Whose Dance Is It, Anyway?

Relations between the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre and its former artistic director Randy Duncan have badly deteriorated since Duncan resigned from the financially strapped organization last August. At issue, it appears, is control of the numerous dances Duncan created while at the helm of the company from 1986 to 1993. Shortly after he left, the company’s board of directors informed Duncan that it was proceeding under the assumption that it controls the nine pieces he choreographed while employed there. “I don’t wish to comment, but we own those dances,” insisted board president Frank Uvena earlier this week. But Duncan sees things differently. Last September on advice of counsel he sent Uvena a letter threatening legal action if the company attempted to present his choreography before signing an agreement covering royalties, program billing, and quality control.

Though the question of who owns choreography has never been tried in court, a situation similar to Duncan’s did arise a couple of years ago, when Gerald Arpino, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, briefly removed his choreography from the Joffrey’s repertoire during a rift with the board of directors; that dispute was settled out of court. Thus far Duncan’s former employer hasn’t tested Duncan’s resolve by performing any of his works. Last fall the company dusted off several of founder Joseph Holmes’s works for performances at the Dance Center of Columbia College, and next May during the Spring Festival of Dance it will present three new pieces by company members Arturo Alvarez, Keith Elliott, and Torya Beard as well as works by Holmes and Bill T. Jones.

Meanwhile Duncan, who is now an independent contractor under the management of former Joseph Holmes associate artistic director Harriet Ross, is off to New York City next month for the Joffrey’s world premiere of his new dance A Trifling. It will be performed during the Joffrey’s April engagement at Lincoln Center, the first Manhattan performances for the troupe since it fell victim to administrative upheaval and financial setbacks several years ago.

Chicago Filmletter Changes Hands

Last month two Illinois Film Office staffers purchased the Chicago Filmletter, a three-year-old monthly newsletter about the local film business, from its founder and former publisher and editor, Alyce Barry. Though it was never a particularly high-profile or profitable publication (the new owners say it is “marginally” profitable with a $25 annual subscription fee and 700 paid subscribers), the Filmletter is nonetheless recognized by folks in the local industry as an important source of information and insight into a constantly growing business. Charles Geocaris of the Chicago Film Office calls it “a nice newsletter with infor-mation that is on target.” Says Steve Jones, who produced John McNaughton’s Mad Dog and Glory, “It [keeps] people aware that there is a film industry here in Chicago.”

Barry put the newsletter up for sale last summer because, she said, she no longer could devote the time to the publication–which grew from 4 to 12 pages under her management–that it deserved. Rich Moskal and Al Cohn, who together amassed about 20 years in the Illinois Film Office, bought it because “we wanted to keep a good thing alive,” says Cohn. “They have great contacts in the business,” adds Barry, “and they should be able to publish a lot of fun stuff about what’s happening on film sets.” They’ll publish their first issue in March.

Barry’s last issue, in September, stands as a good example of what she tried to do with the publication. The front page is devoted to listings of film-related job opportunities–notices for everything from a key grip, gaffer, and sound man for a low-budget independent feature film to extras for John Hughes’s latest feature, Baby’s Day Out. Inside is a day-by-day calendar of film-oriented events, listings of local film classes, and detailed news about film and television projects currently being shot in the city and those in the pipeline. As the newsletter grew over the years, Barry began including lengthier feature pieces on films shot in the area and local industry insiders; in her last issue she delved into the shooting of The Fugitive, the second-highest-grossing motion picture of 1993.

Moskal and Cohn say they liked Barry’s editorial mix but want to add more humor and devote more attention to independent feature filmmakers, who, they maintain, often turn into the major industry talents of tomorrow. Cohn, for instance, remembers when John Hughes first contacted the Illinois Film Office years ago looking for assistance on a project called The Breakfast Club: “I didn’t know him from Adam.”

Illinois’ Banner Year in Film

As the Chicago Filmletter gears up under new owners, the Illinois and Chicago film offices have announced a record year: visiting film and TV companies spent $115 million here in 1993. Film production alone created 16,500 temporary jobs. Last year marks the first time film and TV production expenditures have exceeded $100 million since the Illinois Film Office opened in 1975. The figure is also a 35 percent increase over 1992’s total of $85 million, even though the number of productions filmed in the state increased by only two from 1992, from 25 to 27. But among them were two lucrative hour-long television series–Paramount Television’s The Untouchables and Cannell Films Ltd.’s Missing Persons–and The Fugitive, directed by Chicagoan Andy Davis. From the national perspective, Illinois still lags behind New York (New York City being a major soap opera production center) and of course California, but it’s holding its own against highly competitive and popular locales such as North Carolina and Texas. Charles Geocaris says it is often hard to compare figures from different states because some inflate their figures to account for pass-along economic impact, while Illinois releases only direct-expenditure totals.

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

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