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Choices Galore for World Dance Fans (Shame About Ballet)

September 15, 2002|LEWIS SEGAL

An unusually rich sampling of world dance and some highly unusual reinterpretations of classic scores make the fall full of adventure.

All by itself, the World Festival of Sacred Music offers rarities galore in its 55 September events--especially, perhaps, the dervish rituals from Syria, sacred masked dances from Bali and animal dances from a remote corner of the Pacific called Lifou Island. Spirituality is integral to these dances, and if you can get beyond limited notions of dance as entertainment and only that, they may prove a growth experience.

There's plenty of North American artistry scheduled too, although some of the local selections seem questionable, if not downright dubious. Be rigorously selective, lest you fall prey to belly dancers with delusions of grandeur or delirious touchy-feely indulgences.

Familiar, hyper-professional world dance ensembles this fall include Africa's Ballet National du Senegal in Santa Barbara and Malibu in October and the annual visit by Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez, on view in Escondido and Universal City in September. Both troupes are reliably impressive--especially on the viewers' first or second visit--even when they succumb to middlebrow sampler programming.

For a more enlightened sense of curatorial focus, however, the world dance company to beat may well be the Southland's own Avaz International Dance Theatre in a revival of its acclaimed Silk Road evening, in downtown L.A. in November.

October has the hottest modernism of the year, with the Irvine Barclay Theatre scoring a double coup: the irrepressible Sean Curran presenting iconoclastic mixed rep, and Angelin Preljocaj turning "The Rite of Spring" into an apocalyptic mating dance. At UCLA, the Cullberg Ballet unleashes its bald, co-ed swan corps in Mats Ek's radically revised "Swan Lake," and in Santa Barbara, Bill T. Jones provides another look at the controversial chamber music choreographies seen in L.A. last season. All four choreographers approach music in an anything-but-traditional manner, and the results can be infuriating--or revelatory.

The big discovery of the imported October offerings, however, just might be Vienna's Willi Dorner Dance Project, coming to the Skirball Cultural Center with experiments involving high-risk contact improvisation.

Southland modernism will also be out in force in October, from the multi-company, pop-flavored Jazz Dance L.A. (at Cal State L.A.), to the feminist Dance Moving Forward festival (at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica) and the balletic La Danserie (at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park).

What's missing through the fall is exciting big ballet: Besides the undistinguished American Ballet Theatre "Nutcracker" (playing Hollywood and Costa Mesa in December), there's only the Bolshoi Ballet in "La Bayadere" (not exactly a company specialty) at the end of November, plus the season's wild card: Shanghai Ballet dancing "Coppelia" in a one-night-only visit to Thousand Oaks on Nov. 13.

Safest bet: San Francisco Ballet in an intriguing mixed bill September in Costa Mesa. (Avoid the company's turgid "Othello" later in the run.)


Lewis Segal is The Times' dance critic.

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