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Critical Bargains

Ah, the life of a critic--seeing the best performances in town, sitting in prime seats and never spending your own money. (We're forgetting for a moment the uninspired shows, the never-ending drives and the garrulous audiences.) So what happens when a critic is, like most of us, on a budget? Can people with the highest of standards find a good time when cost is an issue? Here, four critics each take $100 and spend it (or less) on a full weekend of entertainment.


Obviously, one lone Benjamin won't do it for people who call themselves dance lovers but are really just interested in Big Ballet-and then only if it's 20 minutes from their front doors. For everyone else, however, the Southland teems with dance discoveries and adventures at bargain prices. If you know where to look.

Start with Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, the prime example of what are called alternative venues. Essentially the home for local and touring performance art, Highways offers plenty of dance as part of its commitment to multidisciplinary expression. But it's likely to be dance laced with text and/or strongly identified with a politicized subculture.

Expect bleacher-style seating, controversial content and/or experimental forms plus a lively (often cruisy) intermission scene. A pair of tickets for a dance event will set you back $32, tops, and street parking is free.

Even more than alternative venues, museums provide dance at surprisingly low (or no) cost, and the surrounding environment is guaranteed to be posh. But there's a downside: Very few local museums possess theaters with adequate sight lines or stage facilities for dance, and their seating capacity is likely to be small.

At the imposing Getty Center, for instance, performances usually take place in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, essentially a lecture hall with wings. But somehow this bleak, academic space brings out the best in whoever dances there, and the choreography is often related to one of the Getty's spare-no-expense exhibitions, with each kind of art enriching the other. Finally, $5 for parking is all you pay-but don't show up without a reservation.

Arguably the biggest bargains in dance are found at local colleges and universities, where major artists grace dance departments, and perform or choreograph for so-called faculty or student showcases. Don't believe the cliche that these artists only end up on campus at the end of their careers; right now, academia's artists-in-residence are frequently the same people who headline touring engagements or productions at upscale theaters around town.

At UCLA, parking will set you back $6, but the dancing in Glorya Kaufman Hall (formerly Dance Building 200) is likely to be free or, at most, $30 a couple. The ambitious, in-progress upgrading of the whole building is certain to make the distinctive UCLA focus on world dance increasingly influential in years to come.

Back to high finance: If you paid the steepest prices for a faculty-student UCLA event and a Highways performance, plus Getty parking, this hypothetical dance weekend would cost $73. If, however, UCLA charged only for parking (and last season you'd have lucked out more often than not), there'd still be $57 unspent-enough to take in one of the mid-priced dance events at the intimate Japan America Theatre downtown.

Ticket prices here usually top out at $40 or $50 per pair, with nearby parking ranging from $2 to $7. Not bad for the splendors of the East or challenging contemporary dance from local choreographers-including some you may have seen in UCLA faculty-student performances or at Highways in previous seasons. And everything from ballet to butoh looks great on this stage.

Yes, this dance splurge might eat up every last cent you'd saved at alternative venues, museums and college dance departments. But on many nights, you'd have just enough left to toast L.A. dance at intermission. If not, spend the time on the plaza, gazing at the glittering, panoramic cityscape, or admiring the elegant Japanese garden next to the theater. A C-note can go quickly in the dance world, but the best things in life are free.

* Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. (310) 315-1459. Typically no more than $16 for dance events, less for performance art. .

* Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A. (310) 440-7300. Usually free, but reservations are required and parking is $5.

* UCLA faculty-student dance events, generally in Glorya Kaufman Hall, c/o 303 E. Melnitz, Box 951427, L.A. (310) 825-3951. Many events are free, some cost as much as $15.

* Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., downtown L.A. (213) 680-3700. Prices vary widely here, but a wide range of dance is available for $20 to $25 per person.

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