Call it the year of the smorgasbord. In response to what seemed a crisis of both funding support and public interest, the American concert-dance community kept resorting to the variety-show format as a fix-all--perhaps counting on safety-in-numbers or feeling that a nation enslaved to the wireless remote control can't endure dance events unless they change radically every 15 minutes.
The mixed bill is nothing new, of course. But the art of curatorship--a.k.a. program-building--proved in short supply during 1993. All too often the components of a portmanteau event canceled one another out. Juggling amateurs and pros, hacks and innovators, movement-based and text- (or theater-) based work, these performances retailed variety and contrast above all other values.
The two-month, 73-ballet "Balanchine Celebration" in New York City might be mistaken for the ultimate smorgasbord event--but, of course, its very concept gave it a unity-in-diversity that otherwise proved a rare commodity.
More typical: "Dancing," a collage of 60-second dance clips patched together with lots of chitchat into an eight-hour PBS series. Or the Joffrey "Billboards," four rock ballets with nothing in common except a composer.
Locally, the scattershot "Dance Kaleidoscope" festival expanded beyond Cal State L.A. and new variety-show dance series popped up with such names as "Prime Moves" and "Voices in Motion." Highways opted for some bizarre split bills and the Los Angeles Festival mandated the same kind of this-'n'-that programming.
Fine work did emerge, of course, and below--arranged for maximum variety and contrast--is an assortment of memorable 1993 dance events from one aficionado's notebook:
Newly housed at the Japan America Theatre, the "Black Choreographers" festival took the biggest risk in its history with "The Minstrel Show," Donald Byrd's uncompromisingly nasty, full-evening survey of our nation's most dubious entertainment lore. The spectacle of African Americans in blackface proved only the first shock in an event that relentlessly compiled and dissected all kinds of stereotypes.
Among the year's memorable solo performances, Simone Forti brought her intimate, improvisational dance-poetry to Highways and Li Chiao-Ping energized the same stage with her daunting tests of stamina in "Entombed Warrior."
More solos: Jawole Willa Jo Zollar subdued the Urban Bush Women energy circus at the Wadsworth long enough to perform "Lifedance III," a meditative theater piece linking the abuse of women to the destruction of the environment. At 87, \o7 butoh \f7 co-founder Kazuo Ohno re-created an eerie classic of that neo-Expressionist genre, "Admiring La Argentina," at the JAT.
Twyla Tharp offered intriguing insights into creative revisionism by dancing a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov at the new Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in February that evolved into a Baryshnikov/White Oak solo by July. And Garth Fagan avoided all the pitfalls of high-concept collaboration by achieving a perfect rapport with composer Wynton Marsalis and sculptor Martin Puryear in his brilliant "Griot New York" at UCLA and Cerritos.
Among the year's rarities, Firuza Yagudaeva of the Shashmaqam Bukharan Jewish Ensemble brought the Los Angeles Festival a luminous account of richly embellished Central Asian traditions. Specializing in dances of central Greece, the Lykeion Ellinidon of Larisa made an unheralded appearance in Whittier. The yearlong Festival of Korea presented a program at UCLA that offered both refined court ceremonies and earthy masked dance-drama.
Many artists and companies from India graced local stages--the major discoveries being Kathak master Maulik Shah and Nrityashree of Vadodara. Folklorico flourished in performances on the "Dance Kaleidoscope" series by both Ballet Folklorico del Pacifico and Ballet Folklorico del Sur de California. In addition, Danza Floricanto U.S.A. introduced beguiling new suites on the "Summer Nights" series at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre.
Presenting five intimate dance-plays, Grand Kabuki made an exclusive American appearance at the JAT. But the biggest news of the year was "Dancing," the PBS series that shot and compiled priceless footage from around the world--then cut it to incoherent snippets and further wrecked it with nonstop voice-overs. Any chance that executive producer Rhoda Grauer will go back in the editing room and give us a new series: "Dancing, Part II: The Unmolested Dance Tapes"?