France has long been considered a haven for youthful struggling artists. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, young American dancers including Trisha Brown and Carolyn Carlson helped shape the French dance scene as they escaped their desperate working conditions at home to benefit from this country's state-funded El Dorado. All that is about to change, however, as the Chirac government works to drastically cut the funding it pumps into the pockets of les intermittents and les precaires, the entertainment industry's itinerant performers and casual workers.
Show-business activity came to a grinding halt on the morning of June 27, when the government announced a drastic and highly unexpected reduction in the unique unemployment benefits formerly enjoyed by French entertainment personnel.
The announcement couldn't have come at a more precarious time. The French population was still reeling after a monthlong transportation and school strike that was provoked by an unpopular reform of the state's retirement plan in late spring. When it was announced that performing-arts workers would also have to swallow a full 30 percent decrease in their otherwise paid downtime, emotions flared.
Although the festival season was revving up, the dozens of theater, dance, music, and street festivals that otherwise dot the French summer horizon disappeared as performers and technicians launched a nationwide strike in a widely supported reaction to the budget cuts. Rather than discovering the latest in choreographic, theatrical, and musical talents, the eager public was confronted with closed theaters, picket lines, and massive demonstrations.
For the dance community, the proposed cuts, if implemented, would have a particularly brutal impact. Dancers generally tend to work for several companies at varying times, and as such, rely heavily on these benefits to sustain themselves during rehearsal and creation time, as well as during downtime between short-term contracts. The loss of the benefits would be deadly for the youngest and most vulnerable of them all.
It came then as no surprise that the first casualty of the strike was the annual Montpellier Dance Festival, which closed down twenty-four hours after the opening night performance …