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Dance in '88: Hope, Achievement

January 01, 1989|LEWIS SEGAL

Twyla Tharp disbanded her company. Mark Morris moved to Brussels. The Joffrey Ballet traded away its fall repertory season in Los Angeles. But 1988 was still a year of hope and achievement in dance--especially, for once, on the local scene.

This was the year the Los Angeles City Council at last recognized that support from the private sector just wasn't enough. On Nov. 22, it approved the L.A. Endowment for the Arts, a plan to fund resident artists with up to $20 million in revenues from municipal and private development and from the hotel bed tax. Our dance community is holding its breath. . . .

UCLA continued to ignore its promise to replace the House, a vitally needed studio theater that once flourished in Santa Monica--but High Performance magazine founder Linda Burnham and performance artist Tim Miller finalized arrangements to open their own Santa Monica space early in 1989.

Moreover, Cal State L.A. began assuming the leadership role that UCLA evidently abandoned--not only by sponsoring the revival next summer of the useful "Dance Kaleidoscope" local showcase series but also by providing the Joffrey with studio facilities, living quarters and, eventually, a new theater for annual six-week residencies.

And El Camino College supported local dance in the best way possible: by booking resident companies (including Aman, Rudy Perez, L.A. Contemporary Dance Theatre and Repertory Dance Theatre of L.A.) interchangeably with visiting ensembles.

Below is a summary of memorable dance events on one observer's calendar.

BALLET: Scenic design overwhelmed choreography and dancing throughout the year--whether the productions came from well-heeled major ensembles (the Nureyev/Paris Opera Ballet "Cinderella," the Baryshnikov/American Ballet Theatre "Swan Lake") or normally under-financed local troupes (the Long Beach Ballet "Concerto for Elvis," the L.A. Chamber Ballet "Orpheus"). As they say, money talks--but, alas, it doesn't dance.

Some of the most refined and intelligent dancing came from National Ballet of Canada in San Diego, Pasadena and Costa Mesa: the warmly heroic Gregory Osborne in John Cranko's "Onegin," for example, or the bold, beauteous Sabina Allemann in Glen Tetley's "Alice." Or the mercurial, passionate Evelyn Hart in "Onegin." Or the noble, sensitive Peter Ottmann in "Alice." Or the easygoing, virtuosic Kevin Pugh in Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments". . . .

There also were happy surprises from familiar ensembles, whether it was Leslie Browne reclaiming Antony Tudor's "Pillar of Fire" for her generation in a fierce Ballet Theatre performance at Shrine Auditorium in March, or guest Daniel Meja summoning the last iota of his formidable skill and power to redeem Mikhail Lavrovsky's appalling "The Novice" for California Ballet at the Civic Theatre, San Diego, in May.

MODERN DANCE: In what turned out to be her valedictory engagement at UCLA in April, Twyla Tharp tried unsuccessfully to synthesize her modern-dance and classical ambitions. Soon after, she made her choice, becoming a fixture at Ballet Theatre and taking some dancers and repertory along.

Others strongly held the line against balletization, including Erick Hawkins with his emphasis on holistic purity (at UCLA in February), Pilobolus with its commitment to physical daring (at the Doolittle Theatre in March) and Batsheva Dance Company with its mastery of many contemporary styles (at UCLA in December).

At Occidental College in January, Tandy Beal's rigorous yet kaleidoscopic "The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light" beautifully affirmed the unlimited creative resources of modern dance and the sense of personal vision that has always shaped its finest achievements. Two months later, in a 30-minute Contemporary Dance of Japan solo at the Japan America Theater, Yoshiki Homma gave one of the year's great performances: dramatically superb and technically pristine but, more, so spiritually informed that every action conveyed an astonishing range of references and resonances.

And in Natch Taylor's "Gambol" (at the Doolittle in February) even the male ballerinas of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo turned postmodern with a vengeance, providing a glorious parodistic dump site for '80s Eurotrash.

FOLK DANCE: Dire coincidence brought Los Angeles the dregs all at once. In July alone, the Georgian State Dance Company (at the Pantages), the National Dance Company of China (at the Pavilion) the Royal Spanish National Ballet (at Greek Theatre and, later, the Orange County Performing Arts Center) and Ballet Nacional de Colombia (at the Wilshire Ebell) offered a festival of corruption based on "improving" indigenous dance idioms with ballet technique or show-dance pizazz or production overkill or slavish audience-courting.

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