How did a piece of public dance-art become such a big goddamned deal? It went a little something like this.
I just got off the phone with Susie Purves, the executive director of Spectrum, who says she's had to talk the city of Seattle down about people at Survival Research Labs covering the viaduct with fire, but is deeply surprised at the way this Spectrum/Storefronts thing has gone down, saying Spectrum did its due diligence with Storefronts and the local development organizations and The Miraculous Mandarin was exactly what Spectrum said it would be. (Don't you wish you'd stood in the rain with me to see it the other night? Probably 50 people saw it, and probably eight times that many people are now talking about it.)
Van Diep of Spectrum sent an email clarifying the dance company's position. Shorter version: Spectrum says it did everything it was supposed to do, informed all the people they were supposed to inform, and they don't understand why people are flipping out. The full press release is below the jump.
Corollary: Purves told me a Spectrum staff member was dedicated, during the show, to finding people with children and let them know what was going on so they could take their kids elsewhere if they wanted to. She also said that Mandarin had consumed around one quarter of Spectrum's resources for this year, that they had expected to make no real money from it (free performance, funded by grants, and all that), and are sorely disappointed that they went to all that trouble and expense only to get shut down after the first performance.
And so you don't get the wrong idea: The show involved some sexual grinding (which is what people are exercised about) and a suffocation-murder (which, oddly enough, people aren't exercised about). There was implied nudity but no actual nudity that I could see. And the press release, for your edification and entertainment:
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Spectrum response to Storefronts Seattle official statement on cancellation of Miraculous Mandarin
Spectrum Dance Theater must respond to some inaccuracies in Storefront Seattle’s official statement, posted on its website, about the cancellation of The Miraculous Mandarin performances at Hing Hay Park.
From Storefronts' statement: “And so we asked Spectrum’s leadership specifically about nudity and simulated sex acts, and warned them generally that the rules of the Storefronts Seattle program mandated that presentations be appropriate for a general audience. They assured us that the show would be within the bounds of appropriateness.”
Spectrum Response: Spectrum Dance Theater warned Storefronts Seattle and its stakeholders in the neighborhood that the content was not appropriate for children 13 and under. In fact, this is stated explicitly by the landlord of the Bush Hotel in an editorial published in the International Examiner newspaper, another community stakeholder in the neighborhood.
Storefronts Seattle is managed by Matthew Richter. Mr. Richter was a member of Spectrum’s 2011-2012 season design team as Scenic Designer from September 2011 until April 2012. The concept of presenting the Miraculous Mandarin in a space that evoked a voyeuristic audience experience was conceived before Mr. Richter became Scenic Designer. In fall 2011, he was briefed on all upcoming season performances. In November 2011, he received a DVD of the 2006 version of Miraculous Mandarin performed at the Moore Theater. He was told that the choreography would not change.
In his position as Storefronts program manager, Mr. Richter facilitated the reservation of the Bush Hotel’s old Hanil Garden Restaurant space overlooking Hing Hay Park in March. He has not heeded the material previously provided.
In the months leading up to the performances of Miraculous Mandarin, Spectrum Dance Theater reached out to many important neighborhood stakeholders in the Chinatown-International District — the Public Development Authority (PDA), the Business Improvement Association, the International Examiner, and the Wing Luke Asian Museum, among others. Spectrum reached out to experts who could speak to issues about the neighborhood and performance in public spaces for our post-performance talkbacks. Spectrum and the Wing Luke Museum, arguably the most public institution in the neighborhood, planned co-programming to explore the history of marginalized people in the neighborhood.
Every step of the way, all partners were cautioned about the content of the performance.
The opening night performance took place at 8:40 pm on a Thursday evening in front of an audience of 30-40 people sitting and standing in the rain. Among this audience were staff from the Wing Luke Museum, the director and deputy director of the PDA, prominent members of the arts community, theater critics, local residents, drug dealers, prostitutes, and homeless people. Most passerbys stopped for a few minutes and moved on. The show unfolded over 45 minutes, and afterwards 20 people sat in IDEA Space, a public gallery run by the PDA, for a half-hour to share their response to the Miraculous Mandarin.
At 9:21pm, before the opening night performance concluded, Spectrum staff received an expletive filled email from Mr. Richter that demanded that we vacate the building the next day. The tone can conservatively be described as inflammatory, and accused Spectrum of intentionally misleading and blindsiding him of the content of the performances. This is untrue.
Mr. Richter made the decision to evict Spectrum without any offer to discuss modifications that could be made to keep the presentation in the Bush Hotel.
Spectrum Dance Theater has in good faith informed all parties with a vested interest of the nature of the Miraculous Mandarin. We felt that the setting at Hing Hay Park specifically created an artistic synergy that was appropriate to the content and the type of audience likely to encounter the work. We were explicit about this with the community stakeholders. Spectrum Dance Theater rehearsed in the Bush Hotel for one week leading up to the opening, and performed run-throughs of the entire show that could be viewed at Hing Hay Park for two days before opening.
Spectrum Dance Theater, a nonprofit organization, has lost thousands of dollars on months of envisioning, designing, rehearsing, and community building on this production.
Storefronts Seattle is an important resource and advocate for artists, and has to date achieved its goal of enlivening vacant commercial space with programs and exhibitions.
Spectrum was very appreciative of Storefronts’ support for our presentation of Miraculous Mandarin. We are surprised, saddened anddisappointed at their actions. But we cannot allow Spectrum’s reputation to be tarnished by inaccurate information.