Local Art News
Kiyon Gaines doesn’t fit the mold of a ballet dancer. He’s compact and muscular, not long and lean like the stereotypical danseur, the French term for a male dancer. He’s also African American in an art form that is overwhelmingly white.
Much like the American Ballet Theatre’s first-ever African American principal dancer Misty Copeland who was recruited to participate in ballet classes through a Boys and Girls Club program, ballet found Gaines, not the other way around. While studying tap and jazz during his youth near Baltimore, a teacher said he needed more softness and finesse and recommended ballet to help with that.
Looking back, Gaines says, “I wasn’t something I was supposed to do.” But, with tenacity and what became a love for ballet and performing, he did it anyway, in spite of criticism that he didn’t have the right body.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s founding artistic directors Francia Russell and Kent Stowell hired Gaines for their company in 2001, and he was later promoted to soloist. He danced many roles in PNB’s former Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker over the course of his 14 years with the company. His dance career concluded in June, following three surgeries in four years, just before the rollout of a dramatically new Nutcracker. It opens Friday.Pacific Northwest Ballet School faculty member Kiyon Gaines teaching a PNB School 2015 Summer Course class. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Though Gaines retired from performing and misses it very much, he’s found a new role for himself in the field. He’s is giving back to the art form by instructing children and young adults in ballet technique as an instructor at PNB School. He’s also serving as one of four instructors for PNB’s DanceChance program. The program provides ballet training free of charge to promising third grade students from 22 local schools that have a large percentage of students on free/reduced-rate lunches.
A national discussion about diversity in ballet is no surprise, really; if anything, it’s long overdue and something that Seattle has tried to energize at times for many years. If ballet is to thrive, it will have to reach younger, more diverse audiences. As happens in the business world, the introduction of new talent is also likely to produce more successful and inspiring art.
Just a few months ago, Misty Copeland surmounted both racial and economic obstacles in being named ABT’s first black principal dancer. (Principals are a ballet company’s highest-ranking dancers and as such, dance the lead roles in classical ballets.) Copeland’s fame and directness in talking about what her challenges entailed — the need for monetary assistance during her early training and overt racism she encountered while at ABT — has amplified and spread the conversation into mainstream culture.
She recognizes her importance as a role model for young girls of color who are training and working toward ballet careers at major American companies. In her autobiography, Copeland writes that she dedicated her first performance as the lead in Firebird — and the first-ever performance by a black ABT ballerina in that role — to today’s aspiring young ballerinas of color. She writes five times in the prologue, “This is for the little brown girls.“
The discussion about diversity prompted an article in The New York Times last month, “Push for Diversity in Ballet Turns to Training the Next Generation.” The Times focused on New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, the two major ballet companies located in New York, which are now catching up with other professional companies, such as Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, in terms of diversity initiatives. Diversity has been part of ballet’s agenda for over 20 years, at least in some parts of the country and in some major companies outside of New York.
New York Times dance critic Gia Kourlas wrote a month ago, “The two major New York companies have realized that change starts with the schools. If it takes 10 years to make a dancer – and you can’t waste a minute – diversifying ballet must begin with children. Both Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and the School of American Ballet, the training ground for City Ballet, have initiated programs to spot and recruit young minority dancers.”
The realization that change starts with the schools came much earlier to PNB School founding director, Francia Russell, who started its DanceChance program in 1994. One of DanceChance’s goals is to cultivate a diverse company and school.
DanceChance students have the opportunity to audition for PNB’s Nutcracker, just like other PNB School students. This year, 17 DanceChance students and four upper-level students who “graduated” from the program will perform in PNB’s new Balanchine Nutcracker. This production, dubbed a new holiday tradition for Seattle, has sets and costumes created specifically for it by Ian Falconer. It was an undertaking that was four years in the making.
The first DanceChance graduate to join PNB’s company was Eric Hipolito, who recently moved on to another company after seven years. Earlier this year, Angeli Mamon, of Mexican descent, was the first female DanceChance graduate to join the company as an apprentice. Mamon will be performing multiple roles in the new Nutcracker, including that of a mother, a grandmother and the Columbine doll in the first act’s party scene and in the second act, as part of the corp in the Waltz of the Flowers.
DanceChance provided Mamon with more than just dance training. In ballet, she found something she was good at, and her PNB instructors encouraged her to stick with it. “They saw something in me,” she says. She liked the positive attention she received, which propelled her to continue and develop into the young professional dancer she is today.
