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Reconstructing 'Daniel And The Lions'

April 14, 1985|DANIEL CARIAGA

When the Ensemble for Early Music last appeared here (in late 1976), it did so to considerable rejoicing from connoisseurs. Frederick Renz's touring group--founded just two years before, and performing here Renz's adaptation of a medieval French theater-piece, "Roman de Fauvel"--seemed to combine authenticity and scholarship with strong musical sense, considerable accessibility and good showmanship.

Finally, this week, the ensemble returns to Los Angeles. Its single local performance is scheduled Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.

But its vehicle this time is no bawdy, 14th-Century allegory: It is a 12th-Century church play, "Daniel and the Lions," in a reconstruction (by Renz) first mounted on commission from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 1982.

"Since then, we've toured it a lot, but only now to the West Coast," Renz explained the other day from the New York offices of the foundation that supports his Ensemble. "In fact, we're only coming out there for this one performance."

Based on the familiar Old Testament story--and on mentions of Daniel in the gospels of Matthew and Luke--"Daniel" recounts the sumptuous feast of Belshazzar, his overthrow by Darius, the handwriting on the wall and Daniel's escape from the lions. It will be performed here by a 27-member company.

"Our production consists mostly of costumes, though there are some integral props," Renz acknowledges. "Most important, there is a magnificent lion--not unlike the huge dragons one sees at the Chinese New Year--which is really a very large mask."

According to the 44-year old harpsichordist, who has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for another liturgical drama, the intermissionless presentation expands the "raw material" of the 12th-Century manuscript beyond its basic 50-minutes.

"We use a certain amount of dumb-show, and our stage director, Paul Hildebrand, has added, at appropriate places in the play, nontexted action sequences, as at the entrance of Darius. And, because we are a small company, we cannot attempt to look like two opposing armies--so we simply change costumes.

"The presentation lasts about an hour and 10 minutes. We precede it with an instrumental prelude."

FROM MOSCOW--According to Times staffer William J. Eaton, filing from the U.S.S.R.: "Leslie Friedman came away from her modern dance demonstration, which she had put on in her bare feet, with 20 splinters and the warm applause of her Soviet audience.

"The slivers reflected her determination as well as the rough surface of the rehearsal hall, which is in a building dancers have used since before the Revolution of 1917.

"Classical ballet dominates dance in the Soviet Union, and Friedman's decision to appear without the traditional slippers was considered novel by many who watched her. Modern dance, as it is known in the West, is largely unknown here.

"More than 200 people crowded the House of Friendship one evening to watch Friedman.

"She was introduced by Olga V. Lepeshinskaya, a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater in the 1940s, who nodded with approval during the performance.

"This rare appearance by an American artist was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy.

"At a subsequent lecture-demo for students, the San-Francisco based dancer, stripping down to a black body stocking, performed another of her own dances, 'Presto.'

" 'One body, moving through space, and the imagination of the audience,' she said. 'Together we create a dance. And dance, of all the arts, is most like life, because it evaporates the moment we see it.' "

"Friedman is 5 feet 3 inches tall, and she had to stand on tiptoe and stretch to embrace Yegeny Vabukin, the dean of the choreography institute. He praised her dancing and concluded by saying: 'Peace and friendship.' "

MEHTA ADDENDUM: Incidentally, an error published in Zubin Mehta's program biography at the time of the conductor's appearance here with the Israel Philharmonic, last month, should be pointed out.

The biography stated that Mehta "served as music director of the Montreal Symphony for the seven years prior to his appointment with the Los Angeles Philharmonic" (in 1962). Actually, Mehta served in that capacity from 1960 to 1967, overlapping his Los Angeles duties.

GRANTEES: A number of California dance companies are among the recipients of the 112 grants totalling $5.8 million given by National Endowment for the Arts for the 1985-86 season:

Los Angeles-based companies include the Foundation for the Joffrey Ballet, $275,000; Aman Folk Ensemble, $60,000; Bella Lewitzky Dance Foundation, $55,200, and Lynn Dally Dance Company (Jazz Tap Ensemble), $50,000.

Other California companies include Valerie Huston Dance Theater of Santa Barbara, $14,800; Friends of Olympia Station (Tandy Beal and Company) in Santa Cruz, $11,400; San Francisco Ballet Assn., $150,000; Oberlin Dance Collective of San Francisco, $28,400; Oakland Ballet, $28,400.

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