YEAR IN REVIEW 1995 : DANCE : It Had a Nice Spin to It

Lewis Segal is The Times' dance writer

In 1995, the ongoing crisis in arts funding forced major choreographers from modern dance pioneer Bella Lewitzky to postmodern maverick Ralph Lemon to announce the shutting down of their companies. Not their favorite year.

PBS kept slicing up dance programs to fit narrowing telecast opportunities and local “Nutcracker” advertisers encouraged audiences to confuse the might Kirov and Bolshoi companies with teenage trainees from their schools.

Finally, absurdity reigned when Congress denounced Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica for using a $5,000 dance grant for “things just too lurid to talk about, even on a Monday night.” Monday night? Where are Gilbert and Sullivan when we really need them?


Below: happier 1995 occasions from one fan’s log-book.


World Dance: National Ballet of Senegal presented an exciting sampler of West African traditions at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in March--tarnished only because not one of the 40 distinguished dancers and musicians was named in the program booklet. Chuck Davis’ “DanceAfrica America” at the Luckman complex in November emphasized the continuity of African traditions by showing influences from the motherland changing--and enduring--in Brazil and urban America.

Enlisting three unrelated performing groups, “Dancers of the Dreaming” at the Veteran Wadsworth Theater in May suggested the depth and diversity of Australian aboriginal dance traditions that may date back 50,000 years. And nine Tibetan lamas from the Drepung Loseling Buddhist Monastery in South India gave a performance at the Philosophical Research Society in August that recognized the impermanence of existence while still seeking to make the world a more perfect temporary stopover.

Among its Egyptian relics, “Festival of the Nile” in April showed Ambassador Auditorium and the Wadsworth the spectacle of Moustafa Mohammed Garibwhirling in kaleidoscopic robes and shaping them into color-wheels and 3-D centrifugal-sculptures in amazing tests of control and stamina.


Modern Dance: In “Wind” in January at UCLA, Japanese-born experimental artists Eiko and Koma made the act of becoming one with nature a means to transcend human violence, deriving an almost magical aura from their incremental slow-motion expression. Butoh master Min Tanaka forged his own connection to nature through the senses (especially touch) in the solo life-cycle “Seasons” at La Boca (Sunshine Mission/Casa de Rosas) in April.

In a Cerritos program in March, Paul Taylor revived his groundbreaking “Aureole” (fusing Baroque elegance with all-American athleticism) and his breathtaking “Sunset,” in which the feelings of soldiers on leave--and the women left behind--are revealed with a ravishing sensitivity. In the same month, the Martha Graham company offered a triumph of insightful programming at the Luckman, emphasizing Graham fundamentals and extremes by reconstructing lost early milestones of her career.

Merce Cunningham has used computers in the creation of all his works since 1991, but you wouldn’t have guessed from watching the vibrant, sculptural nature study “Beach Birds” at the Interactive Media Festival downtown in June.

Using everyday movement to define feelings and relationships, Susan Marshall’s “Contenders” in Irvine in March satirized the narcissism of professional athletes yet also celebrated the nobility of human achievement. Pursuing a parallel theme the same month, Tandy Beal and her Santa Cruz-based company brought her multimedia epic “Outside Blake’s Window” to El Camino College and deployed impressive theater-dance resources--including three sets of identical twins.

Definitely the “Giselle"-from-hell for hyper-conservative balletomanes, Donald Byrd’s “Life Situations: Daydreams on Giselle” (at the Luckman in March) used orgasmic, high-speed modern dance to dismantle the high-blown Eurocentrism of Romantic ballet.

A new force in German dance-theater, Sasha Waltz blended social awareness with postmodern innovation in “Travelogue: Twenty to Eight,” a satire on communal living, at Occidental College in October. With “Waterzooi” at Irvine and the Wadsworth in October, Maguy Marin delivered an examination of human emotions that confirmed her brilliance as a stage director--and limitations as a choreographer.


