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A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement : Their Work for Tina Gerstler's 'Gender' Pays Off for Collaborators Megan Williams, Brad Dutz

October 14, 1994|ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Like a successful relationship or enriching friendship, artistic collaboration can open new doors for all concerned.

Such is the case with "The Translated Gender," Tina Gerstler's latest modern dance, to be premiered tonight at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

"It's leading to a new batch of paintings," said artist Megan Williams, who has made sets for the piece.

The same holds for musician Brad Dutz, who has composed the bluesy, danceable score.

"I don't have much saxophone in my recordings, so I learned a lot about writing for sax," he said.

Ballet Pacifica will present Gerstler's piece on a mixed bill with works by David Allan of New York, troupe artistic director Molly Lynch, and Fokine as well.

Gerstler's dance for 13 women explores women's roles in today's society from two viewpoints: the limiting, stereotypical notions of femininity often seen in the media, and the full scope of what women can be.

"For me, (the work) has to deal with self-respect," she told The Times in an earlier interview. "And having gained more personal self-respect, I wish society's images (of women) would help to build that."

When Gerstler outlined these thoughts earlier this year to Williams and Dutz, fellow Angelenos with whom she's collaborated separately before, the team effort began.

Williams based her designs on the Exquisite Corpse, a parlor game she'd been playing with other artists.

To play the game, popular among Parisian surrealists of the 1920s, participants draw a head, torso or legs on a piece of paper that is repeatedly folded so the next artist can't see what anybody else has drawn. The randomness creates art and, "voila, you have this monstrosity," Williams said in a recent phone interview from home.

With that in mind, the artist tackled the Gerstler set.

"I designed three characters, an old, poverty-stricken woman, a young pregnant girl and a sword swallower."

She then painted each character's head, torso and legs on a nine-foot-tall panel composed of three interchangeable sections that the dancers mix and match. Only at the work's end are the characters anatomically aligned.

"The difference between making art work for a dance and making a set design," Williams said, "is that a set design is completely at the service of the dance; it's a backdrop, and we didn't want that. Tina asked me to work on this because my work interests her, so these are not stage sets in the traditional sense, they are gritty looking paintings. They're not supposed to fade into the background.

"I love Tina's work," she added, "it has the same sort of roiling motion and continuous energy that I like to get in my drawings."

The new painting series she plans will possibly depict "feminized images," Williams said, noting that Gerstler's project gave her "permission" to break away from the sexually ambiguous figures she has favored.

"I do (collaborations) because I find art-making to be very lonely at times and it kind of jolts you out of your own monotonous thinking."

Dutz, a percussionist whose compositions have "a world music, improvised jazz style," said in a phone interview from Oregon that his 20-minute score blends rap or hip-hop, blues and reggae. Pots and pans and metal pipes are rattled for the "street feeling" Gerstler hoped for, he said, and sax, flute and clarinet melodies meet her request for something "bluesy with a good dance feel to it."

"I knew I wanted to start a little slower because she wanted to build in intensity, so the music builds at the end to a little bit of a frenzy," he said, adding that the score includes the voice of his Japanese girlfriend Kaoru reciting what he called discriminatory Japanese want ads specifying weight and height for potential female employees.

"The great thing about working with Tina and why we've worked together over and over, is that she gives me guidelines, like tempos and a certain feel, but she lets me be real creative and I have a whole lot of freedom."

* Ballet Pacifica will perform at 8 p.m. tonight and at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $15-$18. Student/senior tickets, $6, are available half an hour before each performance. (714) 854-4646.

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