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THE BIG MIX : Dance : L.A.'s Asian Spectrum: Preservation and Experiment

February 05, 1989|JAN BRESLAUER

Dance among the various Asian communities of Los Angeles is characterized by its arch-American efforts to preserve old country traditions in the context of the new land. The majority of individual artists and groups rely on school or studio affiliations, both out of financial necessity and the determination to pass on the traditional forms to new generations.

But while the dance in our Asian communities remains dominated by traditional and folk forms and is usually limited to one ethnicity within the context of each group, there are also outposts of modern experimentation and a few pan-Asian ensembles. As the following sampling indicates, there is no single Asian dance in L.A. any more than there's a single Asian community.

L.A.'s Korean-Americans are the most varied in their approaches. From Ye Kun Lee's Korean Traditional Music Assn. in America, with its formal style and dozen-plus members, to the students of Myung Sook Lee's Korean Classical Dance Studio, which has no permanent performing group, or Eung Wha Kim's ad hoc and variant L.A. Korean Folk Dance, the emphasis is on native dance forms, geared to an almost exclusively Korean or Korean-American audience and almost never performing outside of their ethnic communities.

Don Kim's Korean Classical Music and Dance Company has been bringing traditional court and folk dances to L.A. audiences for 15 years. Most of its 30 members are from Korea, had established themselves as dancers there and have now gravitated to the group's school in Ardmore Park and studio in Los Angeles. They perform mostly in school and community venues for audiences who prefer traditional, un-Americanized dances. Typically of groups in the Asian community, the popular school is used both to support the troupe's pursuits and as a developing ground for future members.

Among the less traditional groups is the Korean Modern Dance Assn., comprised of seven women, including Byung Im Lee, a grande dame from Korea around whom the group was originally formed. While their work is clearly derived from Korean forms, it's experimental and even expressionistically modern in tenor. Weighing in for the avant-garde is modern dancer-choreographer Young-Ae Park.

Ik Tae Rhee's movement-performance ensemble Theater 1981, a collective of a half-dozen women artists of various disciplines plus Rhee, performs for audiences that are typically a mixture of Korean and non-Korean, depending upon the venue. Their abstract multi-media series, "Gok," is based around nuclear age themes and imagery while playing off of tradition-based gestures.

The work among Chinese-American Angelenos also runs a gamut from traditional to contemporary. Alice Lo, who works for the Music Center's Education Department, has been in L.A. for 6 years and frequently performs her solo dances at schools throughout the area. She concentrates on Chinese classical folk dance, although she also performs modern dance when she's not in the school venues.

Frank Que's ensemble prefers folk dance as does the primarily ethnic audience for which they perform. Yen Lu Wong does contemporary art pieces. Ruth Ding's 20 year old Orange County Chinese Cultural Club boasts a 100-plus member folk and classical troupe, including the two-dozen dancers of the Chinese Folk Dance Assn.

The Japanese dance community, by contrast, is seemingly homogenous, with no experimental or avant-garde work save the individuals who belong to pan-Asian troupes. Sumako Azuma II, Mitsuhiro Bando, Mitsusa Bando, Chiseye Fujima and Kansuma Fujima --the last a Kennedy Center National Heritage Fellowship recipient who's been dancing here almost 50 years--are all classical masters who call upon the students they each have for backup whenever they perform.

Other classical dancers whose studio clientele typically range in age from very young to senior include Kanshi Fujima, Jurokumi Hanayagi, Rukumie Hanayagi, Tokuyae Hanayagi, Nishikawa Chiyo, Kanya Sanjo V and Hisami Wakayagi.

Nyoman and Nanik Wenten are based at CalArts and have been performing traditional Balinese music and dance throughout Southern California for 18 years. They perform individually, as a couple, and with Cal Arts dancers and the Indonesian Cultural Center ensemble, a group of 15 musicians and approximately half a dozen dancers.

Viji Prakash practices the Indian form of Bharata Natayam dance and Anjani Ambegaokar dances Kathak along with students from her studio, Anjani's Kathak Dance of India.

Least easily categorized are the several pan-Asian ensembles. Best known is Great Leap, a touring music and dance ensemble, led by Nobuko Miyamoto, whose eclecticism embraces not only various Asian traditions, but also a typically Eastern unwillingness to separate out dance from music and other theatrical and folk forms.

The Assn. of Asian Performing Artists, while neither a company nor limited to dance, has occasionally produced showcase events which bring its affiliates to community audiences.

The women of Chopsticks and Sneakers--Angelia Leung, Betsy Escandor, Tracy Leong, Nancy Lee and administrator Heidi Ashley--concentrate on modern work and, while pan-Asian in makeup, aren't limited to ethnic forms.

Also tied to UCLA by its membership is the Samahan Filipino, whose dozen or so dancers appear frequently on on and off-campus stages. Further, approximately one-fifth of the dancers of the multi-ethnic Ballet East are Asian, including associate director Mei Giang.

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