A celebration of dance from India and Israel


What connects Jaipur and Jerusalem? Delhi and Tel Aviv? Hyderabad and Haifa? 

India and Israel share strong military and strategic ties and are important trade partners, but another connection is culture. Both countries have rich literary and artistic communities that look both to their past and to the future.

Two Los Angeles-based contemporary dance ensembles — one inspired by Indian dance traditions and the other by Israeli folk dance — will perform choreography in a bill that celebrates each country’s unique history and customs. Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble and Karmagraphy will share the stage for “Lands of Light” at Plaza del Sol Performance Hall at Cal State Northridge on Sept. 17 and 18.

“There’s a lot going on between the governments of Israel and India. They’re really trying to collaborate with each other on many different levels — learning from each other about defense, diplomacy, agriculture, water management, trade and culture,” said Genie Benson, executive director of Keshet Chaim (Hebrew for “Rainbow of Life,” though the troupe prefers “Colors of Life”). 

The collaboration came out of a friendship between Kavita Rao, the founder and artistic director of Karmagraphy, and Kobi Rozenfeld, the choreographer of Keshet Chaim. They met doing commercial dance work in Los Angeles, and both enjoy fusing their ethnic dance backgrounds with their Western styles of training. Rao danced in a Keshet Chaim performance a few years ago, and now offers help with choreographing pieces for the troupe.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the music, the movement, as well as the way Kobi and I both choreograph,” Rao said.

This is not Keshet Chaim’s first collaboration. In 2002, the troupe worked with Adam Basma Dance Company, a Middle Eastern folk dance ensemble. Benson fondly recalls the members tasting each other’s food, teaching each other phrases in Hebrew and Arabic, and sharing dance techniques from their respective cultures. It was a lesson, she said, that international conflict doesn’t preclude people from those countries from becoming friends.

“I’ve always believed that if more people would get along, it would filter up,” she said.

Keshet Chaim was founded in 1983 by Eytan Avisar, who serves as the group’s artistic director.

“They say in a Chasidic tale that dance is the most elevated way we can express ourselves,” Avisar said, “because you’re really dancing with your soul.”

Keshet Chaim’s style is contemporary, but rooted in traditional Israeli folk dance. One song the troupe will dance to is “Tishmor al HaOlam Yeled” (Watch Over the World, Child), an iconic Israeli tune by David D’Or that is a memorial and lullaby to soldiers. Another song, “Shedemati” (My Field), is about working the land. 

They’ll also dance to Israeli pop star Rami Kleinstein’s “Notzah Baruach” (Feather in the Wind), and to music composed and arranged by Israeli songwriter Avi Avliav, including an arrangement of Ofra Haza’s rendition of the classic “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold), Israel’s unofficial national anthem.

Keshet Chaim has performed with many Israeli musicians, including Kleinstein and D’Or, as well as Yehudit Ravitz, and has shared the stage with the likes of Rita, Idan Raichel, Miri Mesika and Harel Skaat. 

Keshet Chaim and Karmagraphy — a Bollywood fusion company founded in 2009 — will take turns performing at the upcoming performance, but also will perform two pieces together. One, called “Sababa Ba Midbar” (Party in the Desert), is an upbeat expression of joy.

The show is organized thematically, with both groups performing pieces about war and sadness, lost love, and manual labor, “with lots of costume changes,” Benson said.

Rao has become well-acquainted with the world of Israeli dance. When Keshet Chaim hosted a high school dance troupe from Israel in 2011, Rao was invited to join the dancers. She has since traveled to Israel once a year to teach Bollywood dance to the troupe. 

While in Israel, Rao met a singer named Liora Isaac, who had recently recorded a song with an Indian melody and Hebrew lyrics called “Mala Mala” (Upwards). Rao choreographed the song for her, and Keshet Chaim and Karmagraphy will perform it together as the grand finale of the concert with a version choreographed by Rozenfeld and Rao.

The two groups also share a dancer who juggles both ensembles. Angela Bergamo, a recent honors graduate in dance and communications from Loyola Marymount University, was a dancer with Keshet Chaim, and after Rao began choreographing with the group, she hired Bergamo to dance with Karmagraphy as well.

Benson says that while Keshet Chaim is inspired by Israeli dance, currently only two of the dancers are Israeli. Most are American, and some are not Jewish.

“They come to love Judaism, they come to love Israel, through dance. We’re very clear on explaining to them what each dance means, so they understand what they’re dancing,” Benson said. “They love celebrating holidays with us. It’s really quite a family.”

Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble and Karmagraphy will perform “Lands of Light” at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 at Plaza del Sol Performance Hall at Cal State Northridge. For more information, please visit 

Glorya Kaufman: The philanthropist who loves dance


When Glorya Kaufman was a little girl, she had a dream.

“When I was 7 or 8 years old, I wanted to have an orphanage. So I think it’s always been in me to give and to care,” she said. Then she laughed and added, “That was probably from Annie Rooney,” referring to the popular comic strip about a young orphaned girl. 