On a Saturday earlier this month, I watched Gaines teach a class of Level II boys that included DanceChance participants. It’s impossible to tell who’s who, since they all wear the same “uniform,” a white leotard, black tights, and white socks and ballet slippers. As part of studying technique, they’re also learning ballet vocabulary, which is in French. A couple hundred years or so before Tchaikovsky composed the Nutcracker for the Russia’s Imperial Ballet, ballet began in the court of Louis XIV in France. It is most certainly a European tradition that embraced grace and elegance and wasn’t available to the masses. In fact, it was through ballet that perhaps the most famous classical dancer of the last century, Rudolf Nureyev, pulled himself out of poverty in Russia.
From my vantage point as a dance historian, it’s that history of elitism, malignly abetted in this country by racism, that today’s diversity initiatives are attempting to alleviate. In order to move the art form forward into the 21st century, ballet’s leaders are realizing that the aesthetic needs to evolve as well. Ballet is slowly moving toward a new aesthetic that says diversity among the ranks of ballerinas and danseurs is welcome and wanted. Any ballerina can be the next Sugar Plum Fairy as long as she can get her jeté (a leap) high enough into the air and perfectly executed.
Here, in Seattle, we’re lucky to have Kiyon Gaines, who didn’t give up. He’s helping to lead a charge that is opening ballet to talented children of all ethnicities who are eager to learn. In this way, the Land of Sweets is beginning to resemble the real world too.
Substitute KPLU with the name of an uncle or a close friend, and Monday’s meeting of the radio station’s community advisory committee would have seemed like a funeral. One after another, KPLU’s staff, community advisors and listeners openly mourned the sale of the NPR station to its bigger sibling KUOW.
The anguish in the room was the result of an awkward and, for many, unfortunate reality: the public radio station that offers a day-to-day backdrop for dedicated listeners hangs its license with a university that is obedient to the fiduciary responsibilities that come with being a private institution.
So while many of the station’s donors, who helped build KPLU’s broadcast center at Pacific Lutheran University in 2009, feel the rug has been pulled from beneath them, the sale of the station is likely on its way to approval barring a change of heart from the boards of regents at PLU and the University of Washington. In a last ditch appeal, the community advisory committee will appeal directly to Pacific Lutheran University President Thomas Krise in an attempt to inspire that change.
Combining KUOW and KPLU has been on the table for nearly twenty years. In 1998, KUOW made a formal pitch to KPLU to unite under the Puget Sound Public Radio umbrella, largely in an effort to consolidate fundraising. But PLU rejected the deal for reasons that mimic the concerns voiced at Monday’s meeting — that KPLU “might be dominated by UW, the larger of the two licensees,” according to a 2000 report from the UW advisory board.
The final spur in recent months, according to PLU’s VP of marketing and communication Donna Gibbs, was a desire to cutback on redundancies in Puget Sound public radio and because the timing was right. PLU was not in trouble, she said, but the value of its radio station was diminishing.
However, according to former member of PLU’s board of regents Larry Neeb, PLU’s enrollment has taken a major hit recently, with 2014 enrollment down significantly from 2011. “It’s absolutely true our enrollment was down by roughly 200 students,” said Neeb from his home in Webster Groves, Missouri. 90 percent of PLU’s operating budget comes from tuition and fees. “It was a crisis because 200 students down meant $5 million in revenue.”
In response to this so-called crisis, PLU established its Strategic Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) in 2012 “to help the institution achieve and maintain the optimum recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of students.” Separately, the university also passed a 2013 resolution that seemed to contradict the sentiment that PLU was experiencing a crisis, pledging to raise faculty salaries, maintain facilities and expand the cash it had on hand.
The happy bubble of the resolution was burst, however, when a 2014 SEMAC report said the goals of the resolution wouldn’t happen without “a substantial amount of additional net revenue above the level the university would normally expect to receive from existing sources.” Things wouldn’t get much better in 2015. Despite a rosy freshman enrollment forecast, the graduation of PLU’s 2015 class meant the university would see a reduction of 100 total students.
Nevertheless, Thomas Krise authorized a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase in salaries and wages for all employees last March, in keeping with the university’s 2013 resolution. But the bump coincided with a reduction of 40 full-time administrative and faculty positions. “These reductions are a necessary step as we continue the work of integrating academic planning and enrollment management with budget planning and revenue allocation to ensure that our expenses are in line with revenue projections,” wrote President Krise in an e-mail to PLU’s staff.
To make things worse for PLU, Standard & Poor’s said in a September press release that the university is on the verge of defaulting on a $54 million outstanding bond. Combined with the decreased enrollment, S&P downgraded PLU’s credit standing.
