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Across the Pond, and Beyond

Fresh from England, the new rebel director of UCLA Performing Arts plans to extend its reach into Hollywood and lesser-known territory.

October 17, 2000|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The move from England to Los Angeles was less traumatic for David Sefton, new director of UCLA Performing Arts, than it was for his cat, Bob.

Bob, traveling in an athletic bag because his familiar pet carrier was not allowed on the plane, would fall asleep occasionally--but after each nap wake up with a howl, reliving the insult of being transported like a pair of Nikes.

Sefton, whose tenure began Oct. 1, takes over the UCLA post from Michael Blachly, director since 1992, who resigned in February for a new job at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Sefton, 37, who has served as chief of contemporary culture at South Bank Centre/Royal Festival Hall in London since 1998, is settling into his new post and says he is energized by his totally new surroundings.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 19, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 58 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA appearance: An article about UCLA Performing Arts in Tuesday's Calendar incorrectly reported that Elvis Costello had never performed at UCLA under the program's auspices. He did appear there with the Brodsky Quartet in 1993.

"It's all very weird and intriguing for all of us," Sefton said happily.

In a recent interview, Sefton drank his new American favorite, iced tea (plenty of tea in England, but not with ice in it), bemoaned the necessity of acquiring a car to navigate sprawling Los Angeles and said he plans to live up to his reputation as a "creative troublemaker" at UCLA. He has the lofty goal of creating "a locally popular program with global significance" and says he plans to launch collaborations with the film community, both on campus and in Hollywood.

"The [UCLA] program has already struck out in a lot of new directions for Los Angeles; it is already a very ambitious program," Sefton said. "It's going to go even further. I'm just going to take it down some slightly different roads. That's what they've put me here to do; that's why they brought me to South Bank, as well.

"I'm coming into it with absolutely no preconceived perceptions, because I don't know these things. I cut straight through the politics and just go straight to the source of what I think is an interesting idea. Coming in as an outsider . . . I can get away with murder."

Sefton's stated intention to take UCLA "down a different road" doesn't sound too different from Blachly's words when he took over the job in 1992, saying he'd like to see "Asian American taiko drummers interface with a gospel choir." Over the last decade, the center established a reputation for diversity and innovation.

UCLA presents an average of 200 performances annually to an audience of 250,000. It is among the largest university arts presenters in the U.S., with box-office receipts of more than $3.5 million for 1999-2000.

Musically, the center is known for cutting-edge and multimedia experimentation. And, in recent years, UCLA has presented more major modern dance companies--and more companies led by African American choreographers--than any Southland venue. In the first collaboration of its kind, in 1996, UCLA Performing Arts co-presented Pina Bausch's $1.2-million dance-theater piece "Nur Du" to 90%-capacity audiences at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with UC Berkeley, the Music Center (now the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles) and several other presenting organizations.

Dealing With Disillusionment

A native of Liverpool, Sefton began his career as an arts journalist, most fascinated with the experimental fringes of the music industry. "I was dealing with all the weird stuff," he said.

Upon moving to London a few years later, however, Sefton quickly became disillusioned. "The thing that was sort of creatively engaging in Liverpool was that, as a journalist, you were involved in the whole arts scene, rather than becoming part of a sort of journalistic village," he said. "There are lots of walls that go up once you move someplace bigger."

Sefton moved into presenting the arts rather than writing about them, booking small theaters with a range of different types of performers. The theaters, and the challenges, kept getting bigger. Included on the list were posts as assistant director of the Unity Theatre in Liverpool and assistant director of London's Millfield Theatre.

In 1993, Sefton became deputy director of music at South Bank, charged with the mission of developing new areas for the program. Two years later, his role expanded beyond music when he took over as chief of artistic development, overseeing the visual arts, family and foyer music programs.

Sefton joked that his attempt to forge partnerships between disciplines caused him to get his wrist slapped a few times along the way. "That's one of the things that I openly and publicly objected to at South Bank; I feel that the most interesting stuff happens where everything bumps into each other," he said. "If you segregate areas of creativity, you stop bumping into each other. It didn't stop stuff from happening, but it made things harder.

"The dean here [at UCLA] says he's worried about me and the politics of the university; it's nothing compared to South Bank."

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