news: Spike Lee’s film version of David Bryne’s musical American Utopia, which was originally made for HBO—the film version was made for HBO—will make a one night only appearance in movie theaters on September 15th, which interestingly is just two days before the show itself reopens on Broadway. So if you can’t make it to New York City to see Annie-B Parson’s excellent choreography in person, you can at least see it on the big screen.

Lydia Murray:
And it’s the end of an era at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Jamar Roberts is retiring. Roberts spent nearly 20 years with the company as a dancer and became its first resident choreographer in 2019. On December 9th, as part of Ailey’s fall season, he will give his farewell performance in a special program to honor his work. The program will feature his work Holding Space, and he will dance Revelations and other pieces yet to be announced.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I am very selfishly devastated by that news.

Lydia Murray:
I know! So sorry to see him go.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I mean, he’s a choreographer of the highest order, and it’s completely understandable that he’s ready to leave the stage behind and focus on that side of his creativity. But he’s a once in a lifetime kind of dancer. I’m not ready to let him go yet.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So in this last headline item, we’re beginning with a piece of news and then following that with a related correction. The news is that next month, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, aka SPAC, will open the SPAC School of the Arts, which will operate out of the Saratoga space that formerly housed the National Museum of Dance’s ballet-focused school. The new school will offer not just ballet, but also classes and programming in other forms of dance, as well as music, theater, and literary, visual, and media arts. That’s the news.

Now here’s the correction. In an earlier podcast episode, we said that the National Museum of Dance had closed and that its future was uncertain, as reported by the Albany Times Union. But that information is not correct. While the museum has been temporarily closed since the beginning of the pandemic, SPAC is working with the museum’s administration and with New York State Parks to figure out a way to reopen it to the public. It sounds like there’s some things that need to happen legally to make that possible, but stay tuned. We will link to a newer Times Union piece with better information about all of that in the show notes. And fingers crossed the museum is back soon, because it really is fantastic.

All right. In our first discussion segment today, we want to talk about two stories that ran this past week, offering two very different windows on the Broadway industry, which is in a state of uncertainty that I don’t think many of us could have predicted even two months ago. The first article is more hopeful. It’s a New York Daily News piece about how the wonderful Harkness Center for Dance Injuries is helping Broadway performers prepare for the physical rigors of eight-show weeks, so they’ll be ready once September reopening dates roll around. And then the second piece is troubling. CNBC ran a story about how Broadway ticket sales are not bouncing back, even for surefire hits like Hamilton and The Lion King; the numbers just aren’t as encouraging as they were expected to be. And those two stories together really capture the overall feeling of the performing arts world right now. We’re coming back strong! But are audiences coming back? Are we staying back? What’s going to happen?

Lydia Murray: 
That is the question. So the New York Daily News piece highlighted how the Harkness Center is helping dancers come back not just physically but also mentally as they face the unique challenges of this pandemic era. And that’s kind of one of the bright spots here. So for example, there was a cast member from Wicked named Alex Aquilino who mentioned getting help, trusting his body again and reminding himself that he is healthy and strong and has the muscle memory to do the work, which I think we all relate to. And a physical therapist named Mark Hall pointed out the depression and anxiety that a lot of dancers are facing now due to both separation from loved ones and the prolonged hiatus from doing what they love. And they touched on the negative impact that time off had on some artists’ self-worth. But the article ends with Aquilino saying how fulfilling it is to be returning to Broadway even if before there were times when you just really needed a break to recharge.

At the risk of sounding trite, I thought the story kind of encapsulated the guarded optimism and resilience of this moment in the dance world. It’s happening in such a literal sense in physical therapy, but that process of assessing weaknesses, new and old, and determining what it will take to strengthen them and having enough hope to keep moving forward, even as you’re still learning what needs to be done—I think that’s emblematic of where dance is as a whole, and certainly in New York City.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, Lydia, that is such a beautiful metaphor for what’s what’s happening in the larger dance world right now. I didn’t even think about that.

Maybe I’m just really cynical. What you see as this cautious optimism, I was like, oooh, this is a whistling in the dark story. The quote that Wicked‘s dance captain gave about—he was talking about the cast’s last rehearsal before Broadway shut down last year, and he said something like, “We just kind of kept going. Are we doing this? We’ve got to keep doing this. We’ve got to keep doing this.” And all I could think was, Yeah, that’s sort of what’s happening right now. There’s this tinge of fear, as these performers work so hard to get their bodies into impossible shape and just hope that it won’t all be taken away from them yet again. But I like your hopeful take on it much better.

Lydia Murray:
Well, no. I mean I’m emphasizing that guarded part of guarded optimism. [laughter] Yeah. I definitely got that sense too. But we’re trying to try to move forward however we all can, with all of the difficulty and uncertainty and messiness that comes with that.

And as the CNBC story highlighted, kind of getting back to the darker side of things, unfortunately even pre-COVID only roughly one in five productions recoup their investment. And that 20% that achieved profitability usually generated huge revenue, including shows like Hamilton. But that seems to be changing. Hamilton, Wicked, and The Lion King will be some of the first musicals to reopen at 100% capacity. But the latter two have not yet sold out their opening weeks, despite tickets having been on sale for months. Hamilton currently only has one sold out performance between this September and next June, and that’s on its opening night. And producers suspect that this is due to concerns about the Delta variant.