Gibbs said in an e-mail Tuesday, “This proposed sale has nothing to do with PLU finances,” but that it was a “strategic decision.” She elaborated, saying, “Among the eight largest independent colleges in the state of Washington, PLU has the second lowest total debt outstanding, and the lowest debt per student….Fall 2016 undergraduate inquiries, applications, admits — and declines — are at five-year highs, continuing trends from last year, including our highest graduate enrollment in the history of the institution.”
With regards to her comment that this was a strategic decision, one can understand this strategy from a national perspective. The Washington Post recently reported on the declining number of NPR listeners across the country. More worrisome still, young listeners are nosediving their way off of the FM dial.
This is not the case for KPLU, however. The station’s fundraising drives have been immensely successful lately, and listenership is at an all time high according to KPLU’s manager Joey Cohn, hitting 438,000 just last week. The average three years ago was 350,000.
But it was also difficult not to notice that, with the exception of KPLU staff and media covering the meeting, those who had come out to the advisory committee meeting to support the station were older. This could have been the timing of the meeting – middle of the day Monday – but the detail was there nonetheless.
KPLU’s community advisory committee meets on a quarterly basis. Its existence is a requirement of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which contributes to KPLU. The body usually meets in a small room at the Westin, speaking only to one another. Monday, though, was closer to the meetings at City Hall. After calls to the public to attend, it was moved upstairs to a conference room that seemed well suited for keynote speakers and business conventions. It quickly filled with nearly 300 people.
Lynn Johanson of Ballard came downtown for the meeting because she was “ticked off enough to ride a bus.” She’s a painter who likes listening to KPLU for its jazz programming, interspersed with the NPR newsbreaks. She’s been listening since the 80s and donating since the 90s, even if only $25 here and there. She, like many at the meeting, described KPLU as family. Although her jazz will stay on 88.5, she doesn’t think it will last. “They’re so disingenuous,” she said of the universities who cut the sale. “I don’t trust them.”
The committee’s role is usually to talk about what sort of content they’d like to hear. On Monday, it served a bigger purpose. Of the maybe 15 members present, they all voted in opposition to the sale, giving member Stephen Tan the authority to draft a letter to Krise appealing the sale.
The body is only advisory and Tan acknowledged that its scope is limited to urgings. He also noted that, while he and other committee members would have preferred they be consulted before the sale, the university had no obligation to do so. As Crosscut has previously reported, although KPLU staff would have liked the opportunity to buy its own independence, the university wasn’t required to consider competing offers.
It’s an awkward thing that KPLU, an affiliate of a national news organization that has public in its very title, is perhaps not as public as some thought. As Tan pointed out numerous times, KPLU does not have a governing body independent of PLU. “It was in the back of my mind that the station ought to have its own governing body,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it does not and I think it’s one of the reasons we’re here today.”
This same awkwardness is reflected in the frustrations of donors, some of whom gave earlier this fall. Johanson believed her donations over the years meant KPLU’s staff were her employees to some extent.
Another item that has come up is PLU’s 2009 construction of its Martin Neeb Center, the $5.9 million building that houses KPLU’s Tacoma station. Gibbs told Crosscut last week that in addition to adding to the university’s endowments, the sale of KPLU would allow PLU to use the full of its Neeb Center for students. The space for KPLU within that building is listed as a donation from PLU.
But many who helped fund the Neeb Center, including Larry Neeb, believed their donations were meant for the station, not the university itself. When the university’s plans to build a new building stalled out as the great recession hit, it launched a capital campaign to fund its completion. In newsletters and newspaper articles at the time, the new building was pitched as the new, state of the art home to KPLU. Martin Neeb, for whom the building is named, was KPLU’s manager for 25 years.
Debora Johnson, an employee of the City of Kelso, Washington, doesn’t remember how much she gave, but knows it was enough to get a plaque. “I don’t want to sound like I did more than others, but for me it was a lot,” she said over the phone. “I was not donating to the school, I was donating to the radio station.” When she heard the station was being sold, she was shocked. “I thought of asking them to refund my money.”
For however much Johnson gave, it certainly did not match Larry Neeb’s $1 million donation to complete the building. He’s a devout Lutheran and served on PLU’s board of regents off and on for 16 years. He watched as KPLU took on its identity as the home to jazz and news. “We had a campaign that was really not going to make it,” he said of the new building. “I didn’t see the financials. I just knew it wasn’t going to make it.” And so, Larry Neeb drew $1 million from his considerable wealth to complete the station, dedicating it to his brother Martin.