These days, Kaufman is best known as Los Angeles’ biggest advocate for dance. From her eponymous dance series bringing large companies to the downton Music Center to the numerous arts and dance-education programs she bankrolls, her generosity has affected the city’s entire creative community. In 2012, she gave her largest gift to date to USC to establish a dance school, and though USC would not say how large the gift was, it is believed to have surpassed the $20 million she donated to the Music Center, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I’ve always been struck by our city’s unique diversity and cultural heritage, and the city’s amazing renaissance is so exciting. And USC, to me, is the hub of the city’s rebirth,” Kaufman said in a recent interview with the Journal. “[In] the many years I have known L.A., it was always lacking dance.”

The USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance broke ground in the spring of 2014 and is set to accept its first undergraduate class in the fall of 2015. Auditions are currently being held. It’s the first endowment-funded school for USC in four decades, the last being the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which opened in 1973 with funding from Walter H. Annenberg.

An interdisciplinary approach is woven throughout the dance program. The school has established partnerships with the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the Thornton School of Music, and the Brain and Creativity Institute. “Everybody wants to collaborate with us,” Kaufman said. “It’s very exciting.”

Jodie Gates is the vice dean and director of the school, named on Kaufman’s recommendation. The two met through mutual friends in the dance world, and Kaufman was impressed with Gates’ experience as a ballerina, as a choreographer, as an associate professor of dance at UC Irvine and with her work as founding director of the Laguna Dance Festival in Southern California. Both say they developed a mutual appreciation through their shared passion for dance as a force for change.

“She’s really looking to not just develop and nurture young, talented dancers, but also innovators and entrepreneurs, leaders in the field, people who can make a difference in the creation of new art forms and new jobs,” Gates said of Kaufman. “So there’s a real desire to not just help individuals, but to help individuals help the community.”

While Kaufman does not ask for anonymity for her gifts, she has remained secretive about how much she donated to USC and said she does not plan to reveal the amount.

“Say that you walked into the room and you had a beautiful Ralph Lauren suit on,” Kaufman said. “And instead of saying, ‘You know, you really look terrific,’ I’d say, ‘How much did you pay for your suit?’ So many people, all they do is talk about the money. And that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because it’s a passion and it will somehow better the world.”

Born Glorya Pinkis in Detroit, her mother was a seamstress and her father a production manager for Automotive News. Kaufman recalls her father dancing to records and holding her up while she stood on his toes. She loved to dance with friends but never pursued it professionally.

While still in Detroit, she married Donald Bruce Kaufman, a homebuilder and partner with Eli Broad, another well-known L.A. philanthropist, in founding Fortune 500 company Kaufman & Broad, later KB Homes. The couple had four children and moved to Phoenix before settling in Los Angeles, where their fortune grew and they became among the city’s top donors. Kaufman only recently moved from a spacious Brentwood ranch house to a more modest $18.2 million Italian villa-style home in Beverly Hills.

It’s hard to keep track of all the groups Kaufman either gives money to or sits on the boards of or helped create. Even Kaufman seems to have a hard time remembering them all. She said her philanthropic drive comes from her Jewish heritage.

“We grew up with these little boxes that they call tzedakah [boxes], and if we had a nickel or a dime or a quarter, we’d always put a couple pennies in, and we knew it would go to people who needed it more than us,” she said.

In 2011, Kaufman combined her religious background and passion for dance by helping to create “Dancing With the Rabbis” at American Jewish University, a competition in which five rabbis strutted their stuff on stage, each one paired with a professional dancer, for charity. 

When Kaufman was younger and raising her children, dance and charity work were less important to her. “I didn’t have a lot of time to be philosophical,” she said. “I just took care of my family.” The tragic deaths of her husband and son-in-law in a plane crash in 1983 sharpened her focus toward helping others, she said. Kaufman described it as a traumatic period in her life.

“It was either you sink or swim, at that time,” she said. “I had to grow up. That’s when I really changed to a different person, because I started thinking about other situations besides my own, because others were even worse.”

The Glorya Kaufman Dance Foundation has given to dance institutions outside Los Angeles as well, including $6 million to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and $3.5 million to the Juilliard School to fund the new Glorya Kaufman Dance Studio, both in New York.

The foundation also gives to a youth dance education program called the Dizzy Feet Foundation and helped create a dance program for Covenant House California, a homeless-youth outreach project. In 2006, Kaufman donated $1 million to Inner-City Arts, a school on Skid Row, for an arts education partnership with the L.A. Unified School District. The money went to create the Kaufman Dance Academy, which gives dance instruction to kindergarten students through 12th-graders in its own, independent dance studio. “We teach at least 1,000 students each year,” said Bob Smiland, president and CEO of Inner-City Arts.

“Her touch is covering many parts of the city, which is great,” Smiland said. “She’s keeping dance alive in the creative capital of the world.”

