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Dancers Cheer Kaleidoscope’s Return : Cal State L.A. provides a haven for the festival

“Good catch!” yelled choreographer Ferne Ackerman above the music as one of her dancers deftly slipped into a long cloak’s sleeves after tossing it skyward in the darkened Playhouse at Cal State L.A.

“Great,” she cried out as another slid sensuously across the floor.

Rehearsing a work called “Flame,” six members of Ackerman’s Big Flood Dance Company were draped in flowing robes, black on the outside and colored on the inside, that Ackerman said symbolize people’s appearances “on the surface and below the surface.”

Effective movement isn’t all that Ackerman has been cheering about lately. She, along with many others, is applauding the return of Dance Kaleidoscope, the annual summer festival that ceased after eight years in 1986.

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Big Flood is among 24 troupes and solo artists scheduled for the two weekend event, Friday through July 23 and July 28-30 at Cal State L.A. Three mixed-bill programs, each repeated once, will feature performance art as well as dance.

This year’s festival roster, which includes three world premieres, “looks great,” said choreographer Karen Goodman, a former Kaleidoscope participant. It represents “some of the better performers, in terms of what’s going on in L.A.”

The now-defunct Los Angeles Area Dance Alliance first presented the showcase for local, mostly up-and-coming dance artists in 1979. It was discontinued three years ago, a few months after the alliance fell victim to financial and administrative troubles, but not before giving exposure to more than 150 troupes and soloists at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Hollywood.

With partial funding this year from the City of Los Angeles, Cal State L.A. has agreed to fully sponsor the festival. Once again, low-budget troupes and struggling soloists will be provided with a rent-free venue and other production resources such as stage lighting and advertising.

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The notion to revive Kaleidoscope at the university was initiated by Donald Hewitt, a former Kaleidoscope organizer who teaches ballet at the campus, five miles from the Civic Center.

Hewitt got the idea after observing Cal State L.A.'s growing commitment to dance. In addition to hosting the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, the university is evolving into a home for the Joffrey Ballet, which will spend a seven-week rehearsal residency there beginning in August.

“I knew (the university) was building its visibility in the arts,” said Hewitt, director of Dance Kaleidoscope 1989. “I thought this would be in line with that, and yet add the local, grass-roots angle.”

Last year, Hewitt brought his idea to Clif Harper, chairman of the university’s theater arts and dance department, who willingly passed it on to Cal State L.A. President James M. Rosser.

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“We want to provide new artists with exposure and provide a forum in which L.A.'s contributions to the arts can be expressed,” Rosser said, noting that the university’s stated mission is to be “a focal point of the arts.”

“We think Kaleidoscope is something that deserves to be kept alive.”

Funding for the $40,000 festival came mostly in the form of free facilities and services, such as audio equipment provided by the university, organizers said.

Solicitation for corporate donations proved unsuccessful so far, but dancers’ customary honorariums totaling $7,000 will be paid by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, a city official said.

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This time around, efforts were made to avert controversies and pitfalls that dogged previous festivals, Hewitt said. One especially divisive issue involved a policy allowing organizers to invite some groups while others were required to audition.

“There was selectivism,” charged a disgruntled choreographer in 1985.

Thus, everyone who wanted to dance in Kaleidoscope redux had to audition.

“We wanted to start off again fresh,” free of “negativity and mistrust,” said Lula Washington, director of Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre and one of a 10-member panel that chose this year’s participants.

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Organizers said pains were also taken to avoid criticism that festival evenings was interminably long, squashing too many acts into each program.

After about 100 artists and groups auditioned in February, “we took 24, instead of about 40 or more groups,” Hewitt said. “We wished to upgrade the quality, and we did,” he added. “A lot of new, emerging people applied. We really tried to reach out and get a wide selection of different kinds of dance.”

Veteran choreographer Lola Montes and prominent dancers, arts administrators and others served on Kaleidoscope’s selection committee:

Sasha Anawalt, free-lance dance writer; Donald Bradburn, professor of dance at UC Irvine; Barry Glass, director of the Aman Folk Ensemble; Warren Lucas, dancer and choreographer; Gail Matsui, project director, Japan America Theatre; Tim Miller, performance artist and co-founder of Highways performance space; Montes, director of Lola Montes and her Spanish Dancers; Judy Scalin, director of the dance department at Loyola Marymount University; Lula Washington, identified above; Lee Werbel, grants manager for the National/State/County Partnership.

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The full Dance Kaleidoscope 1)89 program:

PROGRAM A--Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.:

Los Angeles Modern Dance & Ballet Company.

Young Ae Park.

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Stephen Craig and Karen Johnson.

Big Flood Dance Company.

Katja Biesanz Dance Theatre.

California Theatre Ballet.

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Stephanie Gilliland.

Karpatok Hungarian Folk Ensemble.

PROGRAM B--July 23, 2:30 p.m., and July 28, 8 p.m.:

Pacific Dance Ensemble.

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Betzi Roe Dancing/California Women.

Rene Olivas Gubernick and Martha Kalman.

Suzee Goldman.

Zoot.

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David Leahy.

Sarah Elgart and Company.

Linda Vega Danzas de Espana with Juan Talavera.

PROGRAM C--July 29, 8 p.m. and July 30, 2:30 p.m.:

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Gregg Bielemeier Contemporary Dance.

Tina Gerstler/Short Works.

Jessica Vallot.

Anthony Balcena and Company.

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Shrimps.

Blue Palm.

Patricia Sandback and Dancers.

John Malashock Dance and Company.

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General admission is $12. Information: (213) 343-4118.


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