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DANCE

Time to open a new door

Powerful and passionate, Domingo Rubio is looking for new challenges.

June 26, 2003|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

One moment he's Christlike. Another, a faun. And yet a third incarnation finds him partnering the actress Neve Campbell in a sensual pas de deux to the lush strains of "My Funny Valentine." He is Domingo Rubio, who, at 37, when many dancers are ready to hang up their shoes, appears to be at the height of his powers.

Born and raised in Mexico City, the performer, at 6 feet 1, exudes star quality, sexuality and something more -- an innate presence that has the ability to transport an audience. With a cock of his head, an arch of his back or the impassioned plea in an upraised arm, Rubio turns his life experiences into art.

And while we won't see him and Campbell on screen until Christmas Day, when Robert Altman's ballet-based film "The Company" opens, Angelenos can catch Rubio in the flesh this weekend with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. The performances will be his last with the company -- at least for the foreseeable future.

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday night, he will dance the role Vaslav Nijinsky created for himself as a half-man, half-goat in "Afternoon of a Faun."

Rubio is also the Christ figure in the new "I/DNA." A work created by Joffrey artistic director Gerald Arpino as a response to the death penalty, the 28-minute ballet will have its West Coast premiere Saturday on an all-Arpino bill that will be repeated Sunday. It has given Rubio, who joined the Joffrey in 1999, much to think about, including his career and his own mortality.

Talking in a Music Center boardroom, he's dressed casually in sandals, jeans and a flowing blue shirt. His dark eyes are intense; his hair, thick and modishly styled. He is open, charming and thrilled to be back in Los Angeles. It was at a 1997 performance at Cal State Los Angeles, with Mexico City's Taller Coreografico de la UNAM, that Arpino saw Rubio for the first time. Also in the audience that night was Times dance critic Lewis Segal, who called him "a dancer with the kind of looks, presence, emotional power and technical authority that immediately tell you he's one of the great dancers of the age."

"Forgive me for not dressing," Rubio says, flashing a large smile. "I'm not wearing socks. I'm not even wearing deodorant."

But then, dancing "I/DNA," Rubio has become used to being exposed. In it, he wears little more than a loincloth. He portrays an innocent man about to be electrocuted whose life flashes in front of him before he's resurrected as a Christ figure.

Says Rubio: "When Arpino originally hired me, he said, 'You need to take your clothes off to look good.' "

As it happened, he adds, the roles he was most praised for were those in which he was covered from head to toe. Now, "I/DNA" has earned him the kind of attention he may have been denied for a time.

"The Joffrey is a no-star company with a variety of talents," he says. "I'm used for certain roles, and much of the time I don't dance. For me, it's payback time."

Arpino says he began making "I/DNA" about a year ago with Rubio in mind.

"I've always seen in Domingo a Christlike figure," the choreographer says. "He has an aura onstage -- a God-given gift that has always impressed me. He imbues his work with a certain insight -- like great actors delivering lines from their inner being."

Deborah Dawn has been with the Joffrey since 1983 and has often been partnered by Rubio. In "I/DNA," she dances the role of the Mother.

"His human passion is so natural," Dawn says. "You feel like a woman when you're dancing. He has this quality that makes you feel like you're the center of attention, not for the audience's sake but in the partnership between the two of you."

Such praise could go to Rubio's head. Instead he maintains a sense of humor.

"I'm a character dancer in the company. In Mexico, the drama was exaggerated, but if you believe in it, it's real. It's part of your soul. Here, they might think it's overacting -- 'Oh, the Latino guy.' They do parodies of me that are hilarious."

Rubio pauses, finishing his coffee. "I was skeptical of electricity with the ballet. I have to shake -- as if jolts are going through my body. I began having dreams of death -- and that I need to renew. It's not a middle-age crisis, but it is in a way. I pushed the life of a dancer. I started at age 18, and you don't expect to go over age 33."

In effect, Rubio is announcing that after this season -- Sunday's performance -- he plans to leave the Joffrey.

"I'm in shape for my age," he says, "but not to do what the [rest of the company] is capable of doing. In Mexico, we spent all our energy dancing, not rehearsing. Here they rehearse like crazy. For me, it's anal-compulsive. I cannot take the entire class, because I might injure myself. Two years ago, I broke my foot doing the smallest jump.

"I have no complaints," he continues. "I've been very happy here, but as a Mexican guy, to start a life by yourself, in Chicago -- you have plans to do something more. I think now is the time to move on."

For Rubio, this means returning to Mexico City -- to sculpt (he has been making figurative bronzes for years), to compose music, to have a personal life.

Arpino believes Rubio's work with the Joffrey helped him expand as an artist. "Now that he's moving back, he takes a world of experience of dance with him. But he's welcome here any time."

Rubio, knowing that the final curtain is about to come down, says, "For me, I'm a perfectionist of my senses. I'd rather make an organic performance than dry out my natural instinct -- or repeat myself."

*

The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: Thursday and Friday,

8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $25 to $85

Info: (213) 972-0711

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