Kaufman’s gift of $20 million to the Music Center to establish the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance series has successfully brought dozens of world-class dance groups to L.A., among them American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet. The program, first known as Dance at the Music Center, got its start in 2003 but was renamed for Kaufman when she made the huge gift to the endowment at a time when the recession was forcing most arts institutions around the world to cut their budgets deeply. “At the time, we were all experiencing the new financial realities,” said Renae Williams Niles, vice president of programming at the Music Center and curator of the dance series. “Glorya’s gift would have been significant at any time, but especially in 2009.”

The money is distributed on an annual basis and covers about half of what the Music Center needs to fundraise. “It gives us some level of sustainability and security,” Niles said. “And it allows me on behalf of the Music Center to make long-term commitments, to bring certain masterpieces and world-renowned companies, and it’s allowed us to become a major leader in presenting dance in the entire U.S.”

The dance companies’ residencies extend beyond the stage: A partnership between the Music Center and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater placed dancers in schools throughout L.A. County for two weeks of workshops. And the relatively new company, L.A. Dance Project, under the artistic direction of acclaimed choreographer Benjamin Millepied, had its inaugural performance in 2012 as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.

Kaufman has also given to medical causes, from the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research to the UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic, which provides eye exams to preschoolers. She also established the Cedars-Sinai/USC Glorya Kaufman Dance Medicine Center, the first of its kind in L.A., which conducts research and offers care specifically designed for professional and recreational dancers. Her foundation even rebuilt a waiting room for patients at St. John’s Health Center after it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Kaufman also donated $18 million to renovate the dance building at UCLA after it suffered earthquake damage, which led the school to rename the building Glorya Kaufman Hall. Kaufman, however, said she’s “disappointed” that her gift never led to a dedicated dance school at UCLA.

These days, Kaufman is focused mostly on preparing for the inaugural class of undergraduate dancers at USC. She’s even picking out the colors to paint the inside of the brand-new Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, just as she did at UCLA and for the Donald Bruce Kaufman branch library in Brentwood. 

Part of her contribution to USC includes scholarships for students. In a sense, she sees it all as the fulfillment of her childhood dream.

“I remember thinking, ‘One day I will have an orphanage.’ And in a way, I think that happened, in a different kind of way,” she said. 

‘House’ showcases the art of futuristic Israeli dance


Longtime Israeli collaborators Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar first met when Behar was throwing legendary underground raves in Tel Aviv, and Eyal was a performer with Batsheva Dance Company. She went to the parties to let loose and dance.

“At one point, we just fell in love,” Behar recalled over the phone from Tel Aviv. “She told me that she’d like me to see a rehearsal. I’d never seen a rehearsal of a dance performance before in my life. I came to the studio, and, you can imagine, I was shocked and amazed by what I saw. It was a piece she’d created for Batsheva. I told her what I think; she asked for my opinions, we talked about it. She said it’d be nice if I came the day after. And that’s it. From this moment we started working together.”

“It’s a nice story, no?” he added with a laugh.

Eyal, 43, and Behar, 37, founded L-E-V in 2013. The company’s name spells out the Hebrew word for “heart.” Their choreography is more emotional than narrative — there is no story to tell, only feelings to express. L-E-V’s Los Angeles debut will be a performance of their new show, “House,” which runs Nov. 20-23 at REDCAT. It’s a sensual, experimental fusion of dance, light and music. 

The work’s title could be a reference to the style of techno music that Behar played at his parties, or to the home they’ve created through their dance company, or to their own family. They have two children, ages 6 and 13. Eyal, however, dismissed all of those interpretations. “We have deadlines, and we have to give names,” she said by phone from Ottawa.

“These names for pieces, it’s a bit like giving names for kids,” Behar said. “The piece is so emotional and comes from such a deep place, it’s really like giving birth. And the funny thing about giving a name to a kid, somehow the name fits him later on. It’s really a mysterious fact, but it’s a fact.”

“House” appears as if it would be just as at home in a Hollywood nightclub as in a theater. The movements are fluid yet precise, the dancers are incredibly — almost inhumanly — flexible, and the choreography manages to be both sensual and robotic, the performers pushing against each other, animalistically or synchronously, in large packs.

The dancers wear skin-tight, flesh-colored costumes that leave little to the imagination. All of L-E-V’s performances have used equally minimal outfits. 

“The decision of the nude is something that connects to the place that you want to see. And you connect to the dance because of the inside, and not the color of the shirt or the pants,” Eyal said. “I love to see the body of the dancers.”

The show changes from one performance to another. It began as 40 minutes long and has now been extended to an hour. The movements are choreographed but leave the dancers some freedom to play within those boundaries.

Even the music changes slightly. Ori Lichtik, a DJ and childhood friend of Behar’s (Lichtik said they met when they were 2 years old; Behar insisted it was at 1), has been performing with Eyal and Behar since 2006. The dancers rely on his musical cues to stay in sync, but the work still allows him some room for improvisation.

“I’m not really doing anything that touches the timeline and the flow of the work, but I do color it and put some effects and dynamics that are a bit different every time,” Lichtik said over the phone from Vancouver.

