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It's all dance, all the time

Arsen Serobian wants to be a force in the art, not through his performance, but through his website.

February 24, 2008|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

ON the stage of the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, members of the Moiseyev Dance Company are rehearsing ensemble routines, watched intently by Elena A. Shcherbakova, the troupe's director and assistant choreographer.

Filming her comments to the dancers on a professional hand-held video rig is Arsen Serobian, a young, locally based Armenian classical dancer and teacher who briefly studied at the Moiseyev school in Moscow before training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and joining the company that brought him to the U.S. in 1997.

He stayed and five years later became a citizen, by which time he'd decided that he wanted to be a force in the dance world -- but not as a performer. No, with an interest and skills in computers, Serobian began to investigate the ways that dance -- all kinds of dance -- might mate with new technologies to reach a larger audience than at any time in history. And that research led him to buy that expensive video camera and launch a new career.

In a Cerritos dressing room, he smiles as he films Shcherbakova telling interviewer Steve Barry, in English, about the Moiseyev emphasis on "training that goes beyond technique into acting and understanding different cultures. When you are on the stage," she says, "you need to understand what you are doing from the inside."

That smile comes from recognizing a kindred sprit, for Serobian often says the same thing when he's teaching ballet at the Colburn School in downtown L.A. or explaining why he finds so much American classicism under-rehearsed and under-coached. At 30, he's still sought after as a dancer by local companies -- especially at "Nutcracker" time, when classical princes with pristine Russian style are at a premium.

But performing and teaching are strictly Serobian sidelines these days, the means to pay the rent on the combination TV studio and editing room in North Hollywood where he sleeps a few hours a night. For the last two years, Serobian's passion has been, a website conceived as a television station, one devoted completely to dance. He is the founder and president, and he designed the site, recruited the volunteer staff and shoots, edits and sometimes subtitles the footage for the features that make closely resemble a cable TV outlet.

Through Craigslist, he found Barry, a London-born freelance producer for E! and a producer at the entertainment TV show "Extra," who now serves as his vice president, script writer and voice of authority on the site's newscasts and video features. Barry's broadcast journalism degree from the University of South Florida supplements Serobian's degree in business and computer science from the University of Akron in Ohio.

Together, they are working to establish their site as the primary online dance resource, awaiting the day -- a year or two from now -- when a new chip brings the Internet to every new flat-screen television set. On that day, they predict, the difference between a website and a TV station will become academic to viewers and advertisers -- an assumption that fueled the recent Writers Guild strike.

"I believe that's the future of television, being online," Serobian says. "Everyone is going to have connections at home with a speed that is basically the same as the signal they're getting from cable. And when that happens, there will be Internet TV. And we will be everywhere."

Internet influence

INTERNET dance sites have destroyed the old divisions between performers, critics and audiences, encouraging dialogue and debate, as well as allowing dancers like Serobian to help determine how the art will be covered in the future instead of leaving it to the journalists and academics who have been dominant until now., in particular, has been a showcase for innovative dance criticism written by dancers and choreographers, but the site is primarily journalistic -- a kind of online magazine -- as is and most of the other prominent sites except for those that specialize in instructional content.

In contrast, isn't a haven for dance writing or reviews but rather filmed interviews, documentaries and performance videos, some of them acquired from videographers and distributors who want their work to be more widely seen, others shot by Serobian and his staff.

Thus far, the scope of his coverage has often depended on whether stars and companies believe in his mission and grant access. Russian prima ballerina Diana Vishneva recently said "da" to an interview feature. But Russian prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili said "nyet," and the response of Los Angeles-based troupes has been equally hard to predict.

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