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'Ruth Doesn't Live Here Anymore' memorializes modern dance's origins

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Lionel Popkin finds underlying multi-culti implications in the founding of modern dance in L.A.

The fact that modern dance was born in Los Angeles is well known, and it is not. Dance texts are not uncertain on the subject. In 1915, the pioneer Ruth St. Denis -- who took inspiration from progressive early 20th century Western theater and from the Eastern dance, theater and spiritual disciplines ripe in Southern California at the time -- founded the Denishawn school in Los Angeles with her husband, Ted Shawn.

Martha Graham was a Denishawn student. History was made.

But New York has for so long co-opted that history by becoming the center of modern dance that St. Denis’ role in the art form’s creation still needs regular prompting.

L.A. choreographer and dancer Lionel Popkin’s evening-length “Ruth Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” which will be given at REDCAT Thursday through Saturday evenings, is intended to remind that St. Denis (who was born in New Jersey sometime between 1877 and 1880 and died in L.A. in 1968) not only did live here but she also remains a provocative stimulus for questions of the nature of dance and culture. 

For Popkin, who describes himself as half Jewish and half Indian, considering St. Denis means contending with her versions of orientalism, with the notion that modern dance was actually founded on what today might seem loopy misrepresentations of Southern Asia.

So why not add today’s loopiest avant-garde accordionist, Guy Klucevsek, to create a score that he will play live with violinist Sara Parkins? As a cultural cross-dresser, Klucevsek has few equals in bending genres wherever he finds them. His latest recording, “Polka From the Fringe,” is a two-CD collection of new polkas he got from a wide range of classical new music, jazz and indie pop composers. It’s a riot, and an addictive one at that.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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