The music is a mix of electronic, tribal field recordings and Stravinsky. It’s a unique form of collaboration, with Lichtik working with the dancers from the inception of a piece until the end.

“I’m in the studio with my equipment, and I just start shooting out ideas and tunes and samples and stuff I’m working on, and they can bring the stuff that they want to get inspiration from, and I will mix it in,” Lichtik said. “We play a lot at the studio, and record everything, and then during the process we just pick up what we like. Much of the process is just cleaning it out and shaping the piece.”

Eyal danced with the Batsheva Dance Company from 1990 until 2008 and began choreographing during that time. She also served as the associate artistic director of Batsheva from 2003 to 2004, and as house choreographer from 2005 to 2012. She brings much of Batsheva’s distinctive style — which she helped develop — with her to L-E-V.

“It was something that came because it had to come,” she said of her decision to leave Batsheva. “It’s just growing up from an amazing place to a different place. But all my love and what I learned is from Batsheva. It’s like a continuation for me.”

Batsheva’s trademark style stems from a dance technique called Gaga, developed by Ohad Naharin, artistic director of the company since 1990. It encourages creative exploration by tapping into a dancer’s childhood ignorance of the body’s limitations. Batsheva dancers cover the dance studio’s mirrors during practice to encourage the ensemble’s imagination.

“I adore Gaga,” Eyal said. “I think it’s one of the most amazing tools that dancers can have, and people can have. We use it every day with our company. This is our warm-up and our classes, and I will always believe in it. It’s something that cleans you from the inside. It brings the potential of dancers to a different level. It gives you freedom to be yourself.”

L-E-V also uses no stage design or props. “It’s very minimalistic. There’s the movement and the music and the lights and the spirit of the piece,” Eyal said. “It’s about the clean feeling, without extra.”

And although the company is based in Tel Aviv, Behar downplayed the effect of their Israeli roots on the creative process. 

“We don’t think about it at all, if it’s Israeli or not. A lot of our dancers are not Israelis, and the dancers are a huge inspiration for the creation. And we travel a lot,” he said. “It is Israeli, but it’s also everything else that influenced us.”

Still, Behar said, he’s happy to offer audiences a different association with Israel than what is often presented in the news. 

“It’s not only about the negative or positive, it’s also just to have a different perspective,” he said. “For people who are for Israel or against Israel, it’s always one thing — it’s about the war. Especially for us, we don’t create in a political way. We just create.”

 L-E-V performs “House” Nov. 20 at 8:30 p.m. Through Nov. 23. Tickets are $25-30 (general), $20-25 (REDCAT members, students) $12-$15 (CalArts students). REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles. (213) 237-2800. redcat.org.

World-renowned dance company to perform at The Wallis


Like most kibbutzim, Kibbutz Ga’aton has agriculture and industry, but that’s not what has brought it notoriety. Instead, people from around the globe have been attracted to this spot in the western Galilee for its contemporary dance.

Conceived in 1959 as the Ga’aton Dance Company and changed in 1973 to the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC), it has become a beacon under the artistic direction of choreographer Rami Be’er. And now Be’er, 57, along with 18 dancers from KCDC’s main company, will be coming to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for three performances Nov. 19-21.

Be’er’s parents were among a group of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel in 1948 to build a new life, founding the tiny Kibbutz Ga’aton settlement near the Lebanon border. Be’er was taught by his architect father, now 90, to play cello at a very young age, and the entire family — he has three sisters — still plays chamber music together. His mother, now 87, worked in the kibbutz library. But it was dance class that Be’er, even at the age of 3, anxiously looked forward to. 

“The movement, the music, the connection was something that was different from other things. I found myself in a different dimension when I was dancing,” he said by phone from Israel. “Yehudit [Arnon], another founding member [of Kibbutz Ga’aton], felt very strong that I was something unusual, even though my father really wanted me to pursue the cello full time.” 

Arnon, who died last year, was a young Orthodox dancer from the former Czechoslovakia, who was punished during the Holocaust for sharing her passion of movement with other prisoners at Birkenau and refusing to perform for the Germans at a Christmas event. Ordered to stand barefoot overnight in the snow and later surviving a firing squad, Arnon decided that if she didn’t perish in the war, she would make dance her life’s work. She brought the idea of creating a modern dance company to the Kibbutz Ga’aton, though there was resistance at first, as many in the socialist community favored the more inclusive style of traditional folk dance. 

“She was a very special woman,” Be’er said. “She exposed me to the world of dance, and communicating through movement.” 

After serving in the Israeli army, Be’er spent one year working on the kibbutz in the avocado orchards and then decided to join the dance company. He became the artistic director upon Arnon’s retirement in 1996. 

Be’er changed the structure of the company from its repertory style, where different choreographers work on each project, to having his artistic control be the guiding creative force. He often creates the entire production package from the music, costumes, lighting, set design and choreography — but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-man show.

“I see the people that work with me as my partners,” Be’er said. “Everyone has a place to express their voice. If I try something with dancers and it is going a different way that I didn’t plan, I am flexible to follow an unexpected moment as it might take me to a place with a more interesting solution.” 

