Ahmanson's in a Dancing Kind of Mood

Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

'Theatrical dance is as much a part of the language of theater as song and spoken word," said Gordon Davidson, artistic director/producer of the Ahmanson Theatre.

He was answering a question about the increasing dance orientation of Ahmanson programming. Half of the 1998-99 season announced last week--in other words, two out of four productions--will focus primarily on dance: next fall's "Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance" and Matthew Bourne's new version of Prokofiev's "Cinderella" ballet.

They follow the Ahmanson's 1997 presentation of Bourne's "Swan Lake," the current examination of tap in "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk"--and the upcoming "Chicago," a book musical that was originally choreographed by the same Bob Fosse who will be saluted in the show named after him. The new production of "Chicago" was choreographed by Ann Reinking in Fosse's style, but if that's not close enough for Fosse fans, some of the master's original creations for the same show will be on display in the same theater a few months later. Yet Davidson pointed out that the two Fosse-related shows are "very different in the context of how you view these dances."

Davidson said that normally he probably wouldn't have thought of scheduling "Fosse" and "Cinderella" in the same season, "but sometimes there are rhythms and moments that you take advantage of, and sometimes they add up to something" bigger than the sum of the parts.

The Ahmanson's emphasis on dance arrives in a period when there isn't much dance in the Music Center's primary dance venue, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Nor are most of the new book musicals using as much dance as they did several decades ago, Davidson noted. So the Ahmanson may help remind theatergoers of the role that dance can play in theater.

Of the other selections for the Ahmanson season, Davidson emphasized that the musical "Titanic" is very different from the blockbuster movie: "As I told my board, in this one the boat doesn't sink," he joked. In fact, the musical has more singing and dancing, fewer technical effects, and "a lot of little stories" instead of the movie's central romance, he said.

Davidson hopes that Peter Hall's staging of a Shakespeare play, concluding the season, will involve star names. "I'm very keen about the idea of establishing the classic repertoire on an ongoing basis and using the acting talent that lives here. I don't want them just doing Shakespeare at the New York Public Theater" (where Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett are currently in "Macbeth"). Asked for examples of the star names he had in mind, he mentioned John Lithgow, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Hunt and Annette Bening.

Preceding the season will be a brief run of Christopher Plummer in "Barrymore." Asked whether the Ahmanson, even at its minimum seating capacity of 1,600, isn't too big for a solo show, Davidson replied, "I don't know if it's big enough for this performance. It's a big character and a larger-than-life actor." He said the play is "presentational, not conversational" and that it requires a proscenium stage, as opposed to the Mark Taper Forum's thrust stage.


BACK AT THEATRE LA: Alisa Fishbach, who will become the executive director of Theatre LA on April 20, has theater in her blood.

Her mother, who is English, was an actress before marrying, and then she continued her theatrical endeavors while following her husband to international jobs, starting theaters in Tehran and Maui. Fishbach herself started working in the theater at the age of 7, and after her parents moved to Orange County, she began stage managing at Newport Theatre Arts Center.

Now 33, Fishbach graduated from Occidental College as a theater major in 1987. By then--and after six months of working in the Mark Taper Forum casting department--she preferred behind-the-scenes work to acting. "I had no interest in my future being in the hands of whoever was casting," she said.

Fishbach's first job was at the Los Angeles Theatre Center's resident company in 1987, coordinating volunteers and helping run outreach programs to downtown corporations. A year later, she took a job in the effort to merge the League of Los Angeles Theatres with the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance to form Theatre LA, and she worked with the new organization of theaters and producers in the No. 2 position until 1992, when she entered the commercial theater world as theater operations manager at the Shubert Theatre in Century City.

Now that she's returning to Theatre LA, she said she's "anxious to hear the needs of the members." So far, she hears producers in smaller theaters saying that they want more management support to balance the high-profile marketing programs that Theatre LA has become known for, such as the Ovation Awards (Fishbach co-produced the first two competitive Ovations ceremonies) and the half-price ticket booth at the Beverly Center.

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