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A Touch of Humanity : Jim Bates says he wants next year's center fund-raiser 'to reflect the social and emotional impact of fashion.'

November 14, 1994|ANN CONWAY

Ask choreographer Jim Bates about the highlight of his career and he doesn't talk about his number with Fred Astaire in "Easter Parade."

He talks about Clark Gable and the woman from Iowa.

It was the '50s and Bates, a dancer-actor and USC student, had a part in "Run Silent, Run Deep" with Gable and Burt Lancaster.

During a day of filming, the crew had some technical difficulty so the actors were asked to take a lunch break.

Who does Gable invite to dine with him at a trendy Sunset Strip eatery?

"A woman from Iowa who was visiting her son on the set," says Bates, who was recently appointed artistic director for the Center of Fashion, a September, 1995, benefit for the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"That blew my mind, " Bates said. "Gable acted like it was an everyday thing. And that taught me about the humanity side of show business--how what we do can dramatically affect the life of another person."

Now, 40 years later, Bates--who has dreamed up dance steps for stars such as Lucille Ball and Dolly Parton--is hoping to bring his own brand of humanity to the Center of Fashion.

"I like to move people, whether it be through music, dance or the spoken word," Bates said last week during a telephone interview from New York, where he was staging "Disney's American Teacher Awards."

"I want people to walk out of that show and say 'Wow! You know, I was inspired tonight. I want to reflect the social and emotional impact of fashion as opposed to just showing clothing, " he said.

For example, if one of the event's style moments was about white mink, Bates would orchestrate its presentation in an evocative way, "get people to start thinking, 'Why do people wear mink?' " he explained.

"I'd make the mink look as lovely as I could, of course, but I'd cop an attitude, get people to wonder, 'Why does a person wear mink as opposed to something else?'

"I could do the Disney 'Circle of Life' thing . . . a white-on-white-on-white look literally using animals and blow the back wall off the stage.

"Those back doors (at Segerstrom Hall) can go back infinitesimally. We could get this in-depth look and then fill the hall with the music of a white-robed gospel choir. Suddenly, we've turned this into a statement about the circle of life."

Presenting the little black dress would be something else again. "That gets a little sexy," Bates said. "We'd go to the other extreme--do a whole segment based on legs, perhaps.

"Visual impressions of legs, legs, legs. We love to watch legs and this triggers the questions, Why? Where?

"We do things to make us feel good about ourselves, our community, our world. Fashion has a lot to do with that."

Bates hopes to involve community arts groups in the event. "This is an Orange County show," he said, "and there are wonderful talents we can use from the area."

And he plans to use high-tech effects. "I like contemporary, hard-driving video impact. It's a high-tech world," he said.


Founded in 1990 as an annual benefit by the center's guilds support groups, the Center of Fashion was canceled this year to allow its participants time to gear up for the 1995 event.

"We just need a little rest between time," said show chairwoman Shari Esayian when the guilds announced their plans to postpone the fund-raiser.

Although the '93 show brought in about $105,000 to the center, the event cost more than $300,000 to produce because the guilds paid for the professional dancers, producers, printing and rent for the hall.

The $80,000 allotted for the 1995 show includes Bates' fee. "We start the planning stage next month," said Bates, who will be assisted by his wife, Judy. "It's important to have plenty of time to plan.

"In the past, the guilds were wasting a lot of money on late-hangs, sets coming in at the last minute. That last minute stuff is really hard on the pocketbook.

"The trick is to do things like light and stage plotting way ahead of time so the crew can do it ahead. That saves a bundle of money."

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