New York-based choreographer Judy Ann Bassing, winner of the San Diego Theater Critics Circle’s 1987 choreography award, was in town recently to set the dances for Lawrence Welk’s current production of “Sweet Charity,” which runs through Nov. 5.
It was Bassing’s second crack at choreographing “Sweet Charity,” and it meant a reunion with some show business cronies.
“I did this show for Fiesta with Frank Wayne and our vocal director Herbert Hecht three years ago, so it was like old-home week here. But it’s always great to work in San Diego,” she said. “We’re losing so many theaters in New York--they keep tearing them down--that it’s nice to be around theaters like the Old Globe and La Jolla. They’ve had shows that went straight to Broadway, so everyone has heard of them. It’s exciting to work in San Diego now.”
The diminutive dance designer was familiar with the original Bob Fosse choreography for “Sweet Charity” but chose to bypass the standard Fosse images in her re-creation of the show. Consequently, the precision port de bras and other Fosse signatures will be conspicuously absent. Only the show’s quintessential poster image remains completely intact.
“There are a lot of different looks that work in a show,” she said. “Bob Fosse’s choreography was great, but I’m getting to do what I want with it. The dancing is not notated, so it’s not like reading from a book. Anyway, you have to work with what you’ve got--what the dancers will look good in.”
Colette Bernal as Charity is “vibrant on stage,” Bassing said, “and she brings her own personality to the role. I give her the structure, but if it doesn’t look right or feel right to her, we refine it. The style depends on the music, but the dancers are my paint and clay.”
Former Jazz Unlimited dancer Chris Aguilar was part of the raw material Bassing used to create the colorful characters in “Sweet Charity” this time around.
Like several Jazz Unlimited dancers, he learned the genuine Fosse idiom directly from former Fosse dancer Tanis Michaels when Michaels staged the curtain-raiser from “Dancin’ ” for the local troupe. And as a strong jazz-oriented dancer, Aguilar was disappointed that this staging of “Sweet Charity” lacked many of the flashy Fosse trademarks.
“Judy changed some of the numbers quite a bit, like the Big Band number. She did that in tap, and it worked,” he said, “but I’d like to have more Fosse choreography. I think we could have done those big show-stoppers.”
Bassing acknowledged that the Welk version of “Sweet Charity” is not as strong on dance as the Fosse prototype, but noted, “you can’t cut the dialogue so it’s usually the dancing that gets cut.”
The busy choreographer is back in New York now, but not for long. She will return to the Welk fold for the staging of “She Loves Me,” which bows in Nov. 8.
Former Twyla Tharp virtuoso John Malashock came home to create his own dance company, despite San Diego’s poor track record of support for modern dance. In his official debut at Sushi last week, Malashock received an encouraging response from local aficionados and garnered praise from Times critic Lewis Segal, who described him as “a master of a style of modern dance that hasn’t looked so full of life and endless promise since Tharp turned highbrow and classical.”
“It was very gratifying,” said Malashock, after a hectic weekend of performing. “The work really jelled by the time we opened. People are saying that we really looked like a company and that the dancers looked like individual personalities. That was my goal, and I’m really encouraged. Now I need to do fund raising, but I’m more than satisfied with this first step.”
While many folk dance troupes sell their souls for show-biz glitz, Amalia Hernandez’s Ballet Folklorico de Mexico remains committed to preserving its rich and diverse heritage. Last week, the large company of dancers, musicians and singers that make up this Mexico City-based folklorico company showed their wares in San Diego and proved that you don’t have to sacrifice authenticity or artistic integrity to keep a cultural expression alive and entertaining. The troupe evoked the ancient traditions of village life with vivid theatricality, using majestic headdresses and lavish costumes, sophisticated lighting designs and spectacular backdrops.
Unfortunately, the ensemble had to cancel one of two scheduled performances at the San Diego Civic Theater, and even that single performance was far from full. Where were the ever-burgeoning audiences for professional dance when these fine folk dancers were in town?
Remember “Eddie the Snake?” He’s the young man who came out of nowhere and raised the rafters at the first San Diego Area Dance Alliance Festival with a rubber-legged break-dancing solo. Now, under his real name, Edward Ellison, the former street dancer is a polished performer, dancing in the corps de ballet of the famed San Francisco Ballet. You can see him in action this weekend when the troupe dances its sumptuous “Swan Lake” at the San Diego Civic Theater, Thursday through Saturday, at 8 p.m.