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‘80 Days’ Choreographer Enjoyed It, Slight Unseen

Who says all artists have egos? The reviews of the La Jolla Playhouse’s new musical, “80 Days,” virtually ignored the contributions of acclaimed choreographer Dianne McIntyre, who came in from New York to create the movement motifs. But being bypassed by the critics didn’t faze McIntyre.

“Actually, I took it as a compliment. It says the entire production was integrated in such a way that you don’t realize what was actually choreographed,” said McIntyre in a telephone interview from New York. “But every musical number was completely choreographed. The idea was to create a seamless flow to further the plot.”

McIntyre--whose choreographic credits include concert dances for Alvin Ailey and her own jazz dance troupe, the Playhouse’s production of “Shout Up a Morning” and several New York shows--worked within several constraints in doing this show, including characters with limited mobility. But she said that only fueled her imagination.

“It was actually more exciting for me to choreograph for the old men sitting in chairs than for the dancey dances,” she said. “The dancey stuff is easy compared to digging for characterization. The old men had to be so specific in their movements, and I had to work on what they could and couldn’t do. That represented a lot of growth for me--to work with what seemed like limitations and then come up with something I would never think of otherwise.”

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Working with an ensemble that was cast for acting and singing skills rather than dancing prowess was another obstacle to overcome. But, as McIntyre said: “I like working with non-dancers because, as trained actors, they can give you dramatic intent that you don’t always get from dancers. Dancers sometimes are too concerned with line to consider the dramatic effects.”

McIntyre, a serious concert dancer, never set out to choreograph for the theater.

“People just kind of called me and asked me to do plays, and now I’m very busy. In fact, I might have two coming up in New York later this month.”

“80 Days” took its knocks from the critics, but McIntyre has only one regret.

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“I’m just sorry I had to leave right after it opened,” she said. “I know it will only get better as it goes along.”

Director Des McAnuff, who considers the show a work in progress, was delighted with McIntyre’s contribution to his vision of the show.

“Dianne is an extremely gifted choreographer, and she’s terrific with people,” he said. “That’s what makes her a wonderful collaborator.”

The new musical, based on the Jules Verne fantasy, will have plenty of time to polish its act. “80 Days” is scheduled to run through Oct. 2 at the Mandell Weiss Center for the Performing Arts.

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“I’m going to be the first female modern dancer since Isadora Duncan to do a solo concert in Russia,” said Three’s Company’s co-director Betzi Roe. “There are no modern dance companies in Russia, and they’re hungry for modern dance. I’ll have a handpicked group of students from all over the Eastern-Bloc countries. I can really make a difference.”

The U.S. State Department obviously agrees. Roe was named cultural ambassador to the Soviet Union, and the San Diego dance maker is collecting choreography for a three-week sojourn to Leningrad and Moscow. Roe’s itinerary calls for her to teach at the venerable Rimsky-Korsakov Institute for Choreographic Arts and at four different dance companies.

“Last year, while I was in the Soviet Union on a visit, I was invited to teach, choreograph and perform a solo concert in Leningrad,” she said. “When the State Department found out, they decided to fund my trip and give me a two-year grant. I’m really honored by the title, and thrilled to be the first female modern dancer to perform in the Soviet Union. They have seen visiting dance troupes, but they never see cutting-edge modern dance, so I’m really picking my repertory carefully.”

In order to give the Russians a broad sampler of American modern dance styles, Roe has assembled repertory from several respected West Coast choreographers.

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“The Soviet artistic mentality is still in the 19th Century, so I won’t show them any real off-the-wall post-modern works,” said Roe. “Ill stick to classic modern dance, but I’m bringing one zany post-modern piece that ends with a dying swan. I think they’ll relate to that.”

Before she leaves, Roe will showcase many of the Soviet-bound dances in a low-tech solo concert at Three’s Company’s Hillcrest studio. The performances, at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18, will feature works by five regional choreographers.

“It’s part of my California Women Choreographers Project,” said Roe. “I keep acquiring as many as I can, because the women in this state are doing beautiful work. I just can’t afford to buy many, and it’s hard to get grants to pay for them.”

It has been years since Lamb’s Players Theatre had its own dance troupe. But on Sept. 16, Pamela Turner, the director of that long-defunct ensemble, will be making a comeback with a program of modern dance titled “Layers Plus.”

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The concert takes its name from Turner’s theater piece, a modern dance that mixes actors culled from the Lamb’s Players with modern dancers. Sharing the first part of the program are works by two San Diego dance makers, Cate Bell and Maj Xander.

“Pam retired a few years ago to have a family,” said Lamb’s art director Chris Turner, who joins his wife as one of the non-dancers in “Layers.” “She’s hoping to do more in the future. This concert is just testing the waters.”

COMING: The San Diego Area Dance Alliance’s new PAL project, an open arena designed to encourage local choreographers to experiment with other artists, gives its inaugural at Sushi on Sept. 18. . . . Sushi’s performance season gets under way at the downtown gallery Sept. 17 with “Variedades,” a variety cabaret show featuring the Skid Row-based Los Angeles Poverty Department and local talent as well. . . . Local aficionados will have another chance to catch “Cats” as it treks through San Diego. The spectacular high-tech dance show is due for an eight-performance run Sept. 13-18 at the Civic Theatre.

PEOPLE: San Diego dancers Glean Lewis, recently of Jazz Unlimited, and Genia Sherwood, who danced with Lewis in Sea World’s City Streets show, are on the road with Vegas headliners Siegfried and Roy. The pair have signed up as featured dancers for the duo’s 10-month tour of Japan and their subsequent run at Radio City Music Hall. . . . California Ballet-trained Linette Hitchin will dance with the Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice. . . . San Diego Theater for Young Audiences, headed by artistic director Bonnie Johnston, will give its first public performance in late October, to be followed by a nine-month, countywide tour of public schools.

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