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Aszure Barton's Awa¦üa - photo by Don Lee 3

Dancers in Aszure Barton’s “Awáa,” photo by Don Lee

The Music Center kicks off a new initiative this summer, called The Music Center on Location. The downtown performing arts center is moving off campus, presenting two smaller dance companies and music artists at the Ford Theatres: Aszure Barton Dance in “Awáa” on Aug. 18 and Jacob Jonas The Company on Aug. 19, in shared program with Tim Hecker and Kara-Lis Coverdale. In October, the Music Center will present British choreographer Akram Khan’s “Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata” at Culver Studios on West Washington Boulevard in Culver City. These are all big steps for this institution, and via email I asked President and CEO Rachel Moore to talk a little about this decision to begin presenting events away from the center’s traditional downtown venues. Below is an edited version of our email conversation.

Laura: How and why did you decide on the Ford as a venue for this initiative?

Rachel: The upcoming music and dance engagement at the Ford Theatres is part of…our commitment to taking the artistic vision of the Music Center beyond our downtown campus to venues across L.A. County and providing even more opportunities for audiences to engage with the arts. It is critical to us, not only as a county venue, but as L.A.’s performing arts center, to serve all of Los Angeles County and to be relevant and accessible to audiences of all interests. Working with the Ford Theatres creates a natural partnership as the newly renovated amphitheater is located in close proximity to the Westside of Los Angeles along with the West Valley and offers an intimate setting for many different artistic genres.

Ana Barros (@anasbarros)

Photo of Jacob Jonas The Company by Ana Barros

Laura: And tell me a little about how you chose to present Aszure’s and Jacob’s companies?

Rachel: The Music Center is presenting highly talented artists, both based in L.A., as well as some pieces that have never been performed here. We are always focused on presenting world-class talent and providing a platform for L.A.-based artists. Aszure Barton is now an Angeleno after recently relocating to Los Angeles. She is a prolific choreographer with strong emotionality. Her piece “Awàa” celebrates sexuality and humanity through movement and will be performed for the first time in Los Angeles. Jacob Jonas is a young choreographer and dancer raised in Los Angeles who combines contemporary ballet with breakdance and acrobatics. His company will perform a new piece commissioned by The Music Center On Location called “On Me,” where the company will explore the idiom “to carry the weight of the world on one’s shoulders.” We are excited to include Jacob’s unique blend of athleticism and dance in our program.

Laura: It is a complicated time for all of the arts. Big performing arts institutions like the Music Center have for at least a decade been trying new ways to reach audiences and to be integral to a broader swath of society. How will the Music Center on Location help and are you worried that by going to smaller venues in other parts of the city, you are stepping on the toes of other Los Angeles theaters, such as the Wallis and the Broad Stage?

Rachel: Much as we would like everyone to be able to visit us in Downtown L.A., we know that just may not be possible! That’s why we created The Music Center On Location. We’re in the early days of this program, but, ultimately, we hope to provide more programming in all five county districts and work with local artists, community groups and other important stakeholders to build relationships throughout the region with the goal of providing even more access to the arts.
What’s more, The Music Center On Location is about creating and building partnerships with arts organizations throughout the region. For example, we may present a future
engagement at the Wallis or the Broad Stage. Our intention is to collectively work together with our colleagues and, in doing so, raise the awareness for the arts across Los Angeles and Southern California.

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Laguna Dance Festival returns this week and artistic director Jodie Gates is presenting two popular contemporary dance companies: Parsons Dance and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. The former was founded by David Parsons in 1985 as an outlet devoted (mostly) to his highly athletic and accessible modern dance works. His most famous piece, “Caught,” a solo in which a carefully timed strobe light makes it appear the dancer is flying about the stage, is one of those scheduled. Aspen Santa Fe is the only company I can think of that has made a success of having two “homes” in different cities. This is a small, but appealing group that has a classical ballet foundation, and a diverse repertory. Artistic director Tom Mossbrucker has selected pieces by Trey McIntyre, Jorma Elo, and Alejandro Cerrudo for the Laguna festival.

Parsons Dance performs 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, and  Friday, Sept. 6, while Aspen Santa Fe dances at 7:30 Saturday, Sept. 7 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8. All shows at the Laguna Playhouse in downtown Laguna Beach. Click here for ticket information.

Two master classes, one to be taught by Parsons (Sept. 4) and the other by Aspen Santa Fe executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty (Sept. 8), are sold out, but you can call 949-715-5578 to find out about observing one or both classes.

