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Jacqui Landrum, 1943 - 2008

Dancer choreographed scenes for movies, TV shows

September 11, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Jacqui Landrum, a dancer who with her husband, Bill, choreographed a number of films, including "Great Balls of Fire" and "The Doors," has died. She was 64.

Landrum died of cancer Aug. 29 at her home in Los Angeles, her husband said.

As a team, the Landrums mixed classical, ballet, modern jazz, ethnic and club dancing to choreograph movies, television and stage.

To research "Great Balls of Fire," a 1989 film with actor Dennis Quaid as rock 'n' roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, they cruised juke joints and cowboy clubs in Memphis, looking for authentic steps to teach him.

"Every actor has a nightmare dance story," Jacqui Landrum said in a 1989 interview with The Times. "If moving is not what they do well, they can feel inhibited, so we try to work out clean, simple moves for them."

The Landrums also choreographed the movie's crowd scenes with as many as 1,600 extras. "It had to look natural, raw and spontaneous," Jacqui said of dance steps for those scenes.

The Landrums worked with big crowds again for concert scenes in "The Doors," the 1991 film that starred Val Kilmer as the band's lead singer, Jim Morrison. Most of the extras were too young to remember hippie bands. "I would literally give them lessons in acid dancing," Jacqui said in a 1991 interview with USA Today.

The Landrums also choreographed several movies by Ethan and Joel Coen, including "The Big Lebowski" in 1998 and "O Brother, Where Art Thou" two years later. Their work for a 1987 episode of "Moonlighting," the popular television series starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, brought them an Emmy Award nomination.

Landrum was born Jacqui Levy in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, 1943, and graduated from Fairfax High School. One of her first jobs was as a choreographer for "Hollywood a Go-Go," a '60s music variety show based in Los Angeles.

She met her future husband in a dance class in 1969. They married three months later and worked together for close to 40 years. She continued studying all kinds of dance and combined them in her choreography.

"I think of Jacqui's style as fusion," said choreographer and stage director Vincent Patterson, a longtime friend. "She embodied dance."

Landrum and her husband team-taught a class in stage movement and drama at USC for many years starting in the late 1970s and gave private dance lessons at their Los Angeles studio until last March.

"Jacqui taught and Bill would correct our bodies," said Patterson, who was one of their private students. "I'd never seen anything like their classes. They were totally unique."

Along with her film work, Landrum worked as a professional dancer throughout her career. She and her husband performed with the Inner City Repertory Company under the artistic direction of choreographer Donald McKayle in the early 1970s and established their own company, Landrum Dance Theater, with seven dancers, in 1977.

In reviews of their company's programs, critics admired the dancers' skills and the sensuality of the movements, but the choreography got mixed reviews.

"If singles bars had floor shows, this is what they'd look like," dance critic Lewis Segal wrote in a 1977 review for The Times. The blend of modern dance, jazz and ballet worked seamlessly, he wrote, saying he considered it "a hedonistic pastiche."

In 1981, the Landrums created "In Rap With Dance," a talk show featuring dancers and choreographers that aired on Theta Cable's Channel 13 and won a local Emmy.

They continued performing until about 2000. Landrum is survived by her husband. A memorial service is planned for December.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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