Joffrey Plays to the Hometown Fans : Opening Night Gala Successful Fund-Raiser for Troupe

Times Staff Writer

With the band playing "In the Mood" and baskets of pasta salad on the tables, it wasn't exactly reminiscent of a Viennese coffee house, but no one at the Joffrey's opening night seemed to mind.

The ersatz coffee house theme was in honor of "Cotillon," the company's reconstruction of the George Balanchine ballet that the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo debuted in 1932. Gala night patrons saw the refurbished dance Tuesday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

But it was the final piece, "Suite Saint-Saens," that had the audience pelting the dancers with bouquet after bouquet.

After the applause, guests sat down in the Grand Hall for a post-performance dinner ($250 per person) of beet soup, pasta salad, quiche and vegetables and a dessert buffet with tarts, chocolates and cakes that could be found in a Viennese coffee house.

"Those girls are wonderful!" sighed Joffrey artistic director Gerald Arpino, talking about Joffrey Patron Series chairmen Sandra Ausman and Phyllis Hennigan.

Arpino enthused about the company's fall trip to China, where it will open the Beijing Arts Festival.

"I think the fact that we're going to bring such an exciting American repertoire is great," he said. "I think the students will respond to the Joffrey, because we're such a youth-oriented company. They're going to see free people in a democratic climate that reflects what they're fighting for."

'People Will Respond Honestly'

On the bill in China will be "Trinity," a piece backed by a live rock band, which the company also performed in the Soviet Union. "We're bringing the dynamics and the whole concept of American movement," Arpino continued. "Dance is so universal, I think people will respond honestly. And I think the exchange will be very productive for both nations."

With international and national plaudits like the arts festival and a new work that Arpino is choreographing, to be presented to President and Mrs. Bush later this year, still Arpino was concerned that there were empty seats on opening night in Los Angeles.

"Sure it bothers me," he said. "This is our home, and I want L. A. to respond to the love and the whole cultural flux we're trying to create. We want to be a catalyst so that other companies will respond.

"It's a matter of growth," he added. "You've got to remember that America is very young when it comes to dance. You've got to be patient."

Ausman noted one sign that the Joffrey is growing in popularity: This year's spring season has been extended from two weeks to three.

"It's growing," she said. "The more there is the more people will understand it and want to see it. They say Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was an audience." Among the guests (who presumably already understand ballet) were Frederick Weisman, Anne Archer, Yuri Scheinbaum and Patricia Kennedy, newlyweds Burt Sugarman and Mary Hart, Marilyn and Frank Lynch (she is a member of the Patron Series committee; he is vice president of the board of directors of the Foundation for the Joffrey Ballet, Inc.), Terri and Tim Childs, Nancy and Tim Vreeland, Suzanne Marx, Tom and Esther Wachtell, Barbi Benton and George Gradow, Sid and Nancy Peterson, Felisa and Nick Vanoff and Henry and Ginny Mancini.

As Nick Vanoff spun Joffrey dancer Beatriz Rodriguez around the black and white tiled dance floor, Sandra Ausman invited her tablemates to lift their glasses in a toast. "Here's to being happy," she said.

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