Unlike Johnson, Neeb loves the university. He stays in touch with the people who run it and cares deeply about its future. Neeb gave the $1 million primarily for the radio station, but when Krise approached him shortly before the announcement of the station’s sale, telling him KPLU would no longer live in the Neeb Center, Neeb – after some amount of deliberation — gave the PLU president his blessing. Asked if it angered him that his money was going towards a different purpose than he initially intended, Neeb said, “Of course it crossed my mind. But in the end I thought it through. It wasn’t something I would have started, but I will support it.”
When asked why he believed Krise reached out to him, he said, “It was to seek out my opinion and my goodwill. I don’t know what he would’ve done if I’d said no.”
For those hoping to kill the sale, the only hope is a direct appeal to Krise or the FCC, which still needs to approve the deal. While some came to Monday’s meeting with a fighting spirit, others seemed more daunted by the odds. In a tribute to Cohn, news director Erin Hennessy’s voice cracked, calling the station “something to be damn proud of.” The room stood and applauded, but her speech had the feeling of a eulogy.
Former PLU President Loren Anderson politely declined to speak at length on his impressions of the sale. He seemed also to understand that PLU is in a tough spot. “When you leave a position,” he said over the phone, “the people who are in charge need to make the judgment.”
On the phone, it was hard to read exactly how Anderson felt. But as media and higher education remain in flux, he acknowledged that things are changing. “During our time, KPLU was an important part of the university. But this is a different point in their history.”
This story has been updated to add a response from Donna Gibbs not received before publication.
News from Ellen Ziegler Studio : Artist’s book talk at Henry Gallery | Opening at Kirkland Arts Center
Faith leaders from the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions all gathered at Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday, to express solidarity with the less fortunate, and state that the recent backlash against Syrian refugees represents a shirking of responsibility to those in need.
The focus of the two-hour service was the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Christian Gospel. In the story, a man is lying wounded by the side of a particularly dangerous road. Numerous travelers see the man and cross to the other side of the road, too uncomfortable or fearful to help him. Only one person, the Samaritan, is moved by the stranger’s plight and comes to his aid. It’s this Samaritan, according to the parable, who understands the true definition of one’s “neighbor.”
The story was recounted from the church’s pulpit by local Rabbi Ted Falcon. “It’s not often that a Rabbi is asked to comment on a story from the Christian Bible,” he joked, before connecting the story to teachings from other religions.
“This parable is about every society, and it’s about us,” said Falcon. “We must cease dismissing those who need help, just by saying they’re not our neighbor. They are.”
This was Seattle’s 29th Annual Inter-spiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving, and longtime organizer John Hale (a Catholic) said it spoke to a time of increased fear and prejudice in the United States and abroad. Following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by Islamic extremists, as well as the Paris attacks this past January, a spectrum of faith and political leaders spoke out against a fear of Muslims, not to mention outright prejudice, violence, and attacks on mosques.
After the November 13 attacks on Paris, intolerance and fear against Muslims is again on the rise, but such calls for unity and understanding have become less common. Instead, the majority of Americans are now against allowing any refugees fleeing violence in Syria into the country, for fear that some may be violent extremists. Locally, State Rep. Jay Rodne, a Republican from Snoqualmie, has called Islam “barbarian medievalism.” There’s been little push-back on Rodne’s comments from state Republicans.
From the pulpit Sunday, speaker after speaker spoke out directly against this mindset, stating that the refugees in need – who includes many orphans and the elderly – are in fact our neighbors.
“Right now, there are issues and people which want to polarize our community, and pull us apart as people,” said Hale. He called the event an attempt to “build momentum for right action.”
The event’s most moving moment was a speech by Imam Baazi from the Islamic Center of Federal Way. Baazi related current events to a story from the Quran, in which everyone was turning against the Muslims and telling them that “your God has forsaken you, and does not love you.” During his remarks, Baazi broke into tears, causing many others in the audience to do the same. He ended by calling on people to “not repel the orphans, but shelter them, hug them, give them a kind word.”
In a focus on the local, the event also included the collection and blessing of hundreds of handknit scarves and hats, which would later be given to the homeless. This was part of a yearly program, Warm for Winter, organized by local Muslim woman Janice Tuft.
Following the event, we asked participants in the interfaith service for their thoughts on recent events. All comments are abridged for length and clarity.
Imam Jamal Rahman, Interfaith Community Sanctuary
Islamic mystics say, when dealing with someone who’s an antagonist, do what is right. Protect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be abused. But there’s a verse in the Quran that says God has deliberately created diversity so you might come to know the other on a human level. So that is our real work.
