This was the year the Los Angeles Festival promised the moon but managed to produce little more than trumped up controversies and meager movement values. This was also the year in which the Japan America Theatre stopped being an important presenter of dance and UCLA continued to renege on its pledge to find a performance space to replace the House, formerly in Santa Monica.
The year brought us a heavy dose of Russian ballet, more than the usual number of dance milestones (many, of them alas, in the obituary column) and a huge increase in dance on home video--with more stores beginning to stock at least a few titles.
Below is a subjective, month-by-month review of dance events in 1987--memorable experiences on one observer's calendar.
January: A new, raw contemporaneity in Bella Lewitzky's "Facets" inspired a new generation of Lewitzky dancers to remarkable heat and urgency at El Camino College. Later in the year, Lewitzky would also create (for the Los Angeles Festival) "Impressions 1," a work highly innovative in its unorthodox technical demands. No choreography ever depended so completely upon how women dancers lifted one another.
February: 1987 brought other brilliant French dancers to local stages (Patrick Dupond with Alvin Ailey's company, Eric Languet with Ballet de France, Laurent Hilaire on the first "Nureyev and Friends" program). However Eric Vu-An's performances with the Bejart company at UCLA (and, later, with Nureyev at Greek Theater) established him as unique. Stellar virtuosity, knockout looks and blazing expressive eloquence: This 23-year-old has it all.
March: The imprisonment of South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, and the passing on of resistance leadership to Winnie Mandela was powerfully depicted by Alvin Ailey and his co-choreographer Mary Barnett in "Survivors" at the Wiltern Theatre. However, the current Ailey company's sensational physical daring emerged at full force only in Ulysses Dove's assaultive sex-war epic (with state-of-the-art dance gymnastics) "Bad Blood."
April: The postwar Japanese dance-theater idiom called butoh yielded a visceral, nonlinear statement about human frailty in the face of cruel, overwhelming natural forces: Akaji Maro's "The Five Rings" at the Wadsworth Theatre. Episodic and grotesque, sometimes deliberately enigmatic and repellent, this unsparing, multidisciplinary spectacle also displayed the awesome (and often acutely disturbing) intensity of Maro's 14-member company, Dai Rakuda Kan.
May: San Francisco Ballet didn't dance in Los Angeles in 1987, but the company's upgraded classical prowess, exciting new recruits and, especially, its triumphant repertory acquisitions this season under artistic director Helgi Tomasson caused a stir throughout the dance world. James Kudelka's stately, grand-scale "Dreams of Harmony" and William Forsythe's hard-edged, satiric "New Sleep" provoked the biggest fuss, but here was a lowly "regional ensemble" out-programming and sometimes out-dancing the big New York companies.
June: As the nation's newest dance company and its oldest, the American Indian Dance Theatre brought a varied, revelatory program to the Beverly Theatre: war dances of the plains, animal dances of the Southwest, sacred rituals and popular competition-dances--all sensitively restaged and vibrantly performed. A permanent theater-dance company presenting a wide range of authentic tribal folklore had never been attempted before, so the event had historic as well as artistic significance.
July: In a year of widespread inactivity and retrenchment on the local dance scene, the survival and, indeed, celebrity of the Jazz Tap Ensemble proved extremely encouraging. Of the original members, only Lynn Dally danced at the Japan America Theatre, but newcomers Terry Brock and Sam Weber each reflected the company's characteristic dedication to rhythm-tap, while adding intriguing glints of show-dance and ballet from their respective backgrounds.
August: Despite Yuri Grigorovich's dubious attempts to improve the original Marius Petipa choreography for "Raymonda," enough remained in the Bolshoi Ballet production to allow company principals to dance free of the modernistic distortions of classicism that have become new-Bolshoi style. At one Music Center performance, Ludmilla Semenyaka and Irek Mukhamedov even went beyond faultless execution and brought a high-Romantic fervor to the ballet that made its all-but-incoherent plot surrender deep mythic implications.
September: Forget the Festival. Clearly the most dazzling dance events of the month were the Joffrey Ballet reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" (at the Music Center) and the Claudio Segovia/Hector Orezzoli revue "Flamenco Puro" (at the Pantages). Coincidentally, each represented a brave reclamation project, restoring something either lost or corrupted beyond recognition. In both cases, you left the theater with a whole new perception of what you'd read about for years.