The upcoming performances at The Wallis will feature “If At All,” a piece that Be’er created in 2012. It is 65 minutes long with no intermission. Be’er insists there is no formal story behind the piece.

“I invite the individual spectator to a journey,” he explained. “I give him a certain rope and lead them to a certain point and then leave them to connect through the piece … It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about the freedom that each spectator has to his own associations, his memories, his feelings and thoughts.”

With a little prodding, he explains that “If At All” broadly investigates human beings existing in different circles of life — relationships with oneself, partnerships and society. 

Be’er is aware that Israel often is connected with the political issues of terror and conflict, and those concerns do influence his work. However, his optimistic nature would rather he expose the other sides of the Jewish state, focusing on art and creativity. 

“I am not naive that a piece of art can change the world or can change a political or social issue. But, if in the end of this journey, when the lights come up, the spectator gets up from his chair and takes with him some question marks to think about … this is our modest contribution in helping create a better world to live in,” he said.

The quiet, lush environment of kibbutz life provides a great deal of inspiration for Be’er and the other dancers. 

“It gives a quiet to the creative process. It’s not a fit for everyone, but for me, and the people that chose to be here, it’s right. Many good values come from it.” 

Along with the 400 kibbutzniks, 60 people make up the core group of KCDC that live together in an area called the Dance Village. There is a junior company (KCDC 2) that concentrates its efforts on Be’er’s mission of educating young people and exposing them to the world of dance. He believes the art form can help children discover strength, patience and a deeper window into themselves. 

KCDC offers five- and 10-month extensive training programs. Dancers come from all over the globe in hopes of being accepted, and most have professional aspirations. It is essential to Be’er’s contemporary style that the dancers be educated in classical and modern techniques.

Throughout the year, nearly 400 students come from nearby areas, including an Arab village, to take dance, movement, Pilates and yoga classes. There are future plans to build additional studios and incorporate an academic school. 

“We want to create the space for dancers to live, and help their dreams come true,” Be’er said.

 

Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company will be doing three performances of “If At All” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, Nov. 19-21. For more information and tickets, go to thewallis.org

Yvonne Rainer celebrated as groundbreaking dancer and artist


My God! Can theater finally come down to the irreducible fact that one group of people is looking at another group?! — Yvonne Rainer, 1969

A groundbreaking artist in the fields of dance, choreography and experimental film, Yvonne Rainer has had a career spanning more than 50 years, encompassing social and political themes and making her a cult figure in avant-garde circles.

A retrospective of Rainer’s dance and film career at the Getty Research Institute (GRI) at the Getty Center features photographs, scores, journals, posters and fliers, and video footage from the 1960s to the present day. It runs through Oct. 12.

Rainer’s mother, Jeannette, was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants from Warsaw, Poland, and spoke only Yiddish as a child. Her father, Joseph, was from northern Italy and was raised Catholic but abandoned the church. The couple met in a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco, the city where Rainer was born. She remembers growing up in a very secular household, and learned more about Judaism after she dropped out of UC Berkeley and moved to the East Coast.

“I came to New York when I was 21,” Rainer, now 79, said in a phone interview after wrapping up a dance rehearsal, “and you know, you absorb Yiddishisms and something of the culture, Jewish humor — and the food.”

In the early 1960s, Rainer studied dance with avant-garde choreographers and artists. “I came under the influence, early on, of Merce Cunningham and John Cage,” she said. “Of course, their aesthetic was very anti-narrative, anti-drama and anti-the-idea-of-genius.”

Rainer developed a style that rejected conventional dance, said  exhibition curator Glenn Phillips, who is acting head of the GRI’s department of architecture and contemporary art. “Instead of doing an explicit movement-by-movement choreography, you’re creating a score. You’re creating a set of rules that the dancers can follow, and there’s a little bit of chance that’s involved as well.”

Rainer studied under choreographer and musician Robert Dunn, an acolyte of Cage, and began presenting her shows at the Judson Memorial Church in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1962. She and her colleagues formed a loose collective known as the Judson Dance Theater. One of their intentions was to take everyday pedestrian movements and infuse them with more virtuosic dancing. The dancers chose to wear street clothes rather than costumes and didn’t use makeup or dramatic lighting.

“One of my peers, Steve Paxton, and I used to joke around,” Rainer recalled. “He’d claimed to have invented walking, and I claimed to have invented running. He’d made a walking dance, and I’d made a running dance.”

In 1965, Rainer penned the “No Manifesto,” which became an infamous summation of the Judson dancers’ anti-theatrical mentality. It began: 

“No to spectacle. 

No to virtuosity. 

No to transformations and magic and make-believe.”

Looking back at the “No Manifesto,” Rainer now laughs at her youthful impetuousness. “It was never meant to be prescriptive,” she said. “It was meant as a provocation.” In 2008, she wrote “A Manifesto Reconsidered,” in which she directly responds to her earlier statements: 

“Avoid if at all possible. 

Acceptable in limited quantity. 

