John Clifford Is Eyeing a Comeback

These days, John Clifford travels a lot, both as a free-lance choreographer and as an official representative of the George Balanchine Trust.

He has lately been in Milan, Italy, staging Balanchine works on the La Scala Ballet. This week, following a fortnight of heavy Balanchine activity at UC Irvine, Clifford goes to France, to stage three more Balanchine works on the Paris Opera Ballet. In December, he is in residence at Ballet British Columbia in Vancouver.

But the old days--the 10 years (1975-85) Clifford was artistic director of Los Angeles Ballet--are not forgotten. In conversation, the 42-year-old Californian, who spent much of his youth as a protege of Balanchine at New York City Ballet, still refers to his Los Angeles decade. Now he puts it in a particular context.

With some heat, he says, "As always, the question remains, does Los Angeles want a truly resident ballet company, one locally based and fully professional? Up to now, other cities have supported their own ballet, and L.A. has not."

On the phone from Orange County, Clifford, referring to the Joffrey Ballet's bi-coastal status as a resident company at the Music Center, says: "I don't think it's a secret that sharing one company between two or more cities just doesn't work. A lot of cities have tried it, and it's not successful in the long run.

"The difference is in having dancers who have been trained in this place, pay taxes in this place, make this their base and participate in a kind of inbreeding with the community." There is a bottom line, Clifford feels.

"What makes a city a cultural center is having a symphony orchestra, an opera company and a ballet. Until Los Angeles has all three, it can't pretend to be such a center."

The dance company Clifford travels with these days is called Ballet of Los Angeles (BOLA). It was formed hastily, two years ago, to take over tour dates for the engaged-but-defunct Chicago City Ballet. In the spring of 1990, it will embark on a third national tour--but one which will still not see the 16-member troupe dancing in Los Angeles.

Does Clifford envision BOLA as the company Los Angeles is waiting for?

"Look," he says, friendly but firm, "I don't need to put together a company for Los Angeles. I've done that. But we do have this group--we have dancers, a budget, a repertory. . . ."

The dark-haired dancer/choreographer says his company has not been avoiding Southern California, but that the right kinds of engagements have not materialized. They might just come together in the spring, he says, when BOLA undertakes its latest transcontinental tour.

According to the booking agent for Ballet of Los Angeles, Gary Lindsey of Gary Lindsey Artistic Services in San Francisco, the tour begins in McAllen, Tex., March 28, moves cross-country to New York, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and closes in Fresno April 14.

Clifford says "Since we are touring anyway, and if we can incorporate some Southern California performances into the itinerary, why not? We're willing. The important thing is to do them with no deficits."

The choreographer claims, "I haven't signed anything, but I am talking to the people at the Keck Theater (at Occidental College in Eagle Rock)."

Phyllis Warshaw, the impresario at Occidental, says "We have told them (Clifford and Lindsey) that our facilities are available."

Lindsey says he does not book Southern California engagements for BOLA, but handles only tour dates away from Los Angeles. He does confirm, however, that the possible dates in Keck Theater are Feb. 23 and 25, a month before the national tour begins. Clifford mentions also that BOLA might dance at Irvine in late April, after the tour.

This tour is considerably shorter than the seven-week itinerary the 16-dancer company followed last spring, Clifford acknowledges.

"It was planned that way on purpose, because of my other commitments. We didn't want a long tour," he says.

"These days, my income comes entirely from working in Europe," he insists. "What I do here is extra, and usually in between those other jobs."

Clifford says he realizes what a far cry the present organization is from the company that disbanded in 1985.

"At our peak, we had a budget of $2 million, employed 36 dancers, gave more than 100 performances a year, plus extras, and did five years of 'Nutcrackers.' "

In 1989-90, the company's budget is down from the $480,000 it took to run the two-month tour last spring. The roster of 16 dancers still includes two former members of the Bolshoi Ballet, Alla Kaniashvili-Artiushkina and Vitaly Artiushkin, and associate company director Allegra Kent and Antonio Lopez. Clifford says a European tour in 1991 is now being booked for the troupe.

"At this point, we are breaking even. If we continue to do so, and increase our size, our budget and our repertory, we will be in a position to come back."

'AIDA' APPROACHES: A much-ballyhooed touring production of Verdi's "Aida" as mounted by the International Opera Festival will reach Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, May 4 and 5. At a cost of a reported $7 million, this production boasts "the Sphinx and three pyramids . . . a cast of thousands as Egyptian and Ethiopian spear holders and soldiers in 1,500 costumes, 5,000 props, 100-person ballet, full 100-piece orchestra, as well as lions, tigers, bears, camels and even a python."

With the announcement comes a toll-free phone number, a so-called "Aida Hot Line": (800) 365-6560. Last week, one caller dialed it but found only an operator willing to "have someone call you back."

The touring extravaganza was first given in 1987 in Giza, Egypt (to decidedly mixed reviews), hard by the Sphinx and pyramids. It has since traveled to Montreal, Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver and Tokyo. The Los Angeles performances will mark the production's first visit to this country.

Giuseppe Raffa will conduct; among the promised singers are Grace Bumbry, Ruza Baldani, Gordon Hawkins and Bruno Sebastian.

SALAMUNOVICH: In celebration of his 40 years of service at St. Charles Borromeo Church, veteran choral conductor Paul Salamunovich was feted, toasted and roasted last Sunday at the North Hollywood church. As a longtime associate of Roger Wagner, Salamunovich worked with professional and academic choirs for more than 30 years; as his own choral musician, he has been on the faculty of Loyola Marymount University since 1964. As a choral clinician, he continues to cover the globe: In 1990, his travels include professional stops in West Germany, Australia and Canada.

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