“It feels that things are simmering, if not percolating” in the L.A. dance community.–Choreographer David Rousseve, artistic director of REALITY

That was just one of the interesting comments made during the morning session of the L.A. Dance Summit, which took place today (June 8) at downtown Los Angeles’ Japan America Theatre. I think David is right, and the conference was one bit of that simmering.

It was spearheaded by Bonnie Oda Homsey, former Graham dancer and co-founder of American Repertory Dance Company, and Cora Mirikitani, president and CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation, with help from the city and county arts councils/commissions. It was put together with good intentions–to gather the entire community of dancers, choreographers, teachers, administrators, and so on, for discussions, and to provide concrete advice and assistance for making it in L.A. as a dance artist. Still, the summit was announced not so long ago and there was not quite enough advance notice to do a huge publicity campaign. I thought it was a significant event and wrote a story for the L.A. Times. Still, it was unclear how big a crowd would turn out, particularly given it’s the same weekend as the Ojai Music Festival, directed this year by Mark Morris.

I saw Bonnie when I arrived and she said there were more than 200 registrants; she was very pleased about that. I’ll name drop just some of the people I saw: Don Hewitt (former Kaleidoscope director who has moved back to L.A.), Gary Bates, Barak Marshall, Jenny Backhaus, Dale Merrill, Lorin Johnson, Melissa Barak, Tamica Washington-Miller, Melanie Rios Glaser, Michael Alexander, Matt Wells, Jane Jelenko (Music Center Dance Arts), and Fred Strickler. The afternoon was devoted to practical workshop sessions, and I did not stay for those. Following the summit, Bonnie and Cora hope to come up with a working paper that will outline the community’s greatest needs and suggest ways to move forward. I will blog about that later. Below are some outtakes on what struck me the most.

Renae Williams Niles, now vice president of programming at the Music Center, gave a brief opening speech that was titled “The Legacy of L.A. Dance.” Her comments were not, unfortunately, quite that sweeping or comprehensive. She said that up until a decade ago, the only times the community gathered, it was in reaction to some crisis. She labeled this gathering pro-active, and as such, it was a positive development. The vastness of Los Angeles is its greatest challenge, she noted, a central theme that was repeated by others. (Other familiar themes: not enough funding for artists, not enough administrative infrastructure, not enough rehearsal space, and a lack of performance venues.)

Laura Zucker, executive director of the county Arts Commission, moderated the plenary panel. She opened with some revealing statistics from a report to be released in a few weeks: Forty local dance companies, with budgets between $1million and $25,000, had combined revenues of $8.7 million; they gave 550 annual performances here and on tour, reaching more than 300,000 attendees. Yet, revealingly, these companies are able to employ only 18 full-time, and 62 part-time staff members. In addition, 84 percent of their revenue comes from earned income, meaning they’re trying to live off ticket sales alone, which is nearly impossible to do.

Margaret Jenkins, artistic director of her SF-based eponymous company, spoke about her Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange program that has benefitted 30 L.A. artists since she brought it here in 2008. The program fosters, she said, a “rigorous dialogue” among emerging and veteran choreographers, who are paired together; provides compensation to them; helps alleviate the isolation of working alone; and gives choreographers sustained feedback.

Olga Garay-English, executive director of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, urged dancers and dance-makers to be creative and collaborative off-stage as well as on. She noted that during the recent economic collapse her department stepped up its fundraising and was able to get funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to start a technical assistance program. Seven local companies and individuals were selected to take part in it. She also added that NEA officials recently complained to her that they don’t get enough grant applications from L.A. companies, suggesting that there are funding opportunities out there for local companies to grab.

In his remarks, David Rousseve spoke about a peculiarly L.A. dichotomy: The possibilities to make art here can seem more limitless than in other places, yet it’s also logistically harder to achieve. David brought up places to which dancers can turn for help and inspiration: residencies offered by CAP UCLA; spacefinderla.org to locate rehearsal space; alternative dance presenting organizations Show Box LA and Pieter. But he noted there is a “profound lack of infrastructure,” which handicaps L.A. artists.

Finally, Kristy Edmunds, the newish (she just finished her second year) executive and artistic director of CAP UCLA, spoke about her role as presenter and curator of an organization that has been producing live performance for 75 years. She noted that a cynic could say her job is to shop for what the audience “is currently seeking.” She believes, on the other hand, that letting box office concerns dictate curatorial decisions, would mean everyone would leave the theater feeling “empty.” Edmunds noted that she has pulled out seats to improve sight lines in the beautiful but barn-like Royce Hall, and that she wants to improve on the artistic experience of seeing dance there. She said that meeting with local dance-makers is a continuous and integral part of her job, and that she is interested in artists’ work in its full “dimensionality,” not just as a single production to sell.

