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Change Partners

Polish up your résumés. Once again, the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs has an opening for a new artistic director.

The museum’s board of directors fired artistic director Jacques Burgering after a special meeting on Aug. 20. He was told that his last day would be Aug. 22. Burgering was serving as the fifth director since the museum opened in 1986. He said his firing was due to “a conflict of vision between the board and myself. We had a different vision about where the museum is going.”

A former member of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company and a dance historian, Burgering began as artistic director in May 2002. He said, “I envisioned a five-year timetable to create a national museum in reality, not only in name.”

His plan depended on building interest in the museum from the ground up, offering weekly classes, workshops, and Sunday-afternoon family dance days with local and regional instructors. He also organized showcases of new work by regional choreographers.

Also, Burgering said, “I spent time trying to fight the prejudice that the museum was elite and only for ballet.” He named 2003 the Year of Tap at the museum and organized a series of events including the current residency and performance by New York City-based tap artist Wendy Levine. He curated the current exhibition, Child Performers in Tap: 1900-1950, inviting local residents to contribute their tap memories and activities to the show.

He also cowrote the recently awarded $16,000 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to mount a new exhibition in spring 2004 on the history of the New Dance Group, a New York City collective that began during the Depression to teach dance to ordinary people and perform works on socially charged ideas, including racism and homelessness.

Burgering said, “I don’t know if some events will be canceled. I’ve spoken to Norton Owen [dance archivist at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Mass.] and he will curate the New Dance Group show.”

While Burgering built credibility on a local and regional base, board president Sarah Jeffords Radcliffe appointed a committee to seek museum memberships nationwide. She also created a steering committee to develop a mission statement for the nonprofit museum. Both committees are headed by Saratoga Springs residents Garrett Smith, Rolfe Lawson, and Judi Stephenson.

Members of the board and the steering committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Smith was Radcliffe’s choice for interim director of the museum, but the board has not yet published notice of Burgering’s firing or Smith’s appointment. In a phone interview Aug. 28, Smith said, “Your call is a little premature. I have no title. At this point, I’m a volunteer.”

Asked how the board’s vision for the museum differed from Burgering’s, Smith said, “You’d have to take that up with the board. I’m not privy to that.”

However, he said, “I don’t see that the direction of the museum is going to change. We’re looking to put in place an educational program, to interest more people in coming into the museum, and to emphasize inclusivity in forms of dance and region and diversity of membership. We also want to build our volunteer base.”

The next director may find that current volunteers are reluctant to continue after the summary firing of Burgering. One volunteer, Judith Fiore, a retired teacher and active amateur dancer, said, “I was totally shocked to hear Jacques was fired. From my perspective, he was doing a wonderful job. The studios (behind the museum) are active as they never were before. To me, the fact that he was a dancer gave credibility to the museum and its activities.”

Burgering is not the only museum director to be fired or forced to resign. Others were its first director, Alison Moore, who served from 1986 to 1989, and Toni Smith, its third director, who held the job from 1997 to 1999. Burgering took over from interim artistic director Siobhan Dunham, who resigned in 2001.

A citizen of the Netherlands, Burgering and his family recently bought a house in Cambridge. His wife, Maryse Jacobs, a dancer and choreographer, is teaching modern dance at Hubbard Hall.

Burgering said he was given two months’ severance pay, which he said, was “gentlemanlike.” He intends to remain in the Saratoga Springs area, and perhaps to help organize a citywide arts fest planned for June 2004.

—Mae G. Banner

The next Coen brothers? Stephen and Jim (l-r) Jermanok

Passion Pays Off

Schenectady-born Jim Jermanok had a lucrative career as a Hollywood agent with ICM, the largest talent management company in the world. So when he chucked it all to work on the filmmaking side of the business, the shocked reaction of his peers was not surprising. Jermanok had represented some big-name clients—Alan Arkin, Burt Lancaster and Henry Winkler among them—and knew that going over to the filmmaking side of the business meant starting over from scratch.

“When I quit ICM,” Jermanok laughs, “people thought I was crazy.”

After the usual years of struggle familiar to anyone who has tried to get a film project off the ground, Jermanok has the last laugh. Passionada, the new film he cowrote with his brother Stephen (and which he also coexecutive-produced) has been getting rave reviews from the likes of critics Mick LaSalle, Kevin Thomas and the big thumb himself, Roger Ebert. Passionada opens tomorrow (Friday) at the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany.

Passionada is the story of a reserved widow, played by Celia Amonte (from the CBS program CSI: Miami), who is pursued by a charming gambler played by Jason Isaacs (the villainous Brit who tormented Mel Gibson in The Patriot). A romantic comedy with the accent on romance, Passionada is set in the Portuguese community of New Bedford, Mass. The film makes Portuguese culture—in particular Fado, a kind of blues music—an integral part of the story. In fact, Jermanok says this is the first American film to highlight this unique culture. Stephen Jermanok is a respected travel writer with a number of books on New England to his credit; as Ebert pointed out in his review, the brothers’ “freelance writing credits sound like homework for this story.”

The brothers Jermanok grew up in Schenectady, and Jim credits their parents for inspiring a mutual interest in the arts. (Their late mother, Beverly, was a guidance counselor in the Albany city schools for 35 years, and their father, Julius, was a manager at General Electric for 40 years.) Jermanok originally went off to California with the idea of being an actor and stand-up comic; not wanting to face the failure that greets most performers in Tinstletown, he decided to try the business side of show biz. Despite his six-figure-salary success as an agent, Jermanok couldn’t resist the artistic urge.

“I just wasn’t happy,” he remembers. With his insider’s view of the filmmaking process, Jermanok came to the conclusion that the creative side was worth a try: “I thought, ‘if they can do this, I can do this.’ ”

The brothers plan to direct as well as write their next project, Happy Anniversary. It’s the story, Jermanok explains, “of a shrink who’s a relationship guru. He’s an expert on all relationships except his own.”

Right now, however, Jermanok is busy promoting Passionada—a tour that will bring him back home to the Capital Region. The brothers Jermanok will be at the Spectrum 8 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave., Albany) tomorrow night (Friday, Sept. 5) to introduce the 6:30 PM screening of the film, and conduct a Q & A session directly afterwards.

—Shawn Stone

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
After completing the extensive interior renovations of Phase One—2,700 new seats, a new paint job, carpeting and wall fabrics—Phase Two of the renovation of the Palace Theatre recently began with the removal of the old marquee. The idea is to replicate—somehow, with modern high-tech electronics—the original 1930s marquee, when the theater was the RKO Palace and showed swell RKO movies like King Kong. No word yet, however, on the new name; while “palace” will remain as part of the name, there have been discussions about selling the naming rights: Coca-Cola Palace Theatre, anyone?

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