Magic is out; the other two are sometimes tolerable.”

The Getty’s relationship with Rainer dates back a decade, when Rainer staged an evening of performances there in 2004. She was named an artist-in-residence and developed a new dance piece in 2005; the GRI acquired her archive in 2006.

Phillips combed through 50 years of Rainer’s journals, in which she recounts her dreams and makes observations about the artists around her. In the exhibition, visitors can pick up headphones placed below open notebooks and hear Rainer read excerpts from those journals.

The main prop on stage for “Parts of Some Sextets” (1965) is a pile of mattresses. It references the sexual revolution that was then in full swing. But it also refers to the hospital bed where she had been laid up for weeks because of illness.

“The mattress is a very evocative object,” Rainer said. “I mean, it can be used for athleticism — we ran and jumped on them, and we hauled them around. But, you know, they are evocative of illness and death and sex. So it was very useful in that way. I didn’t have to deal with issues of sex and death specifically, in pantomimic terms or dramatic terms. It was inherent in the object itself.”

Rainer took an extended break from choreography and dance in 1975 to focus on filmmaking. For the next 25 years, she made a series of radically experimental films — all of which are being screened at the GRI — that explored a wide range of topics, including aging, gay rights, terrorism, breast cancer, economic inequality, psychoanalysis and pollution caused by oil tankers.

In 1990, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. But Rainer’s dance career was revived in 2000 by none other than Russian ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov, who had defected to New York and often went downtown to see modern dance. 

“He was very adventurous,” she said. “He commissioned a dance from me, at a point where I didn’t think I could raise the money.”

The resulting work, “After Many a Summer Dies the Swan,” was performed by Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project. “It was like coming home. I love working with dancers. I mean, that’s my true — what do they call it? — métier, where I feel comfortable,” she said.

The Getty has commissioned a new work from Rainer, “The Concept of Dust, or How do you look when there’s nothing left to move?” that looks at the issue of aging, and specifically, she said, “the aging body in dance.” It will be performed at the Getty Oct. 3 and 4 with “Assisted Living: Do You Have Any Money” (2013). At the age of 79, she’s working with dancers ages 40 to 66. “They’re very skillful dancers, and can still get their legs up in the air and can still jump around,” Rainer said.

“She’s really an intellectual and has always been at the forefront of ideas,” Phillips said. “It makes her a difficult figure for your standard museum-going public, because, in a way, she’s a philosopher. But it’s also what has made her such a powerful and influential thinker.”

“Yvonne Rainer: Dances and Films” continues through Oct. 12 at The Getty Research Institute Galleries. 

Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber dance together


Amidst a tumultuous world, a reminder of life’s simpler pleasures. We humbly offer you a video, shot by Justin Bieber at his manager Scooter Braun’s wedding, of Tom Hanks, resplendent in a tallis and yarmulke, singing and jiving to Montell Jordan’s 1995 dance classic, “This Is How We Do It.”

Note: Bieber, in posting this on his Instagram account, describes Hanks as “dressed like a Rabbi.” Technically, from a sartorial angle, Hanks could be any well-dressed male shul-goer. The important thing is that he brings to the role his inimitable  charm and relatability that make him one of America’s favorite actors/Jewish imitators. 500,000+ likes can’t be wrong.

 

Yiddish swing


During the 1930s and ’40s, even as young people across America were swing dancing to the beat of such Jewish bandleaders as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Harry James, a vibrant musical subculture dubbed “Yiddish swing” was flourishing in an L.A. enclave, according to Tali Tadmor, a local pianist, composer and vocal coach. Tadmor’s homage to that Yiddish subculture comes to Hollywood this week, in a musical show she created after being awarded a prestigious Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists. 

“I’m mostly a classical musician,” Tadmor said, “but I do a lot of work in the Jewish music world as well, and I’ve done a lot of Yiddish programs before, of traditional Yiddish music, so I knew I wanted something in that vein. And the fellowship required it to be brand-new music — original — as opposed to a remaking of something old.

“A lot of times with Jewish music, it tends to focus on the Holocaust and a lot of the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people. And, to me, Yiddish swing and that whole era in the ’40s is unusual in the sense that it was happy music and happy dance — of course in the midst of a lot of other things that were going on. But that’s really what drew me to that musical genre in particular.” 

While most people associate Yiddish music and theater of that era with New York, Tadmor said the youth of Boyle Heights, quite independently, created a very original form of Yiddish music, dancing and even theater.

“From the interviews that I’ve done,” Tadmor said, “what struck me the most was this idea that Los Angeles had always been an open-minded place … and that a lot of Jews found New York, especially, to be kind of a ghetto of its own. And when they wanted to escape that and do new things, and try new things and not have everybody in your business all the time, they tended to go west.”

Tadmor, a native Israeli, came here 18 years ago, and, while she has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other venues around the world, she considers Los Angeles her home.

