Carpet Rolling Out for British Arts Celebration

Times Staff Writer

The British are coming!

From Feb. 4 to April 30--beginning with a major David Hockney retrospective at the County Museum of Art and ending after the final West Coast premiere performance of the full Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra--Los Angeles will be experiencing a major new, and probably one-time-only arts festival.

It's UK/LA '88--A Celebration of British Arts, and it will also bring, on their first official visit to the United States, their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of York, more popularly known as Prince Andrew and Fergie, the former Sarah Ferguson. The couple arrive Feb. 26 on a 10-visit to Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

The festival--a collaboration that has been in the works for nearly two years between the United Kingdom and major Los Angeles arts organizations--will offer about 60 events from chamber music to rock, from the fine arts to design and graphics, as well as opera, theater, film, television, radio and video.

Festival officials say the work will showcase "the traditional strengths of British culture as well as the cutting edge of contemporary work." The events will include five world premieres, plus 20 American and 15 West Coast debuts.

Among the events:

--Simon Rattle brings his City of Birmingham Orchestra to America for the first time, and Andre Previn, who formerly conducted the London Symphony, will lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic in three British-inspired programs.

--Dudley Moore will star in Jonathan Miller's production of "The Mikado" at the Wiltern Theatre while Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum, will direct Benjamin Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," also at the Wiltern.

--"Made in Bangkok," winner of the London Theatre Critics Award as "best new play in 1986," will have its American premiere at the Taper. It's about the impact of Western imperialism on five British tourists in Thailand.

-- A benefit pop and rock concert will be held at the Universal Amphitheatre in February.

--American Film Institute is staging a five-week festival looking at new British work, while UCLA Film and Television Archive takes a retrospective look at "The Angry Young Men of the Sixties." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will have a photographic exhibition of the 200 English actors who have received Oscars including Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant and Greer Garson.

"We're bringing the best of Britain," said Consul General Donald Ballentyne at a press reception at the Biltmore Hotel.

Behind the podium was the festival's logo, designed by Bill Tom, a Chinese-American who lives in Los Angeles.

On hand for the announcement were a host of Los Angeles arts officials including Ernest Fleischmann, executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Davidson; Earl A. Powell III, director of the County Museum of Art; Richard Koshalek, director for the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Robert Wise, president of the motion picture academy.

Ballentyne said he got the idea for the UK/LA event from the success of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles and also noted that the 1988 event is designed to help "promote British products."

According to actor Michael York, who also participated in the announcement ceremonies, the idea was proposed by Ballentyne at his home to a small group of "British ex-pats (expatriates) that also included actor David Hemmings.

"When we saw the popularity of Pina Bausch and her dance group, we realized there was an audience here, and we had a lust for (more)."

Hockney, colorfully attired in a fuchsia bow-tie and yellow-and-red argyle socks, said that he was contacted by festival organizers after he had already contracted with the county museum on his retrospective. "As far as I know I just became a part of it," he said with a shrug. A museum official confirmed that. "We were glad that the museum's Hockney retrospective was able to serve as the impetus around which the UK/LA festival could be organized. We've had it on the books for about five or six years."

Ballantyne estimated that there are about 350,000 British-born residents and their sons and daughters living in the Los Angeles area. About 10% are British citizens, he said.

The price tag for the event--the bulk of it borne by the presenting Los Angeles arts organizations--is $7 million, said festival coordinator Bruce Joseph, an American, who last year was responsible for marketing the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Nicholas Nickleby" at the Ahmanson.

Fleischmann, Taper and Koshalek said the costs of presenting the British programs were absorbed in their budgets. (The cost of the Hockney retrospective was underwritten by an $850,000 grant from AT&T.;)

Major sponsors who contributed about $100,000 include Atlantic Ritchfield Corp., Occidental Petroleum, California Federal Savings & Loan Assn. and British Airways. Meanwhile, the City of Los Angeles is waiving the fee for displaying festival flags. "We're letting them hang the banners for free," said a spokesman for City Council President John Ferraro.

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