Saturday, March 2, 2013

Matthew Westerby: Open Letter to the Dance Community [UPDATE]

An Open Letter to the Dance Community

by Matthew Westerby

(posted to Facebook on Monday, February 25, 2013 at 11:50pm
In the summer of 2012, I was selected to bring my dance company, Matthew Westerby Company, to The Wave Rising Series at the John Ryan Theatre in Brooklyn. The festival was hosted by Whitewave, a dance organization headed by Young Soon Kim, a choreographer who has worked for a number of years in the New York community.
According to its’ website, Whitewave strives to create an environment that supports emerging and established artists in the creation of new work. It offers public programming and serves as a resource to New York’s dance community.
With specific regard to The Wave Rising Series, WHITE WAVE’s Artistic Director Young Soon Kim founded the WAVE RISING SERIES in 2006 as a platform for companies who may not have the resources to stage full productions of new dance works. Tightly curated by Ms. Kim and an eight-person panel of prominent dance figures, this is one of the only series of its kind in New York City, offering rising choreographers the opportunity to present their work on a large scale, often for the first time, alongside a group of invited companies from among the most visionary names in contemporary dance. The WAVE RISING SERIES, which started by presenting local companies, now features innovative dance makers from around the world.
The Company was to be presented at Whitewave’s Theatre in DUMBO during October 2012, and a contract was signed that set out the financial arrangements for our appearances at the festival. We were to pay a $400 production fee that covered all necessary expenses, and we were to receive an honorarium from box office takings that would be split between all companies that were presented. The contract stated that MWC was responsible for promoting the show, as well as Whitewave providing marketing and promotional support. To promote our Whitewave appearances, we printed and distributed over 1,000 postcards to dance venues across the city, as well as sending numerous promotional emails to our mailing list and utilizing social media to attract audience.
We were contracted for four performances, including a “preview night.” Whitewave was very excited by this new concept, offering a preview night of all of the artists showing work during the week of our performances. It was later communicated that this preview was actually a benefit for Whitewave, and therefore would not be included in our ticket sales honorarium. Having already spent time promoting this date along with our other shows, I felt as if we had been fooled into performing for free for one performance when patrons of MWC would be attending thinking that their purchases would be helping us financially.
After the festival was finished, as per the contract, we were expecting by the end of November 2012 a box office report stating ticket sales, and a check for our portion of ticket sales.
We have, to this date, not received anything from Young Soon Kim or from Whitewave. Despite numerous attempts at contact - the last threatening legal action - we have still received no response. Realistically, we cannot afford to hire a lawyer, but had hoped that the threat of this would at least provoke a response.
Taking part in the Wave Rising Series cost Matthew Westerby Company approximately $1,600 in dancers performance fees, rehearsal space and postcard printing. As our last show was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy, we left costumes at the theatre - when I returned to collect them, they had been lost and no attempt has been made by Whitewave to replace them.
Matthew Westerby Company, formed in 2009, operates on the generosity of individual supporters and donors, and while every attempt is made to secure grant-funding, as a fledgling dance company working in the highly competitive New York dance scene, survival is top priority. Our 2012 annual fundraiser event raised almost the same amount that taking part in The Wave Rising Series cost us – therefore, 2013 is a year that has begun with us scaling back already-made plans for projects that are now out of reach, and with budget shortfalls that I have inevitably had to be personally responsible for.
I have spent time contacting the institutional funders of Whitewave (NYSCA, the DCA, the Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, the Sheafer Trust and the Brooklyn Arts Council) and of the festivals they present to let them know of our experiences, and although I do not expect that we will ever be compensated as we should have been, I feel that it is my duty as an active member of the New York dance scene to openly talk about these injustices and hope that others will learn from our experience.
I also think that this brings several important questions to mind – as a small dance company, when and for how long are you prepared to offer your art for free? When is it not ok to accept experiences such as these just to “get your work out there”?  In the non-unionized modern dance world, who is out there to protect us when these things happen? And last, who will hold an unscrupulous presenter accountable when emerging artists are knowingly taken for a financial and artistic ride?
UPDATE: On March 14, Young Soon Kim submitted a reply and requested that it be posted on this blog. To read it, click here.

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