Dancing, Singing Praises of Female Spirit : Dance: Rose Polsky gathers guest artists to honor the founders of modern dance and recognize that women still create within a particular set of constraints.


When Rose Polsky describes her admiration for the great women who founded modern dance and her feelings of connectedness to the tradition, her hands keep stretching out to the front and back, as if she's tracing a long continuum.

Somewhere behind her right shoulder are the monumental ghosts of Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Hanya Holm, at whom she keeps glancing with awe. And just ahead is her latest contribution, "Rose Polsky and Dancers: A Celebration of Three Generations of Women Dancing and Singing."

It's a long title but it doesn't cover all the activity occurring today at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the campus of Cal State L.A., since musicians and visual artists are also involved. Gesturing animatedly from a couch in her Redondo Beach apartment, Polsky lovingly describes a "Dream Team" of guest artists who are mostly based in the L.A. area. Along with a few of her regular company members, they will perform four new works, to folk and classical music, and two earlier works, the duet "Sing" (1994) and an expanded section of "The Lady in the Black Dress" (1991), to music by Meredith Monk.

For eight years, Polsky and her company have presented work noted for its theatricality, gestural nuance and emotional intensity. But as much as Polsky enjoys working with the young dancers in her company and in the classes she teaches at Loyola Marymount University, she has felt an increasing desire to choreograph for mature artists who can bring their wealth of experience to the process. Joining her for this concert are Diana MacNeil from the Lewitzky Dance Company, veteran Graham dancer Janet Eilber and two dancers from the world of ballet and flamenco.

"I had seen Yaelisa dance in San Diego," Polsky says, "and she was so exquisite and so beautiful. In flamenco, every moment is so critically important and so motivated from within. That's something that's very important for my work, the immediacy of it. There's this drive and power and urgency, yet a very strong kind of, very dignified and reserved kind of representation of women."

Polsky was also impressed with the work of Gilma Bustillo, seen most recently with the Pasadena Dance Theatre. Both Bustillo and Yaelisa will appear in a suite of dances to Catalan folk songs with onstage accompaniment from pianist Althea Waites and soprano Gwendolyn Lytle.

"My background was originally ballet," Polsky says, "so some of my work is very refined and concerned about line. But ballet is all about 'up' and light, and getting to positions. It's amazing to see Gilma make an extraordinary transformation, from this incredibly beautiful ballet dancer to feeling the weight, breathing, having to dig down into the floor. She looks incredible."

For "The Lady in the Black Dress," Polsky dances to Monk's taped score, then Janis Brenner, who currently works with Monk in New York, will sing four songs with gestures designed by the composer. The set for this one is a forest of dead magnolia trees, some complete with intact root systems, designed (and hauled in) by visual artist Beth Thielin.

It will be, however, "a concert where music has the last word," Polsky says. "I actually consider music selection and musicality to be almost an old-fashioned value now in dance. My sense is that it's used just as a driving beat or just background, a kind of ambience, but it's not selected and used really rigorously. I'm interested in a lot more layers of music than that."

Although many familiar Polsky trademarks are on the program--dramatically stark solos, the use of subtle gestural detail--newer works will reflect a shift of mood. "I've become interested in pieces that are pure music visualization, with lots of movement and it's big and spirited and it's about joy. For years, my work was so much about loss and death and isolation. But at the end of 1992, my father died, and it became really difficult to access that place anymore. Instead, I seem to have drifted toward joyful, big, bright movement that reflects the human spirit."

Why has she chosen to reflect only the spirit of women in this concert? Partly to honor the founders of modern dance, she says, and partly to recognize that women still create within a particular set of constraints.

"I feel like basically, in this culture, there's a lot of opportunity for men to tell their stories, to have their say. I don't need to go out of my way to make more opportunities for men, there already are plenty. I want to create opportunities for more women to have a voice. I'm feeling so lucky to work with these women who have given so much of their time and their energy and talent."

The "three generations" in her title refers to the fact that the performers in the piece range in age from their 20s to early 60s, but Polsky doesn't want to name names of those in the most mature category. Tacitly acknowledging the age taboo in dance, she is caught in the irony of having both a reverence for experience and the knowledge that she shouldn't reveal her guest artists' ages without asking first. For dancers especially, Polsky says, "it's a really touchy thing."

But she freely offers that she just turned 40, and although she says it gets harder physically, Polsky seems happy to be traveling through artistic vistas that for her, only expand with age.

* "Rose Polsky and Dancers: A Celebration of Three Generations of Women Dancing and Singing," Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive, (213) 466-1767. Tonight at 8. $22-$25.

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