Choreographer Bill T. Jones and soprano Kallen Esperian will perform Sunday night in an “intimate salon-style ceremony” at the Regent Beverly Wilshire as part of the Music Center’s Dorothy B. Chandler Performing Arts Awards.
The black-tie $500-per-person gala will include Jones’ 18-minute performance of his Bessie Award-winning “D-Man in the Waters” (with eight of his company members) and Esperian’s performance of two arias--Verdi’s “Tacea la notte placida” from “Il Trovatore” and Puccini’s “In quelle trine morbide” from “Manon Lescaut"--and the traditional American song, “He’s Gone Away.”
Jones, 39, is a New York-based choreographer and co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Co. dance group. (Zane died of AIDS in 1988.) He recently presented the controversial “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land” at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
Esperian, 29, is a soprano and protegee of Luciano Pavarotti. She has sung in leading roles internationally and plans to make her major L.A. debut in 1993 in “La Boheme” for the Music Center Opera.
They will accept their awards--a $25,000 prize plus a cast-bronze sculpture by L.A. artist Robert Graham--from their corresponding “20th Century Masters of the Arts”: soprano Gwyneth Jones and Cynthia Gregory, former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer.
Kirk Douglas, Anjelica Huston and Michael York will serve as masters of ceremonies. The program also will include tributes to Dorothy Chandler, who spearheaded the building of the downtown Music Center arts complex. There will also be an appearance by tenor Placido Domingo. Organizers say they will have a piano ready in the hope that Domingo will choose to sing--either alone or with Esperian, who appeared opposite him in her 1989 Met debut in “La Boheme” and in last fall’s “Otello” at the new Opera de la Bastille in Paris.
In a surprising venue change, the ceremony--which was originally scheduled to be in the Grand Hall outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s auditorium--was changed to the Beverly Hills setting to accommodate Jones’ dance troupe, which required more performance space than the Pavilion’s Grand Hall area but much less room than the auditorium, according to the three chairwomen organizing the event.
The venue switch is the latest in a string of changes to be made concerning the Dorothy B. Chandler Performing Arts Awards, which were introduced in 1989 during the Music Center’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Billed as the start of an annual program that would include televised galas to rival the Lincoln and Kennedy Center honors, the inaugural Chandler Awards show was taped before a capacity audience in the Pavilion and aired on PBS. (Awards were presented to violinist Midori, theater director Julie Taymor and post-modern choreographer Charles Moulton.)
But the awards skipped 1990 and will no longer be televised. In addition, they have been scaled back to two winners annually, with the music category being split into vocal and instrumental categories, each presented in alternating years. The dance and theater categories also are to be presented in alternating years.
According to Music Center President Ester Wachtell, the categories were reduced because of fears that there would not be enough qualified recipients to merit three awards annually.
But Gordon Davidson, artistic director-producer of the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, said the problem wasn’t in the size of the talent pool, but in the administrative difficulties in finding the best recipients on an annual basis.
“That kind of search for talent . . . is a big job, not just in terms of the time procedures, but in the network of information sources that have to be tapped--especially when we’re casting an international net,” Davidson said. “So I think it’s OK to rotate through the disciplines every other year.”
According to co-chairwoman Jennifer Diener, to try to mount annually the kind of grand production in the Chandler Pavilion that was done in 1989 was not feasible: “Selling out 3,000 seats yearly to that kind of event would not be possible.”
Instead, organizers decided to “have a very intimate salon evening . . . so the attendees would really feel a part of it and feel like they’d had a ‘brush with greatness,’ so to speak,” said co-chairwoman Susie Barker, noting that the 500-seat Regent ballroom was sold out for Sunday’s event, which will raise $200,000 for the resident companies.
All three organizers and Wachtell noted that the awards ceremonies “belonged” at the Music Center. In future years, co-chairwoman Diane Morton said, organizers would consider using a smaller Music Center facility, such as the 760-seat Mark Taper Forum, and “perhaps build up to big events in the Pavilion in special years, like the 30th, 35th or 40th anniversaries (of the Music Center).”
While the chairwomen also talked about televising the event again on those “special years,” Wachtell said that was unlikely because “we haven’t been able to get the funding (to) put that kind of package together.”
Nancy Olson Livingston, who co-chaired the first Chandler Awards, said she was not surprised that the awards had been scaled back:
“The Music Center has so many things going on and to organize something like (the 1989 event) is an overwhelming task. So I’m not upset, because the award has a life of its own and there will be a demand and a need for it to continue.”