Michael Rosenberg, who’s the managing director of the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, pointed out that people are making their buying decisions closer to the show dates than before due to COVID related uncertainty. But then also London’s recent reopening efforts were, as we all know, halted due to concerns about the virus, which is posing a significant financial threat. And Broadway needs to avoid the same fate.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s funny but here we hear our positions are flipped where your less optimistic take, I had a more optimistic read on the Michael Rosenberg quote about, “Oh, people are delaying their decision making.” I was thinking about it as, oh, well maybe that means we will have a rosier picture when we’re closer to the actual opening dates. So people are just taking longer to dive in and make the actual purchase.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah, we’re on the same page on that. I may have sounded negative but no, that definitely could be positive. But I’m also worried about… I’m not quite sure how that might shift other aspects of planning in terms of the economics of Broadway on at least longer term. Right now, that’s better than nothing, but it’s still a little bit cause for concern.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Another thing that does make me hopeful, if we are comparing Broadway to the West End, the West End doesn’t have the sort of stringent COVID policies that Broadway will have in place when it opens. They’re not mandating vaccinations for audience members and performers. It’s just less centralized, the regulation process. And so hopefully that will reassure audiences and hopefully also result in fewer closures of shows for COVID cases.

Lydia Murray:
I definitely don’t think that Broadway is facing as many challenges as London. I don’t think—I hope not. But these are just valid concerns, and they’re challenges that can be overcome, I think.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I mean, it feels like, as has been the case in so many parts of the performing arts world for so long now, there just aren’t any right answers, there aren’t any clear answers. I guess the one thing we can all agree on is that we’re pulling like crazy for these brilliant performers who are working so hard in the hopes of being able to practice their craft again.

Lydia Murray:
Yes. I really feel for the performers for having to deal with so many changing regulations and just changing circumstances. But yeah, definitely can’t wait until the day when we can all see them doing what they love again. But I’m so confident that that day is coming, we just have a little bit more work to do, possibly.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Oh, I feel like there’s a musical lyric that applies here but now my head is not landing on it. I’m too tired.

Lydia Murray:
“The sun will come out tomorrow”?

Margaret Fuhrer:
There you go! Sure. [laughter]

Lydia Murray:
Why not?

Margaret Fuhrer:
“Something’s coming”? [laughter] All right, enough.

So next up today, we have one of the more hopeful stories to come out of the pandemic. Both the New York Times and Pointe magazine had articles this past week about the BAAND, B-A-A-N-D, Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center. And the festival is the first time that five renowned New York City dance companies—Ballet Hispánico, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem—will share the stage. And that’s where BAAND comes from—it’s an acronym for the companies’ names, in case you’re wondering. So that’s cool on its own. But what’s even more noteworthy is that the festival grew out of weekly online meetings that the directors of those companies have been having since last summer to talk through the problems they were experiencing and hash out potential solutions together, which is a beautiful example of the good things that can happen when dance institutions make a point of talking to and working with each other.

Lydia Murray: 
Yes, these leaders have been discussing issues ranging from COVID safety for dancers, to DEI work, to encouraging voting in the last presidential election. In their meetings, for example, they talked about how to create bubbles so dancers could dance in isolation. They were in dialogue with each other about testing and vaccinations. They consider their biggest concrete outcome to be the BAAND Together festival, but something interesting Robert Battle said in the Times piece was that he felt like the meetings really helped by giving them a space to say, “I don’t have the answers,” which is important and powerful. And I think leaders being open and supportive of each other in that way serves their organizations. Because feeling pressured to come up with something, anything, immediately obviously can create problems even if you are the person who is steering the ship.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. I also think that in hierarchical organizations, which most dance companies are—being that person at the top, being expected to project omniscience, I think that actually leads to some of the toxicity that we see in dance company culture. Just being able to recognize and admit your shortcomings in a safe space, talking to these other directors—that’s a small step, but it could make a really big difference.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah, I agree. I think that’s a problem not just in dance companies, but in probably corporate America as well, so this is really great to see. It exemplifies the good that can result from collaboration between dance institutions. And even though this happened among directors, I’m curious about the potential for more cross-organizational work in other functions of a company.

I think an example of this is probably also Robert Garland’s new piece, Stare Decisis, “to stand by things decided,” which is debuting as part of the NYC Free festival at Little Island—when this episode comes out, it will have happened yesterday. But that piece brings together Black dancers from New York City Ballet, DTH, ABT—including Misty Copeland, who narrates it rather than dancing in order to kind of hand the mic over to other Black artists. And Garland created it to help young Black dancers who risked facing an extra burden as companies grappled with racial injustice in the wake of the BLM uprising, because that can be a lot to carry. So it’s given dancers from different institutions a space to be themselves and to be in community with each other.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Again, that idea of feeling isolated in your home environment and seeking out others who are having the same experiences that you are. I mean, it’s not a direct analogy to the meetings that the leaders are happening, company directors haven’t been ostracized and discriminated against, but even though they’re two different types of loneliness we’re talking about, it’s loneliness in both senses.