Clearly, the morning was devoted to focusing on whatever positive elements there are to being a dance artist in L.A. I wonder, did the artists who attended think the summit was beneficial? Do you also think things are simmering?

Choreographer Melissa Barak, a onetime company member with New York City and Los Angeles ballets, has spent the past two years planning for her own contemporary ballet company to be based in Los Angeles, her hometown. Sunday night was the “pre-launch performance” and about 300 turned out at the new Ann and Jerry Moss Theater in Santa Monica for the show. The concert was smartly planned: four pieces that represent the kinds of works supporters could expect Barak Ballet to produce, including a playful new quartet by Barak, “La Follia,” to music by Antonio Vivaldi. River North Dance Chicago’s Melanie Hortin and Michael Gross performed Frank Chaves‘ searing “Sentir em Nos” while Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s Haiyan Wu and Brian Simcoe did an expert job with “Liturgy,” by Christopher Wheeldon, who is a friend of Barak’s. The show opened with Alissa Halpin and Kelly Ann Sloan in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s striking duet, “Moments,” which knocked out the audience at last summer’s National Choreographer’s InitiativeBarak was a participant there with Moultrie.

The friendly audience gave Barak a standing ovation at the end. It was an hour of great dancing with receptions before and after the show so that viewers could talk to the choreographer and get to know her better. (She inserted a questionnaire in the program to gauge  interest in the evening and get to practical matters, such as, “how many miles would you be willing to travel to see live dance.”)

If all goes as planned — which means, if she has raised enough money — Barak has said she will hire dancers for the official company over the summer and begin performances in the fall. Stay tuned.

News out of Moscow on the horrific acid attack against Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin, and the prime suspect — even confessing  on Russian television — is a principal dancer with the company. The alleged ringleader is Pavel Dmitrichenko, who appeared as Rothbart in “Swan Lake” in June 2012, when the Bolshoi Ballet appeared in a sold-out engagement at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Los Angeles Times has a story today, with quotes from my review. Read the Times story here and my original review here.

In my Dec. 16 article for the Los Angeles Times wrapping up the year in dance, I expressed my disappointment with how heavy-hitter philanthropist Glorya Kaufman chose to lavish millions of dollars (exact amount undisclosed) on USC to start a new school for dance. I argued that donations are most urgently needed for daily operations to support the city’s myriad small, professional companies. I didn’t even mention that if Kaufman wanted to fund a building, a centrally located complex with studios and theater would have been brilliant. The New York Times published an interview with Kaufman two days ago, and asked her to respond directly to my criticism (on the second page. The NYT article also links to mine). Her answer is certainly unsatisfactory. She mentions that there are already plans afoot for collaborations with ABT and the Music Center once the school is up and running. Not surprisingly, one can’t help but see these efforts as moves to keep a singular donor happy and in their corner.

I haven’t even aired all of the questions I have. First and foremost is why is Robert Cutietta, dean of USC’s Thornton School of Music, spearheading the plans for the dance school? Why is this not being done by an outstanding dancer or choreographer? Is Cutietta the permanent dean? If a dance professional was running the USC school of music, and making decisions about curriculum, you can bet there would be howls of protest.

Ivan Sygoda, the longtime co-director of the arts management non-profit organization called Pentacle, will be stepping back from his duties this July, the New York-based organization announced this week. Sygoda will still be involved in some of Pentacle’s projects, but he is handing off the day-to-day running of the organization to a group of in-house leaders that has also been intimately involved in Pentacle’s good work: Mara Greenberg, the current co-director (since the group’s founding in 1976), Felicia Rosenfeld, director of programming, Sophie Myrtil-McCourty, director of booking services, and Doug Post, gallery representative/operations manager. Rosenfeld is based in L.A., and directs the Help Desk/LA program, pairing artists in need of administrative advice and help, with mentors who can guide them. There’s the significance: Pentacle provides behind-the-scenes support for small and mid-size dance groups, which have few places to go to get such expertise. Marketing, fundraising, board development — all that necessary business stuff can take artists away from making art. Sygoda thought up ground-breaking ways to make critical infrastructure available to dance artists, so they could bring their dancing to us. Good luck to the new leadership consortium; ruling by committee can be a challenge.

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