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Bill T Workshop

Friday, April 16, 2010

Well, it’s finally happening: Bill T. W is nigh.

The nickname (which seems already, happily, to have taken root) is amusing. The reality of Dance Theater Workshop (a.k.a DTW) merging with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company? Potentially good news perhaps for Jones, who has long sought a permanent home, and who deserves one.

But for DTW? I’m worried that its leadership, once again, is selling this special place down the river.

Cash-strapped DTW ($4.2 million in debt at last count) has been exploring so many options to stay afloat that it’s been easy not to take this collaboration totally seriously. But, as Crain's reported, negotiations are entering the final phase in creating a new entity with combined staff and board and a new mission. It has yet to be announced who will have creative control of this sucker; never mind that everyone at DTW has had to sign non-disclosure agreements (as I’ve heard from several folks). As one observer said to me, there are no mergers, only takeovers.

It was only in 2002 that DTW opened its glitzy new home on 19th Street. Finally, the institution trumpeted, a true home for experimental dance.

In fact, just the opposite was true: as I reported in a lengthy NYT article last year, what looked from the outside like triumphant arrival was actually the beginning of fiscal ruin for DTW, which never figured out a way to pay for its higher operating expenses.

The results? Programming has been slashed. Seasons have been shortened. Layoffs have decimated the already lean staff.

And now comes this. Maybe I’m wrong.

Hopefully Bill T.’s company will steer clear from DTW’s financial difficulties, and is financially stable enough itself for such a big endeavor (always a question with non-profits). And maybe this will be great for DTW. Maybe Carla Peterson, the institution's marvelous artistic director, will once again have free reign to move forward with her exceptional curatorial program. I hope so.

But my gut, and everything I’m hearing, tells me we're witnessing the end of DTW as we know it. DTW has been the place to see certain international works that are too much for some of the less traditional proscenium stages around the city but don’t get programmed at the big houses. And it has supported a great many artists through its studio programs. It would be a big loss for New Yorkers who care about progressive, genre-bending performance—or even just the city’s cultural history.

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Open to everyone, the Performance Club is a freewheeling conversation about New York performance of all kinds, from experimental theater to gallery installations to contemporary dance. We go, we talk (online and at bars and cafes, with artists and amongst ourselves), we disagree and, sometimes, we change each other’s minds.

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