In a cultural marriage of convenience, representatives of the long-delayed, underfinanced Dance Gallery have agreed in principle with the R. D. Colburn School of the Performing Arts to share a proposed $25-million facility in the California Plaza redevelopment project downtown.
News of the plan, announced at a Dance Gallery board meeting late Friday, came on the same day that the gallery's founder and artistic director, Bella Lewitzky, unexpectedly resigned to devote her energies to her modern-dance company, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
In a phone interview, Lewitzky told The Times that her decision to leave the Dance Gallery was partially because of the organization abandoning its plans to support her resident company.
"I don't fault them for that," she said. "It's too expensive at this time. But I originally thought up the Dance Gallery as partly a basis of stability for my company. And once that original idea became impossible, I had to make a choice."
Lewitzky said she has provided Dance Gallery Chairwoman Barbara Bain with a list of potential artistic directors. "This is an ideal situation today," Lewitzky said. "They can go forward with the project in whatever direction they want to take it.
"As for me, I've come to realize more than ever during this retrospective season that the company has been the dream of my life more than anything else."
Under the terms of a letter of intent signed Friday, the Colburn School will provide the $5 million that the Dance Gallery has been seeking to guarantee construction of the facility at 4th and Olive streets.
This contribution will be added to $5.5 million from the Community Redevelopment Agency, $1 million from Bunker Hill Associates (the developer of California Plaza), and about $2 million in cash and pledges. The rest of the construction costs are to be financed by tax-exempt bonds.
Now located on South Figueroa Street, the Colburn School will move permanently to Bunker Hill upon completion of the Dance Gallery in September, 1994. The two organizations plan to remain separate legal entities.
Toby Mayman, executive director of the Colburn School, said she knew nothing about Lewitzky's decision and has had only preliminary discussions with Dance Gallery President Martin I. Kagan about the joint plan for "about a month."
She described the planned move as an escape from current facilities "inadequate in size and worse than inadequate in terms of ventilation. We have over 800 kids (ages 3 to 18) and we share this space with the USC schools of music, drama, cinema and television. Although we do more than 100 performances a year, we have no place of our own to perform."
Mayman said that "a small recital hall will be under our purview" in the Dance Gallery space--but emphasized that negotiations about everything connected with the Colburn/Gallery relationship are still preliminary.
She did offer a suggestion on what the newly redefined music and dance, education and performance facility might be called. "To my point of view, it would be appropriate to have Colburn's name on the building," she said.
Originally known as the Community School of Performing Arts, the Colburn School adopted its present name in 1988 to honor philanthropist Richard D. Colburn, a board member of the school for many years. It was founded in 1950 as the Prep Division of the USC School of Music and became independent in 1980. Mayman said its operating budget is $1.2 million annually.
More than a decade in the planning, the Dance Gallery was originally designed to include a 1,000-seat theater, a smaller performance space, rehearsal studios, a library, physical therapy room and training institute. However, funding shortfalls not only caused the project to miss its initial deadline for completion before the 1984 Olympics, but to lose its first California Plaza site at 4th Street and Grand Avenue.
In the past, Gallery executives from Lewitzky to Kagan said the financial problems were related to a CRA demand that all funding be in place before any construction could begin. Increasingly, the search for a $5-million "naming donor" became a priority for project fund-raisers.
Last April, Kagan announced a Dec. 31 "drop-dead date" to secure the $5 million or lose any chance of remaining in California Plaza. Just before that date, he extended the deadline to Friday's board meeting. The planned relationship with the Colburn School appears to end the Dance Gallery cliffhanger to nearly everyone's satisfaction. "It means they can move ahead," said Jeffrey Skorneck, the city's manager of the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project.
Additional funding is still needed, but Skorneck said a "realistic" schedule could lead to a groundbreaking early next year.
Other portions of the huge California Plaza development are likely to be delayed, but construction of the Dance Gallery can proceed independently, he said.