Marion Scott is sitting in her Westwood penthouse apartment talking about a fire that broke out the previous night in her husband's aluminum tubing factory in New Jersey. Two men have been killed, and, Scott says, "he's lost everything."
Still she will not fly home to console him. She is giving an interview instead, testing the strength of a new, independent life in which, like the emblematic phoenix, she is a resurrected performer--at 63, making one last bid for recognition as an artist.
Along with the coming of the Joffrey and anticipation of the Bella Lewitzky Dance Gallery next year, Scott is, in a grass-roots fashion, adding verve to the city's dance life.
A choreographer with the UCLA Dance Company and a teacher in the dance department since 1969, she is emerging from the glades of academe into high-visibility performance. And she's doing it with a vengeance, after being forced to abandon dancing 18 years ago following hip replacement surgery. Only last year did Scott finally return to the stage in a series of performances put on by Visions InterArts, her newly formed production company.
Having bent her life in a relentless pursuit of her art, Scott has battled physical handicap and abandoned family life in the name of dance. "Now she wants to fulfill the dreams she's put on hold," says choreographer and friend Emilie Conrad Da'oud.
"I'm burned out at teaching," Scott says. Furthermore, in the academic world, she says, "The critics don't take your work seriously. If you're working with students you're in a category that's not, quote, professional. I consider myself a professional and always have. I felt I've done the best work I ever did (at UCLA). But I never really felt accepted as a professional choreographer within the dance community in Los Angeles. So I've gone into producing to produce myself and others."
Sitting on the carpet rather than on the sofa, Scott is stark and intense. She wears no make-up and her long hair is raked back in a knot on her head. Her favorite color is lavender and she is dressed in a lavender jump suit and lavender jade earrings, shaped like teardrops, that bob distressfully as she talks. At times she closes her eyes as if in a meditative trance. She is self-absorbed and admits having little sense of humor. "I think I can be a bit of a drag because I'm so serious."
Indeed, her austere, esoteric dances derive from a somber mysticism and angst . Comments costume designer and dance world observer Malcolm McCormick, a friend of nearly 30 years: "Marion's depressions are more serious than those of most modern dancers. . . . She's frail and open to anxiety and psychological pain."
In an early work, "Undercurrents," Scott created a dance around the interlocking circles of creative and negative energy. "This is the theme of my life," she says. "I have a lot of darkness in me. The darkness outweighs the light. I'm happy and light when I'm dancing, teaching and choreographing. That's when I come to life, and I'm a whole other person."
Scott began dancing at age 5 when she joined a dance class in a Chicago hotel her father was managing. Along with her twin sister, Scott was raised in her father's hotels, where her strongest memories were of being "always carefully observed" and having "to be well-behaved." But the first time she improvised dance, she recalls, "I felt beautiful. I felt that was everything I wanted to be."
At 18, Scott studied with Martha Graham, but when she was not taken into her company after two years, she rushed on to Doris Humphrey, where she became a dancer and teacher. She later danced with the Helen Tamiris-Daniel Nagrin Dance Company and headed her own small extemporaneous group in New York for 20 years.
As an adolescent she discarded her family name of Goldberg as "very unaesthetic," and chose Scott , "short and to the point" as a professional name. "I knew I was going to be the world's greatest dancer," says Scott, lifting a wagging finger. " The greatest."
Only fate intervened. One day when she began rehearsal in her New York studio her hip locked with osteoarthritis and until last year she did not dance again. "It was like my life suddenly came to an end," she says.
During the long interim she worked at UCLA. "I learned to choreograph with my body and to grunt and groan," she says. Working with a Rolfer massage therapist since 1979, she has achieved a suppleness that has allowed her to move freely again. "It's really been step by step back to where I am now," she says, placing a small ceramic turtle on the coffee table to illustrate her point. "It hides, but it keeps going inch by inch and slowly it can still get there."
On June 26, Visions will present the opening night of the Dance Kaleidoscope series at the John Anson Ford Theatre, with an all-woman lineup of choreography, film and performance art, including work by Rachel Rosenthal, Emilie Conrad-Da'oud and Christyne Lawson.