1994 / YEAR IN REVIEW : DANCE : The Year of the Tango and ‘Don Q’

<i> Lewis Segal is The Times' dance writer. </i>

New venues changed the pat tern of dance presentation in Southern California during 1994, adding institutional nouns (“the Luckman,” “the Carpenter”) to the audience’s vocabulary.

Meanwhile other venues fell prey to weird programming obsessions.

For example, the Orange County Performing Arts Center kept retailing the morbid ballet-hackery of the late Kenneth MacMillan, while the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts seemed to book every company in the world with the “Don Quixote” pas de deux in rep.

“Dance Kaleidoscope” grew dangerously stale this year and “Black Choreographers” desperately directionless. UCLA suffered the closing of Royce Hall (earthquake damage) and let a number of major events bypass the Southland--notably Mark Morris’ full-evening “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.”


Happily, a tango revival lent vitality to ballet, modern and world dance programs on local stages. At the Wilshire Theatre in June, “Forever Tango: The Eternal Dance” presented Argentine style at Broadway scale, never more persuasively than when soulful veterans Gloria and Eduardo took the floor.

In contrast, the intimate Fountain Theatre in Hollywood proved ideal for “Ritmo Tango” (March), an atmospheric survey of Argentine traditions featuring the drop-dead authority of Alberto Toledano and Loreen Arbus.

Far less successful, ballet virtuoso Julio Bocca bared his chest for two quasi-steamy tango showpieces on his Ballet Argentino programs at the Cerritos Center in October.

Finally, at Nosotros in December, Toledano and Arbus created for Dance Theater of East L.A. the year’s most daring tango: a man-to-man psychosexual struggle for dominance fought out by Bogar Martinez and Frank Guevara.

Following is a summary of other memorable events and performances from one aficionado’s journals:

World Dance: The Chindo Sikkim Kut/Festival of Korea program at UCLA in March offered excerpts of shaman funeral rites that layered song, chant, instrumental music and dance to convey the joy of living while accepting the inevitability of death.


In “A Night in the Kraton” at UCLA in June, Bandoro Raden Mas Bambang Irawan embodied Central Javanese performing traditions in a superb masked solo from Solo, while a program of South Indian classical dance at UCLA in November showcased the stylistic refinement of Malavika Sarukkai.

The Mevlevi Ensemble of Turkey came to the Wadsworth Theater in November with a mesmerizing sample of 700-year-old Whirling Dervish ritual banned for most of this century by Turkish law.

Adam and Laila del Monte dramatically expanded the expressive scope of flamenco music and dance with jazz, Middle Eastern and Western European Gypsy influences in a program at the Fountain Theatre in February.

Modern Dance: For power, nuance and creative breadth, nothing outclassed Nederlands Dans Theater in its five-part Jiri Kylian “black-and-white” program and, especially, Kylian’s full-length “Kaguyahime” dance-drama at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in October. However, Mark Morris’ uneven repertory at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in October held several treasures (particularly the solo “Rondo” and the dance drama “The Office”).

Also impressive: Edouard Lock’s visionary “Infante--C’est Destroy” at the Wiltern Theatre in March, which managed to deepen La La La Human Steps’ inimitably gymnastic rock-dancing into an imposing multimedia metaphor.

Turning his family’s history into a cultural monument, David Rousseve’s “Urban Scenes/Creole Dreams” arrived at the Wadsworth Theater in April with a multifaceted, multicultural, multidisciplinary call-to-battle “against misogyny, race-hatred and AIDS.”


Laura Dean’s “Light” at the Alex Theatre in June found her working for the first time with a world-dance company--our own Aman Folk Ensemble--and reshaping folkloric music and dance motifs according to the priorities of postmodern structuralism.

Equally daring, Donald Byrd’s full-evening “Bristle” on the “Dance Without Borders” series at the Japan America Theatre in May developed its sardonic view of sexual manipulation through inventive, technically challenging group dancing.

Ballet: Miami City Ballet displayed a distinctively incisive, emotional and energetic style of dancing at the Wiltern in April. Especially in Balanchine’s “Apollo,” “The Four Temperaments” and “Rubies,” the best of Edward Villella’s principals danced as if the choreographies were brand-new, created especially for them.

The Joffrey Ballet brought Leonide Massine’s groundbreaking “Les Presages” to the Music Center in June, recapturing the energies of a work created the year Hitler came to power--and eerily prescient about the imminent collapse of European values and culture.

Decline of another sort characterized the Royal Ballet engagement at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in May, though Sarah Wildor and William Trevitt gave performances in Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream” that creditably upheld a magnificent, endangered British ballet legacy.

Better still, Yuri Posokhov’s debut in the San Francisco Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Pavilion in December merged two great traditions, tempering Bolshoi intensity with Royal Danish refinement.

Close to Home: At Cal State L.A. in February, Stephanie Gilliland proved that intelligence, a sense of craft and sensitivity to emotional values in dancing can make even a cat’s carpet-covered scratching post a splendid platform for movement expression.


The dark view of physicality informing Naoyuki Oguri’s haunting “Protestation: Silent Shout” on the “Dance Without Borders” series contrasted eloquently with Mehmet Sander’s heroic athleticism in “Spacetimegravity” in the same event.

In several 1994 appearances, Winifred R. Harris and Joel Christensen confirmed the promise they’d shown the previous year, while L.A. Chamber Ballet returned to prominence with a challenging program (shared with the Lo Cal Composers Ensemble) at the Japan America Theatre in August.

Performed by Bonne Oda Homsey’s newly reconstituted Los Angeles Dance Theatre, seven legendary modern-dance solos dating all the way back to the beginnings of the art paid tribute to female resilience on a memorable “Weeping Women in Dance” program at the L.A. County Museum in April.

Media Dance: In its final season, “L.A. Law” drafted Gelsey Kirkland to portray a litigious ballerina whose triumph supposedly came in a scene showing her rehearsing the second act of “Giselle”--but, strangely, only on half-toe, for reasons never explained.

Viewers also weren’t told that the PBS “Dance in America” series deleted more than a fourth of the Joffrey’s full-evening Prince extravaganza “Billboards” to bring the running time under an hour.

A seven-minute showpiece on the Academy Awards telecast featured major dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet, the Kirov, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Garth Fagan Dance, National Ballet of Canada, Central Ballet of China, the Shanghai Ballet and Les Ballets Africains flashing across the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in delirious pile-’em-up choreography.


The biggest scandal: Virtually all the companies involved were appearing at the Music Center for the very first time.