Dance Company Meets Cash Crisis, Steps Lightly

Through December Chicago’s dance community is not enjoying the happiest of holiday seasons. As MoMing Dance & Arts Center prepares to close its doors forever on December 31, another Chicago dance institution, the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre, is experiencing a cash-flow crisis that prompted the board of directors to temporarily lay off the entire 12-member company and most of the support staff on December 1. Those laid off are not expected to return to the payroll until January 7. The Joseph Holmes company also closed down its school of dance for the same time period, though at least one source familiar with the situation says the school may not reopen. “I think the board acted responsibly,” says board chairman Sam Hines. The JHDT board members reached into their own pockets to give the laid-off employees some funds for the Christmas season, but of course that gesture could not completely repair what one staffer calls a “stressful” situation.

The company’s condition began to deteriorate when a three-week tour of Israel planned for November was canceled because of the crisis in the Middle East, thereby depriving the organization of an estimated $15,000 in touring fees. “We didn’t think it was prudent to do the tour,” says Hines. Then the company received word that a couple of grants it had expected to receive in late 1990 would not come through until early 1991. The combination of setbacks left the company with insufficient funds to meet its payroll.

Founded in 1976, the Holmes company is one of the oldest established dance companies in Chicago. When founder Joseph Holmes died in 1986, company member Randy Duncan was named artistic director. In an effort to expand the troupe’s modern jazz repertoire, Duncan has choreographed many new pieces for the company and commissioned others. Last September he was named choreographer of the year at the annual Ruth Page Awards, the second time he’s won that honor.

The Joseph Holmes troupe is one of only two dance companies in the city (Hubbard Street is the other) that have attempted to keep their dancers on a 52-week contract. It’s a rare arrangement in the dance business, but a luxury that may prove increasingly difficult to sustain. Hines concedes that the funding picture is not especially rosy for the dance world at the moment. “Corporations and foundations are redirecting their money,” he says. And like so many other locally based dance companies, JHDT still suffers from a low profile on its home turf; it averages only a handful of performances each year in and around Chicago proper, relying on touring, mainly between February and April each year, for most of its earned income.

Despite Headline, Critic Rails

When it comes to protecting corporate interests, the Tribune has at least one headline writer who’s a master of the craft. On December 9 entertainment editor Richard Christiansen reviewed Tribune Charities’ annual production of The Nutcracker ballet; he spent the last three of his nine paragraphs railing against the orchestral amplification of the Tchaikovsky music at the Arie Crown Theatre, concluding “It’s hard to make this sweet music sound unbearable, but this cranked-up amplification managed to do that.” But the Tribune’s headline writer took a more moderate tack: “Despite flaws, Nutcracker delights.” The Nutcracker is one of the most lucrative events that Tiribune Charities sponsors; it earned more than $1 million during last year’s Christmas engagement.

MCA Logo Update

Look for a splashier-than-previously-anticipated unveiling of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s new logo, the first such redesign in the museum’s history. MCA executives were planning a low-key introduction last October, but the museum subsequently interested a local foundation in underwriting the cost of creating the new logo, which was designed by Woody Pirtle of Pentagram, a New York-based design firm. The foundation, however, will not officially review the museum’s request until next March, at which time museum officials are fairly confident the grant will come through. If it does, the MCA will concurrently tout the new logo and the largess of the as-yet-unidentified foundation.

New Price Policy Will Cool Some Hot Tix

Customers at the League of Chicago Theatres’ Hot Tix booths soon will discover a more variable pricing policy for day-of-performance discounted tickets. Next Monday the League will introduce a plan that allows theater producers to choose their discounts: the traditional 50 percent off the regular prices, or a lesser discount of $5 or $10 off. One producer who pushed for the new policy is Robert Perkins, whose show Other People’s Money, at the Royal George Theatre, has been doing strong business on the weekends but still falls well short of selling out during the week. Sources also say League marketing honchos want to increase the number of Hot Tix booths; a location on North Michigan Avenue, where tourist and shopper traffic is heavy, has long been a wish of many League member theaters.

Whole Lot of Lobsters

Lobster prices are plummeting due to a huge increase in catches off the coast of New England, and restaurateurs are scrambling to capitalize on the market. Lobster Catchers, a lobster and seafood house at 2048 N. Halsted, opens this week with a 20-ounce boiled lobster and side dishes priced at $9.95. Burhop’s is featuring the $9.95 lobster Thursday through Sunday on the third floor of its giant restaurant at 500 N. LaSalle, and Dan Rosenthal and Cathy Newton are planning to open Rooney’s Original Back Bay Lobster House in early May at 431 N. Dearborn. Rosenthal isn’t saying yet whether he’ll match the $9.95 deal at the other restaurants, but he says prices will be reasonable.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.