“I always joke and I say I love Israel like a mother, and I love Los Angeles like a lover. It’s a different kind of love, but it’s very intense, and I don’t see myself ever living anywhere else,” Tadmor said. “This is really where I honed my skills and was given opportunities by many, many people and organizations. So it was exciting for me to write a show that was a tribute to that.”

Tadmor’s proposal earned her a place alongside eight other Six Points fellows in the first L.A. cohort; she is the only musician in the group. She hired Jonathan Maseng, a frequent writer for the Jewish Journal, to collaborate with her on the book that serves as the anchor for her original score.

They named the project “Ella Fitzgeraldberg,” because, Tadmor explained, “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” the Yiddish swing hit originally made famous by the Andrews Sisters, was also covered by the legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.

The cabaret-style show will be performed Dec. 14 at the M Bar in Hollywood, where the club will re-create a posh nightspot of the late 1930s with newspapers of the day strewn on tables, and, in one corner of the room, a silent film will be projected on the wall. Audience members are asked to dress in the style of the period. 

The evening begins with drinks and dinner, followed by a pre-recorded broadcast, in English, of a fictitious radio program called “Talk of the Town,” in which host Janice Howe (Connie Nelson) interviews 90-year-old Esther “Estee” Gerson (Annie Korzen), the last surviving member of the famous Gerson Girls trio, composed of two sisters and a cousin. Estee now lives in a Florida retirement community and is mourning the recent passing of her sister, Gilda. The story unfolds in flashback, as Estee, who has become a virtual recluse, relives the girls’ glory years as well as their dark days involving alcoholism, scandals and suicide. She also reveals, for the first time, what really caused the breakup of the trio. Her memories are inextricably bound up with the Depression era, World War II, the Holocaust, Jewish assimilation and the founding of the State of Israel, among other issues.

At key points in the story, live musicians and singers will perform a song from the Gersons’ repertoire. Tadmor herself will be on piano and will also be part of the vocal ensemble. Her original score is accompanied by Yiddish lyrics (with English translations provided in the programs), because, as Howe tells the radio audience, the Gersons sang exclusively in Yiddish. Tadmor took her lyrics from a Yiddish magazine called Keshbn, published between 1946 and 2007. “There were about 150 issues,” she said. “It was community generated, so people would send in poems, short stories, jokes and whatever. 

“I took things that looked like poems, that looked like they rhymed, and I went to the Jewish Home for the Aging, and a couple of people there just sat and translated all these poems” into English, so she could understand them before using them in their original Yiddish. 

“That was the starting point for the whole show, those lyrics. And then I set about 10 of them to music. That was the basis of the show, and then the story was written around that and connected one song to another. 

“I hope,” she said, “that people appreciate the richness of Yiddish culture — the language, the humor, the arts — and that they see that there are still young people who are interested in it and wanting to create new works and keep the language alive. 

“It’s not that the language is dying,” she said. “Enclaves of Orthodox Jews will always keep speaking Yiddish, but the secular Yiddish culture is in danger of being buried, and I think this show is just an example of how many people, young people, were excited to take part in this, from the writers, to the performers, to everyone who shows up. And I hope it gives hope for all of us that this beautiful, funny, sarcastic, creative culture will live on.”

“Ella Fitzgeraldberg,” Dec. 14, 7 p.m. (dinner), 8 p.m. (show) at M Bar, 1253 Vine St., Los Angeles. $15, plus $10 food/drink minimum. For reservations, call (323) 856-0036.

‘Fluid Infinities’ displays architecture in motion at the Hollywood Bowl


If you were to assume that Jacques Heim, the bold and much-praised founder of the Diavolo Dance Theater was a choreographer, no one would blame you. Diavolo is, after all, a dance company, and Heim, a roguish Frenchman who talks quickly and passionately about his art, seems to fulfill all the prerequisites of the profession. But you would be wrong, at least according to him.

“I describe what we do as architecture in motion,” Heim said during a recent phone call. “And I don’t describe myself as a choreographer as much as an architect of motion.” It’s a fitting title for the man whose company is now bringing the third piece of its trilogy with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Hollywood Bowl stage on Sept. 5. Like its predecessors, “Foreign Bodies” and “Fearful Symmetry,” the latest work, “Fluid Infinities,” revolves around an architectural centerpiece, this time a moving, glowing crescent “moon” (as some described it at a recent preview of the piece), a wondrous and beautiful contraption that puts a fitting cap on Diavolo’s “Espace du Temps” trilogy.

For those unfamiliar with Diavolo’s work, fear not, for even Heim has trouble defining exactly what the company does, admitting that even after 14 years of touring nationally and internationally, Diavolo defies convention. “Imagine I was a French chef and mixing a salad,” Heim offered. “Here’s the recipe: I would put in the salad a little bit of everyday movement, a little bit of ballet, a little bit of modern dance, a little bit of gymnastics, a little bit of acrobatics, a little bit of martial arts, a little bit of hip hop, and then add abstract structures … and there you have it, that’s the salad.”

