An Obvious Stranger

At Queens Latino Festival, Mexican Troupe Unveils a Dance by a New Yorker

Can the project inspire American presenters to book more international troupes? One pioneer in the process, Dance Theater Workshop, spent close to $250,000 last year promoting contemporary dance in countries like Vietnam, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, through its Suitcase Fund.

But other countries' funding sources sometimes lose interest in the new, as Manhasset-born choreographer William Forsythe recently discovered. For almost two decades Forsythe, director of Ballett Frankfurt, has shaped the company into a globally respected powerhouse of contemporary ballet. The Times recently reported that his troupe receives "the equivalent of $5.7 million a year in grants from the city government," and recounted the recent threat to his job when a group of politicians moved to oust the experimental dance maker in favor of a more classical, story-ballet ensemble.

In 1987 Forsythe commissioned Petronio to make a piece in Frankfurt, an experience Petronio remembers as partially "a nightmare," in sharp contrast to his Morelia residency. "I had a lot more people—20 dancers—and less time: three weeks to make a 50-minute piece. [The dancers] were all in love with Billy Forsythe. In those days it was like, 'Why do we have to have Stephen Petronio come and make a dance?' Forsythe hadn't commissioned many choreographers, and he was off at the Paris Opera Ballet. In Mexico, I was treated like a god."

International Gambler: Stephen Petronio
photo: Jesse James
International Gambler: Stephen Petronio

While Frankfurt's push to remove Forsythe has subsided, the threat indicates the tenuousness of international collaboration, and the interwoven nature of politics and art. What did Petronio make of the situation?

"For years Billy had something few people had. I understand that he is not being ousted, so I'm relieved. I love Billy. He's a genius. Leave people who know about art to decide what should be seen in those theaters, not [politicians]. I don't know where the pressure was coming from, but I imagine they wanted a more classical company. 'Get bent!' is what I'd say. Billy is the best thing to happen to Frankfurt since banking."

For performance information, call Queens Theatre in the Park at 718-760-0064 or Lincoln Center Out of Doors at 212-875-5108.

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