The world class impresario, Beate Gordon died peacefully in her sleep, December 30, 2012. She was 89 years old.
I worked for Beate from 1982 to 1988, at the Asia Society’s Performing Arts department in New York City. Six incredible years that carved my life path. As an impresario, she was schooled in politeness, always putting the artist first and as her assistants we learned the old ways of producing. None of us had degrees in Arts Administration, we learned on the job. There was a stellar team during the 80s that included some powerful, creative women: Paula Lawrence, Karen Haight, Marie Stella, Lisa Chan, Lynn Winters and one amazing guy, Somi Roy. She was like a mother to me, more than a mentor. We never got any work done, because her stories captivated us and distracted us from the tasks at hand. So we stayed late often, working on deadlines for press releases and promotion.
In 1985 our Performing Arts Department won an Obie Award, a Special Citation for sustained achievement presenting performing arts programs from Asia, including that year’s triumphant tour of the spectacular dancing drummers from Korea, Samul-Nori. Beate, or BG as we sometimes called her, was unlike any other cultural leader, and a dying breed. She spoke several languages fluently, was schooled in the proper etiquette of all the countries she traveled and was a fearless leader, championing artists and education about Asian performing arts through visceral experience. Every performance we presented had a pre-performance lecture/demonstration and a tasty tidbit from that culture’s food group.
Audiences loved these presentations. Finding samosa, dumplings or other tidbits was one of my jobs, as her assistant – a job I did with relish, literally. I also had to find scholars and experts to write about the performing arts we were presenting, as BG –knowing that the press community were not well versed in these art forms– insisted that each press release be accompanied by a monograph. So many firsts happened under her tutelage – traditional groups from Asia toured the USA including the first touring group from the People’s Republic of China, the premiere tour of dancers and musicians from the Silk Route (Uzkekistan, Mongolia, etc), Kathakali dance drama from South India, Samul-nori drummers from Korea… And contemporary groups – puppet troupe Kaze-no ko from Japan, butoh master, Kazuo Ohno, and our own US based Eiko and Koma – and more. A list would take up all of the space allotted for this brief highlight of a life well lived.
“Would you be so kind”…was how BG began nearly every request. It was a sure way to get us to do anything that needed to be done. I learned that type of politeness could open doors and motivate action. Beate was like a mother to me, to all of us. She led the crew and we followed happily and diligently, supporting the groups of artists that traveled from all corners of Asia to New York City and around the country.