Ballet: Alonzo King’s Bay Area-based Lines Contemporary Ballet came to Pepperdine in January with “Ocean,” a complex, thrilling ensemble piece set to a commissioned jazz score by Pharaoh Sanders. At the Orange County Performing Arts Center in November, his “Signs and Wonders” for Dance Theatre of Harlem gave an African impetus to neoclassicism, confirming that he’s well on his way toward the deepest, most sophisticated modernism in U.S. ballet.

Dancing with great technical refinement and spontaneity, Darci Kistler and Nikolaj Hubbe of New York City Ballet made a special event of their partnership in “Duo Concertant,” the last Balanchine/Stravinsky masterwork, at the Wadsworth in March. A month later, “Damian Woetzel and Friends” at the Luckman boasted Woetzel’s disarming tongue-in-cheek virtuosity in Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” pas de deux, plus the deeply meditative lyricism of Kyra Nichols in Balanchine’s solo “Pavane.” At OCPAC in July, Miami City Ballet freshened Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments,” reminding you of the ballet’s initial impact as a daring creative event.

Still commanding phenomenal speed and precision, Mikhail Baryshnikov blazed through Twyla Tharp’s “Pergolesi” and Jerome Robbins’ “A Suite of Dances” on programs by the White Oak Dance Project in Thousand Oaks in April.

Silja Schandorff, Lloyd Riggins and Alexander Koelpin of the Royal Danish Ballet made a special occasion of August Bournonville’s “A Folk Tale” at OCPAC in May. And the women’s corps of the British Royal Ballet could still inspire sighs in “Swan Lake” at the Chandler Pavilion in July. Finally such paragons as Elizabeth Loscavio, Yuri Posokhov, Tina LeBlanc and David Palmer warmed the chilly San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker” (at OCPAC in November and December) with their artistry.


Close to Home: One of the best-ever Dance Kaleidoscope lineups (at three venues in July) boasted at least three moments of glory: tapper Mark Mendonca in a moody, brilliant untitled solo; Laila del Monte in volcanic flamenco showpieces; and intense, accomplished Lewitzky veteran John Pennington in Scott Heinzerling’s enigmatic modern dance solo “Isaac Wanted.”

Los Angeles Chamber Ballet joined the Charlie Haden Quartet West at the Luckman in August for one of Raiford Rogers’ best dream ballets (and there have been plenty): the haunting Hollywood fantasy “Where Are You My Love.” At Cal State L.A. in October, Pacific Dance Ensemble turned hard-edged and tough-minded with “Tom’s Renaissance,” a collaborative piece on alcoholism that changed linear modern dance into a random-access, interactive data-bank.

In “The Indomitable Spirit of Woman” at the Luckman in February, Los Angeles Dance Theatre revived eight modern dance solos--all at least half a century old and nearly all strongly performed and deeply relevant to the stresses of 1995. Winifred R. Harris further sustained dance-feminism at UCLA in March with “Thunder Is Not Yet Rain,” a trio rich in movement influences and expressive resources, while her solo “Void of Essence” on the “Prime Moves” series at LACE in June confirmed her powerful vision of womanhood.

Finally, Jacques Heim’s Diavolo Dance Theatre brought three exciting environmental abstractions to Highways in mid-December, confirming its reputation for sharply defined creative goals, unstinting energy and the ability to dance on any surface, whether horizontal, vertical, tilted or tubular.


Media Dance: Rarer than fine choreographers these days are film and video directors able to re-conceive theater-dance for the camera without destroying movement values. Garth Fagan’s “Griot New York” suffered the worst excesses of the PBS “Dance in America” season, but Ulysses Dove proved luckier: “Two by Dove” boasted inspired direction by David Hinton.

Released this year, the V.I.E.W. home video documentary on Bill T. Jones’ “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin” contained nude-dancing footage that PBS had cut (unannounced) from its 1992 “Great Performances” telecast. PBS admits making “minor deletions . . . to reach as wide an audience as possible.” OK, but if genitalia aren’t major deletions, what are?