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Bella Lewitzky And Friends Go Networking

October 20, 1985|LEWIS SEGAL

With a $30,000 start-up grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Bella Lewitzky's Dance Gallery in Los Angeles and the City Center Theatre in New York have launched a major dance presentation network embracing 10 states and six countries.

The network is intended to widen touring opportunities for dance companies though block booking guarantees and the establishment of an international performing circuit. In California, the circuit includes such facilities as Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley, the Main Theatre at UC Davis, the Civic Theatre in San Diego, the Memorial Auditorium at Stanford and the Dance Gallery (scheduled to open in June, 1987) in Los Angeles.

According to Darleen Neel, executive director for the Dance Gallery, plans for the network began early in 1983 and developed through the gallery's experiences with producing the dance component of the Olympic Arts Festival the following year.

As in the festival, no particular form of dance has been targeted for emphasis, though Neel speaks longingly of "discovering a new Amaya" (a reference to the legendary flamenco star Carmen Amaya, who died in 1963).

This month, network representatives Neel, Lewitzky, Suzanne Townsend (San Diego Arts Foundation) and Margaret Wood (City Center Theatre) have been scouting dance performances and meeting with ministers of culture in Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam and London to plan the network's first (1986-87) season.

In addition, the Dance Gallery has scheduled a Franco-Californian exchange with the Maison de la Danse, Lyon, for 1987 and '88. Guy Darmet, a major French dance presenter, has already visited California and will return in the spring to select companies for a fall '87 season at the Maison. In turn, Lewitzky and Neel are viewing French companies this month for possible presentation at the gallery in 1988.

SAFETY AND SANKAIJUKU: In a report on the death of dancer Yoshiyuki Takada, who fell 80 feet when a rope broke during a Sept. 10 performance in Seattle of Sankaijuku's celebrated "hanging dance," The Times reprinted a comment made by a member of Circus Oz that Sankaijuku's hemp rigging had been unsafe when the company descended from the roof of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1984.

Bill Anderson disagrees. He devised the rigging for that Music Center/Olympic Arts Festival "hanging dance" and contends that the working load of the rope and the safety procedures of both his crew and the Sankaijuku members ensured a risk-free performance here. "It was done safely," he insists.

Though the Pavilion was the highest building on which Sankaijuku had attempted its "hanging dance," Anderson found the flat roof the greatest problem to rigging the performance--"there was no place to guy-wire back."

"They came to me with a bunch of pictures of what they had done," he remembers, "and I was given about a week to prepare for it." In the end, flymen ("big guys who work with rope all the time," Anderson says) lowered each dancer by hand, braced against wooden units that were sunk into wells in the roof--and coordinated from the ground by walkie-talkie.

A stage carpenter, rigger, propman and electrician for the past 15 years, Anderson explains that he used unspliced 150-foot lengths of new 5/8-inch hemp (designed to safely hold between 560 and 600 pounds) for each Sankaijuku line. Because new hemp often has a twist to it that could have caused the dancers to spin in the air and black out, Anderson put weights on each line and let the twists unwind.

Anderson also installed Teflon at the edge of the roof to minimize friction, and supervised the testing of all four ropes. Moreover, he says the performers inspected their own lines before each descent. "I offered to go down myself, but they said no," he recalls.

In contrast, the Seattle crew reportedly used second-hand 5/8-inch hemp and a spokesman for Sankaijuku said that only one of the four lines was tested beforehand. Robert Fitzpatrick--director of the Olympic Arts Festival and Sankaijuku's booking agent--said recently that he has learned that mountaineers, not theatrical riggers, had been hired for the Seattle crew. He also stated his belief that there had been "no malice or conscious negligence on anyone's part" in the incident.

Seattle police have listed Takada's death as an accident but an investigation by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry is attempting to determine exactly how and why it occurred. According to Dan Hodel, assistant director of the department, a preliminary field investigation has established three points: "The scaffold was not up to standards; the rope was not the proper diameter; the rope was damaged--not in perfect condition."

Meanwhile, locally based choreographer Rudy Perez is readying a work choreographed in Takada's memory: "Where Angels Coast" (music by Carl Byron), to be premiered Oct. 31 at Dance Theater Workshop in New York.

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