One thing I will say is that, I was actually at the first BAAND Together performance last night. And first of all, what actually happened on that stage was pretty magical. Just seeing all of these incredible dancers sharing one program, it was truly incredible. My gosh, I cannot wait to see Ailey do Lazarus in its entirety again. They did an excerpt last night and it just brought the house down. But also to counterbalance the whole previous segment we just spent wringing our hands about whether or not audiences will come back to Broadway, here’s a more positive indicator: The standby line for the show wound around an entire city block. And once the show began, the crowd was just on fire, standing ovations left and right. People do seem hungry for live performance. Or I guess I mean for free live performance, anyway—I guess that’s the big caveat, is that these BAAND Together performances are free. But still.

Lydia Murray:
But still! Yeah. I think people are hungry for that in-person connection, and to see people presenting something beautiful in person, in real life. We’ve been on our screens for so long that I think—I mean obviously it’s not just about that. These are incredible, brilliant artists. And now you can see them without having to see them just through a screen.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Robert Battle emceed last night, and one of the first things he said was, “Either this is the largest Zoom screen I’ve ever seen, or we are actually all here in person!” It’s like, yep, that is correct.

Lydia Murray:
“Is it really happening?” It’s like, wow. [laughter]

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right, so last up this episode, we want to talk about the K-pop dance cover phenomenon, in which dancers create reenactments of K-pop music videos. And this isn’t a new thing, or at least it’s not new in internet terms. People have been uploading these types of creations to YouTube and to other social platforms for a few years now. But the New York Times just ran a story about the trend this week because one particular building in Paris CB3—or maybe it’s CBtrois, I don’t know how French are we—it’s a vacant office building with big mirrored plate glass windows, and it’s become a hub for these young dancers because it’s a free and amenable and aesthetically interesting place to rehearse and record these K-pop videos. I mean, Lydia does this just make your K-pop living heart sing?

Lydia Murray:
It does. I’m almost certain I’ve seen CB3 or CBtrois or whatever we’re pronouncing it in French K-pop dance covers on YouTube, and it was interesting to learn more about its role in the dance cover community. So it’s about 250 yards from La Grande Arche de la Defense, and its pedestrian plaza, as Margaret said, has become a go-to location for dancers from around Île-de-France, which is the region that Paris and its surrounding suburbs are in. Dancers tend to meet there, morning to night, weekdays, weekends, year round, to work on their covers. They’re mostly female, mid teens to late twenties. And they do this out of sheer passion and dedication. Dance cover creators can’t really make money from ads because the songs are copyrighted by the K-pop artists.

But the story speaks to how multicultural K-pop is, even though the song lyrics are primarily in Korean. K-pop resonates with people across cultures and despite language barriers, as is the case with many forms of art, and as is typically the case with world-class productions of any sort. It takes a team to bring these projects to life, from song writing to choreography and beyond. And those teams can be comprised of people from anywhere in the world. A K-pop group might work with songwriters from the US and a choreographer from Brazil and so forth in one project. And when fans post dance covers, it can not only help the content creator grow their following, but it’s a way for fans to share their appreciation for the artist’s work and help introduce that work to new audiences so it’s a harmonious relationship.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You know what’s terrifying is that as soon as I read that New York Times article, K-pop covers started to show up in my TikTok feed. And talking about the international appeal—it was specifically Ukrainian groups doing K-pop dance covers.

Lydia Murray:
Interesting.

Margaret Fuhrer:
K-pop is everywhere! It speaks to everyone.

Lydia Murray: 
I’m happy to K-pop dance cover performers are getting more attention because what they do requires work too, and it has value in the larger K-pop ecosystem. So this was such a feel-good story, I guess, for me as a K-pop fan.

Margaret Fuhrer:
There’s something so poetic about the dancers in this story, because yeah like you said, they’re not going to be able to monetize this. They’re often traveling really long distances. They’re working in this sort of liminal space, which, by the way, the story says might not be available to them for much longer—there’s a work order posted on the CB3 building, so it could be occupied soon. It’s just this outpouring of so much effort with the only end goal being enjoying themselves and showing how devoted they are to these K-pop artists. And I don’t mean to over-romanticize that kind of situation; we’ve had lots of conversations before about how harmful the whole, “I’ll do anything for my art” mentality can be. But I did find it very moving.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah. And that’s kind of a hallmark of fandom culture, I think even beyond K-pop. I mean, sometimes that can not always lead in a good direction, but when it is positive, it’s a really beautiful thing to see people who care that much about the art that someone else makes, and then being inspired by that and creating their own.

Margaret Fuhrer: 
Oh, I love when we can get you to go off on K-pop, Lydia. I love it so much.

Lydia Murray:
Anytime!

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right. That’s it from us this week. Thanks everyone for joining us. We will be back next week for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating and keep dancing.

Lydia Murray:
Bye everyone.