The fear is understandable. But how can we, as activists, as good people, create the environment where people with different levels of fear and understanding connect on a human level? For example, when 9/11 happened, I knew of some Christian evangelicals who, if you mentioned Islam, would break out into an allergic hive. So I got to get to know them on a human level. It took a long time, because they thought I had a secret agenda. It takes humility, patience, sincerity, and persistence. And I, as a progressive Muslim, had to overcome the stereotyping I had of evangelical Christians. I lumped them all together. But we got to know each other.
Sure, we can fear the Muslims. Some can be terrorists, but the majority of these refugees are people who are suffering, and we are casting aspersions and creating suspicions based on the actions of a few people. These are not the values of Jesus, peace be upon him.
Rev. Staci Imes, Woodland Park Presbyterian Church
I think the story of the Good Samaritan is a great one to think about right now, because it’s about mercy and common humanity. A lot of what’s happening in the backlash to Syrian refugees really, whether we want to acknowledge it, prays on racism and Islamophobia. We’re making a lot of assumptions about what someone being Muslim means.
I hope people begin to go beyond the surface. That’s the invitation that both our secular and our sacred holidays offer us every year. Yes, we can say, ‘Peace and goodwill to all.’ We can say it’s time to ‘give thanks.’ But we can also stop and think more deeply about what that means. In what ways do I look away from helping someone when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable? In what ways am I already sharing, and in what ways can I do a bit more?
Janice Tufte, organizer of Warm for Winter
If you’re a Muslim who’s old enough to remember the period after 9/11, you remember the fear, and how you’re always asked to justify yourself and explain yourself and be apologetic for being Muslim. Even if you’re outspoken that this is wrong, you don’t have a voice. Those that are older are kind of tired of this. I have fear too. To those that are scared of Muslims, I’d say we know where you’re coming from. We’re fearful in our community too. These refugees, they’re the ones who are running from the violent extremists.
Now we get targeted. Just this week, four women I know have had people say something bad to them because they’re wearing a headscarf. One woman, she works at a well-known hotel in Pioneer Square. Some customers came in, and she was telling them this is a nice neighborhood, good restaurants, but watch yourself, because there’s quite a few transients in the area, and they may be assertive panhandlers.
The woman looks at her and says, “Transients? Is that what they call Syrians today?” She was so taken aback. She was wearing a headscarf. So she said, “I don’t know what to say about that. Are you saying that because I’m a Muslim?” The woman responds, “You are not a patriot, and you need to wake up to what you’re doing to your country.” I mean, what are you supposed to do in response to all this?
Rev. Margaret Spearmon, First African Methodist Episcopal Church
The story of the Good Samaritan is all about the question: “Who is your neighbor?” How do you extend love not just to those we’re familiar with, but those we don’t know? That’s the essence of this. Your neighbor could be anyone. There are no barriers. We move out of the spaces that are comfortable for us and we reach out.
Because you can be paralyzed by fear. It’s what you see on TV. You can end up becoming afraid of other people and staying in the house if you let fear tell you how to live. And for me, I don’t want to be contained. I want to embrace freedom.
John Hale, longtime event organizer
These issues aren’t easy, but they need to be discussed and addressed. With regard to this Syrian immigrant issue, fear makes ugliness keep cropping up in people’s demeanors and intentions. What it does is mask the deeper questions. When you look at those who are immigrants fleeing oppression, they haven’t been waiting for an opening to get into the U.S. or Germany or wherever. They’re trying to get safe. My church believes in social justice.
For those that are afraid of them, I say bring your issues forward, go to a gathering where you’ll be honored, respond to an invitation to tell your truth. But also hear the truth of others on a particular issue. It’s my experience that when we do that, we move from issues to relationships, and relationships create trust.
Imam Baazi, Islamic Center of Federal Way
It can seem like the whole world is aflame, in pitch black darkness. What has happened to humanity itself? How have we gone to such violence, where innocent people are being targeted? It was very painful to see that (Paris attack), because no religion – Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity – promotes such a thing.
The saddest part is that people are using the name of the religion to promote this violence. Our political leaders unfortunately aren’t standing up and addressing these issues. The media is taking one side.
For those afraid of Syrian refugees, I would ask, with all love and kindness, how can we turn away an orphan kid who just lost his mother and his father, seen such atrocity, and he is begging and raising his hand? I would ask, if you were in his shoes, would you want someone to turn you away, to look down on you?
May God bless our Governor (Jay Inslee) and strengthen him for his support of Syrian refugees. This was very inspiring not just for us, but for people in Syria as well. It told them people who are not related to them still care for them, and are opening their arms and saying “We welcome you.” This is what brings back peace. Not shunning away people who are deprived or homeless. If you uplift people and give them a hand, the same person who may have become evil one day will instead become a great leader.