Fresh name and perspective for UCLA’s performing arts series


If names predict destinies, the venerable UCLA performing arts series anchored at Royce Hall is on the cusp of much bigger things.

A new moniker will be unveiled Thursday, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. It’s a mouthful intended to reflect the broader scope the university plans for the showcase formerly known as UCLA Live.

The center (CAP-UCLA for short) aspires to be not just a performance series, but a creative habitat in which new work is developed, ideas are sparked and techniques are taught to the next generation of performers -- with the mission of presenting visiting talent to paying customers still at its core.

UCLA arts series: In the April 26 Calendar section, an article about the newly named Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (CAP-UCLA) said that the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s most recent Los Angeles performance was in 2002. It was in 2011 at the Valley Performing Arts Center. In addition, the article said that the Angel City Jazz Festival would be presented this fall within the CAP-UCLA season. The jazz festival for 2012 also will include performances elsewhere. —

The word “ecology” kept popping up as Kristy Edmunds, the series’ well-connected new executive and artistic director, outlined her plans in an interview in her office at the back of Royce Hall. Edmunds’ own working habitat hasn’t yet coalesced as fully as the plans she’s made since arriving late last summer. Stacks of paintings (including her own works) were propped against walls on the gray carpet, and big black bookcases remained empty because they hadn’t yet been anchored against earthquakes.

“We’re in a university, where creation of new knowledge is one of the goals,” Edmunds said, so it makes sense for the performance program to do its share by systematically incubating new work.

Her first programming, for the 2012-13 season, will include the return of theater, which was dropped from the menu the past two years to save money — spurring the 2010 exit of the highly regarded former artistic director David Sefton, who had built a well-received International Theatre Festival into the fabric of UCLA Live.

The season will open Sept. 21-22 with Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic “Rhinoceros,” by Theatre de la Ville Paris and staged by the French company’s director, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. The full season will be announced May 22.

The new approach under Edmunds was reflected in a weeklong residency April 16-20 by interdisciplinary performer Meredith Monk, who was on campus to give a lecture and master classes, as well as prepare a work-in-progress that will be featured in the coming season.

Avant-garde luminaries Laurie Anderson and Robert Wilson have been tapped to become part of the ecology. The two, who were featured at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in Australia during Edmunds’ tenure as its artistic director, have signed on for three-year fellowships aimed at bringing them to UCLA periodically to spend time thinking, rehearsing and tapping into the university community in ways that, ideally, will help further their work.

Edmunds said that Anderson will perform a new work at Royce Hall in the coming season, and Wilson will spend the first year of his fellowship preparing theater pieces he’ll direct the two following seasons. The point is for UCLA to support the two fellows’ work, Edmunds said, without burdening them with a regimen of mandatory lectures, classes or soirees with students and faculty.

“If we define ‘you’ll do this, this and this,’ we’re locking them into very clear obligations, and we’d be exploiting them for our purposes,” she said. By keeping the fellowships open-ended, and focused on serving Anderson’s and Wilson’s needs, Edmunds said, the university figures to reap benefits impossible to schedule or script: “It’s really great to have artists around in your daily life, because they come up with all kinds of interesting things just standing at the coffeepot.”

In keeping with the new approach, a week-long retrospective of New York choreographer Trisha Brown, a 2003 National Medal of Arts winner whose company hasn’t been seen in Los Angeles since a UCLA Live engagement in 2002, will see members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company work with UCLA dance students who’ll do their own performances elsewhere on campus. L.A.-based artists will have residencies as well, among them director Lars Jans and choreographer Barak Marshall.

Another local dimension involves the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which has been renting Royce Hall annually for its concert series. Now, the coming season’s seven Royce Hall concerts by LACO will be included in the CAP-UCLA series. The orchestra’s executive director, Rachel Fine, said the cooperative arrangement will bring promotional benefits such as being included in the CAP-UCLA season brochure and press announcements. LACO will continue to also present its programs at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

In another cooperative venture, the Angel City Jazz Festival, which has changed locations year to year, will be presented this fall within the CAP-UCLA season.

After three years in which the number of headliners dwindled from 44 to 39 to 30, the 2012-13 season will feature 36 attractions giving 52 performances — not counting the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

The projected budget for the 2012-13 season is $8.4 million, up slightly from the current $8 million, with the university kicking in about 15%.

Edmunds and her boss, Christopher Waterman, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture, think the new approach to presenting performing arts could attract new donors for the program. Their thinking is that people or foundations not inclined to help underwrite a performance series might want to help foster new work or pay for artist residencies that will enrich students’ educational opportunities.

Edmunds acknowledges that, in the end, what appears on stage will be the main magnet for donor support. “Many are not going to put their foot in until they see what I put out there,” she said. “There’s a lot of work for me to do to continue instilling that level of confidence. All pistons have to be firing.”

Cumbersome as the new series name may seem, Edmunds smiled when an interviewer noted that it’s easier to imagine a high-rolling philanthropist donating an eight-digit sum to put his or her name in front of the words “Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA” than in front of “UCLA Live”

“It leaves everything wide open,” she said.


Kristy Edmunds named director of UCLA Live

UCLA Live director David Sefton resigns

David Sefton to become artistic director of the Adelaide Festival in Australia