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EXPANDING THE BORDERS : Francisco Martinez Thinks It's Time His Acclaimed L.A.-Based Dancetheatre Cultivated Orange County

March 19, 1992|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

In Hollywood movies of the '30s and '40s, characters played by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney put on shows in their back yards to raise money and solve all their problems.

Francisco Martinez, who started his dance company 11 years ago in a 16-by-22-foot garage in West Hollywood, finds that real-life popular success is a little harder to come by.

"I had a little savings and spent that money buying plywood to make my own floor, four to five inches above the cement," Martinez recalls. "We took everything out of the garage . . . . It was very cozy."

The Francisco Martinez Dancetheatre, critically acclaimed in Los Angeles, will make its first Orange County appearances on Saturday at the Curtis Theatre in Brea.

"I feel like my company is ready to expand to other areas," he says. "I want to cultivate a following in Orange County."

Martinez, 41, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, performed with the Nevada Dance Theatre until a severe injury to a hip sidelined him in 1978. "The next couple of years I was frustrated, just trying to get back into shape," he says. "But I kept hurting myself. So I thought, 'I can't dance for a while, but I still want to create dances,' so I finally started my first company."

His company's debut company occurred not in Los Angeles but in Ft. Worth, Tex., at Texas Christian University, where he had studied on full scholarship.

"I was called in to take over a teaching position as a ballet master," he said. "I created five ballets in a period of 3 1/2 weeks."

In 1988, he joined the teaching staff at Plaza de la Raza in East Los Angeles, making his group the resident company at the Latino cultural center. His company was also an official participant in the 1991 Artes de Mexico Festival in Los Angeles.

Martinez was gradually able to return to dancing, "but not as much as I was accustomed to," he says.

"My body had aged. I could not do full classes, the injury was too bothersome. I would do character parts that demanded more dramatic quality combined with a little technique. But it's slowly coming back. I hope before this life is over to dance again."

Have things became easier?

"No, they didn't get easier," he says. "I had to get a 9-to-5 job. It came down to survival money."

For the past seven years, he has been working as an office manager at a law firm, supporting his dance company "almost single-handedly and through grants from the private sector."

"I kept trying to get grants, but (until 1990) I kept getting turned down. I still have all the rejection notices, from foundations and corporations. One year, I did all the corporations listed in Forbes magazine, about 500 of them."

Martinez says that in his applications, he hasn't wanted to "play the ethnic card."

"I did not want to cash in on the Martinez or the Francisco ," he says . "I wanted to cash in on artistic merit, and I still do."

In 1990, however, his luck turned, and he received grants from the California Arts Council, the Santa Anita Foundation and the Brody Arts Foundation, among other organizations.

His program at the Curtis Theatre will include three of his works: "Lyric Trio," "Places" and "In the Sunrise of Silence."

The first, "Lyric Trio," was inspired by the Francois Millet's painting "The Gleaners," he says. "It's a physical dance, a tour de force, depicting physical labor. It lasts 27 minutes, nonstop. The dancers are on stage all the time. It's entirely designed for stamina."

"Places," the second work, deals "with loss, with relationship, with reconciliation and reluctance in accepting a predetermined fate."

"The piece is dedicated to my friend Bruce Wurl, who succumbed to AIDS in 1987, which is when I created it. Since then, I've also dedicated it to a lot of my friends who also have died from the disease."

The program will conclude with the new "In the Sunrise of Silence," which Martinez describes as "the next step" after the grieving process.

"It's more neoclassical," he says. "It's a happy piece, but it also has moments of subdued quality. The finale is just a celebration of moving from these quiet hushed moments into the world."

Martinez wants his dancers to give an audience "a total theater experience."

"I require that all my dancers have a very strong classical background and a strong modern background that can be meshed with the Russian (ballet) style I use," he says.

"On top of that, they should have a tremendous respect for improvisation. That's not asking for too much!"

What: Francisco Martinez Dancetheatre.

When: Saturday, March 21, at 2 and 8 p.m.

Where: Curtis Theater, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea.

Whereabouts: Take the Imperial Highway exit off the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn right on Randolph Avenue and right on Birch Street. Underground parking lot entrance is on the right, just after you pass the front of the Civic Center building.

Wherewithal: $12 general admission; $10 for students and seniors.

Where to call: (714) 990-7722.

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