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Surprises and Disappointments : Visual Arts Void Results in Outrage, Indifference

September 30, 1987|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

The absence of visual arts in the Los Angeles Festival has elicited three reactions:

--Outrage over exclusion of a major component of the arts community.

--Indifference to what is essentially somebody else's party.

--Approval, by purists, of separating the relatively inaccessible visual arts from more entertaining performing arts.

I vote with the outraged, but not without ambivalence. Creating a scaled-down sequel to the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival by excising one discipline is like trying to lose weight by cutting off your leg, but it's difficult to feel visually deprived after seeing "The Mahabharata" or the Lyons Opera Ballet's "Cendrillon."

Simultaneously spare and opulent, "The Mahabharata" brought us a knock-out Minimalist battle without a single body (just volleys of sticks) and chariots as single wheels driven by joggers. Yet every few minutes, it seemed, the red clay stage was covered with another gorgeous carpet, quilt or length of fabric like a canvas to be filled with colorfully patterned action.

"Cendrillon," Maguy Marin's bizarre interpretation of Cinderella, presented surreal changes of scale but a unified vision. To this babe in ballet land, the production was a thoroughly captivating tableau including a doll-house set, partly filled with oversize heads, quintessentially ugly sisters whose lumpy bodies, potato faces and starched-moss hair might have been dreamed up by Archimboldo the Marvelous and a towering, baby-blue prince who rode a hobby horse in search of his rag doll of a princess.

In contrast, programs billed as having "a visual element" tended to be disjointed collages. While Ed Emshwiller and Morton Subotnick proved that collaboration need not be competition in their multimedia production, "Hungers," painter David Salle and choreographer Karole Armitage fought a battle of egos. Rudy Perez's visuals were related to his dance but poorly integrated. Of the two festival "exhibitions," only one--John Cage's prints--was art; Piero Tauro's photographs of dancers were documentation. Both had such limited access at the Los Angeles Theater Center that they were barely noticed.

What about next time? Newly appointed director Peter Sellars has predicted a fairer shake for art. Wonderful, but please don't give us a mess of business-as-usual and political-token exhibitions bearing festival labels. The best of this year's performances indicate what is called for: a highly selective, quality conscious, international roster of art we don't see every day in this city.

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