Danny Grossman is bloodied, but unbowed. His operating grants have been reduced to the point where he has decided to close the Danny Grossman Dance Company, but the choreographer is going out with an ambitious installation-performance show that celebrates his 30 years in the business. "I refuse to be a "poor me'," explains the San Francisco-born, 66-year-old Grossman. "When we saw the writing on the wall, we made the right decision to continue in a new direction."
"We" is Grossman and co-artistic director and former dancer Pam Grundy. The new direction is Danny Grossman Dance, an institute established to preserve and licence the Grossman repertoire and help fund new Grossman works in partnership with independent choreographers, dance companies and training schools.
Adds Grundy: "We didn't want to be another sad story about a choreographer losing a company, so we looked for positive ways to deal with an organization that was coming to the end of its life. We also had to find a special way to say farewell."
The blowout final celebration is defiantly called Vanishing Acts: The Odyssey and Audacity of Danny Grossman & Company, and it takes place at the Fermenting Cellar at the Distillery District May 21-24. Each performance ends with a party.
Under Grundy's guiding hand, designer Cheryl Lalonde has transformed the space into "rooms" that patrons can wander through like a museum before watching excerpts from Grossman's works on two different stages. The eight dancers are some of the best in the city.
Among the exhibits is the Danny Room, which documents Grossman's life and his early dance career with Paul Taylor in New York, and later with Toronto Dance Theatre. "We're dragging down all of Danny's books and records to put in the space," says Grundy with a rueful laugh.
There is also the Alumni Room of former dancers, and the Preservation and Legacy Room of archives and artifacts - costumes, sets and looped videos of interviews and performances. Among the fun items is a Bella Booth, where people can have their picture taken on the famous and much-loved Chagall-inspired horse from the classic 1977 Bella, co-choreographed by Grossman and Judy Jarvis.
Asked to speculate why the company fell out of favour, particularly with the juries of their peers that drive the arts councils, Grossman and Grundy offer several reasons. First, Grossman's heart-on-the-sleeve, social-statement works might seem passé to a younger generation. The company's accumulated deficit (now retired), may also have lost them points in administration. "I remember when dance companies could carry deficits like the government," Grossman says.
As well, some assessors who believe in creation as dance's be-all and end-all might have objected to Grossman's mandate of presenting great works from other choreographers on his programs. In 1988, Grossman expanded his performance mandate to include what he considered classics of Canadian dance with some iconic American choreographers thrown in for good measure.
Works by Toronto's Patricia Beatty, David Earle, Peter Randazzo and Robert Desrosiers, Winnipeg's Rachel Brown and Vancouver's Paula Ross were among the 15 revivals.
A scan through the company's books shows the diminishing operating grants. In the 2000-01 season, Grossman received $158,000 from the Canada Council, $105,000 from the Ontario Arts Council and $94,360 from the Toronto Arts Council. By 2005-06, the respective funding had fallen to $123,000, $30,500 and $90,000.
That year, Grossman and Grundy made a fateful decision. Seeing their operating grants shrink, they applied to the Canada Council to fund the preservation and archiving of eight Grossman works. The plan for the future was set in place. In a precedent-setting move, the council gave the company three years of fixed funding. That income ceases in the 2009-10 season, although Grossman will be eligible for project grants. What the OAC and TAC continue to give Danny Grossman Dance is the wild card.
"Our goal as a company," he says, "had always been to keep the dancers employed long enough that they could have a health plan and qualify for unemployment insurance in the off months. Getting a poor report card from the OAC in my 60s was the end game. Two years ago, we had to start paying the dancers hourly. Rehearsal periods got shorter. We felt we could no longer support a viable company."
Nonetheless, Grossman takes solace from a body of work that has netted him almost every dance award of distinction in the country. In his personal life, he and partner Germain Pierce have been together for 45 years. Grossman continues to be a leader on the humanitarian issues that are the wellspring of his repertoire, whether the humorous gender-bending of Nobody's Business (1981) or the church-centred sexual abuse of Passion Symphony (1998).
Says Grossman: "I'm a survivor because I'm a realist, and I think we're ahead of the curve on preservation. I'm not bitter. I've had a fantastic life."
Vanishing Acts: The Odyssey and Audacity of Danny Grossman & Company runs at the Distillery District's Fermenting Cellar, May 21 to 24 (416-973-4000).
Etching steps in stone
Preservation is a growing trend in dance.
The legacy of visionary Montreal choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault (1947-2002) is a case in point. First, the church he transformed into Espace choréographique in 2001-02, since renamed Edifice Jean-Pierre Perreault, has been saved.
It now is the home of Circuit-Est, a group of Montreal dance companies and choreographers, and the office of Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault, which is creating a new website. Dance companies will be encouraged to perform the works of Perreault, such as the duet presented by Nancy-based Ballet de Lorraine on its recent Canadian tour.
The Fondation, under president and former dancer Marc Boivin, has forged important partnerships. Montreal's Place des Arts will permanently exhibit Perreault's drawings which functioned as his choreographic concept designs.
As well, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa has been given several set components, and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec will house Perreault's drawings, paintings, files and notebooks.