And what a filling meal it will be, if the early preview of the piece shown to the press and some Diavolo backers last month is any indication. “Fluid Infinities” uses Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3 to startling effect. The strings-only piece oozes with menace as Diavolo’s dancers jump through, walk over, hang off of and twirl about the fiberglass quarter-sphere “moon,” which is pockmarked by circular openings recalling both the portholes of ships and the dark craters of the celestial body.

To those who’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” there may be noticeable echoes of the film in Diavolo’s latest work, and according to Heim, this is not accidental. “The trilogy is called an ‘Espace du Temps’ — Space of Time — which is also sort of a theme of ‘2001,’ ” said Heim, who cited the film’s famous “monolith” as a big influence on his latest work. And it is easily seen in the piece’s first movement, where the dancers in the company first encounter the architectural centerpiece with a mix of wonder, fear and attraction.

“The five women and the five men in the company completely create the movements for the piece,” Heim said. “I more direct them, and look at what they’re doing, purely from an architectural point of view.”

Heim has found working on the trilogy to be an invigorating experience. “It’s actually surpassed what I expected,” he admitted. “I had really no idea what I was entering into.”

“It really also changed the way that Diavolo was working … in the past we never had the music first,” Heim said. But as the trilogy necessitated a close partnership with the L.A. Philharmonic, Heim no longer had the luxury of waiting to choose his musical accompaniment later in the process. And, as Heim soon found, “With great restriction comes great freedom.”

The entire effort requires collaboration on a grand scale. Beyond Heim’s dancers and the orchestra, there’s designer Mike McCluskey, with whom Heim worked closely on the development of the architectural centerpiece. “I bring them drawing ideas and concepts,” Heim said. The job of the designers is to make Heim’s vision practical, not an easy job, especially when the challenges of working at the Hollywood Bowl are involved.

“The main challenge is that we rehearse during the day,” Heim said. “The temperature is crazy.” Indeed, in the past, the company has actually experienced problems with shoes melting on stage at the Bowl, and they had to bring in mini air conditioners so they could work safely. And as for the moon, according to Heim, “You can cook your own eggs on it,” during the heat of the day.

Beyond the heat though, there are other unique challenges. “In terms of the lighting, we have to be careful so that we don’t blind any of the musicians,” Heim said. “We have to adjust to the condition of the environment.”

Heim is very excited about premiering the piece at the bowl, though, and is also looking forward to the indoor premiere of the full trilogy next May in Germany. “I want to do something where I’m ready to fail,” he said. “I want to feel like I remember feeling when I was at the Grand Canyon, standing on the edge, ready to fly or ready to fall.” 

“That’s when you’re really rediscovering yourself,” he said, “and you grow.”

“Fluid Infinities” premieres Sept. 5 at the Hollywood Bowl. The L.A. Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, will also perform pieces by Adams and Prokofiev as part of the evening’s program. Tickets can be purchased on the Hollywood Bowl’s Web site.

Unleashing dance, offstage


Choreographer Heidi Duckler isn’t content simply to make works for a stage. To her, the whole of Los Angeles, the whole of the world, even, is fit for dancing. Why leap across a theater floor when you can glide around the lobby of an office building? Why spin atop sprung wood when you can frolic in a laundromat?

Duckler, 60, has been bringing her unique dance-as-urban-exploration to the world for 28 years as director of the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre. Staging productions in places as disparate as Los Angeles City Hall, the Van Nuys bus terminal and on an elevated glass bridge in Hong Kong, her works have challenged audiences to reconsider the spaces they inhabit daily.

“The vision, even though it’s expanded, hasn’t really changed,” Duckler said recently by phone, of her nearly three decades with her company. “It’s very adaptable and flexible. There’s always something fresh.”

Although Duckler’s earlier pieces were often what she described as “non-heroic works” that took place “in laundromats and gas stations,” she was always committed to the idea of using the outside world as art. And so, when she was approached by the Long Beach Arts Council to craft a piece in one of the open spaces in that city, she jumped at the chance. “They were looking for art to animate the land … to create a sense of hope,” Duckler recalled of the call that would lead to the birth of her “Expulsion” series.

Duckler, who enjoys working with locals when she creates a site-specific project, brought on the Khmer Arts Academy as her collaborator. Duckler’s previous project had been about Eve, and so she decided to weave the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden with the Cambodian exodus story and create a whole new work about exile. It’s a theme that she has reinvented with Native Americans in Portland, Ore., and will rework again on March 16, with the Latino community in Boyle Heights.

“Expulsion” is performed on a large piece of scaffolding, a form that has remained a constant throughout all the incarnation. Much of the rest of the piece changes, however, depending upon the context. “I sort of see that scaffolding as the bones, the body, the framework,” said Duckler, who notes that the current version of the piece contains new twists. “The expulsion story from the Mexican-American community is really different. … It was an immigration story, but now it’s an emigration story — they’re being sent back.”

In “Expulsion,” dancers move around, over, through and on top of the large piece of scaffolding that is the central element of the piece. They interact with the metal, hanging off of it, spinning around it, at times almost like gymnasts upon an apparatus. For the March 16 performance, the scaffolding will be located at 101 S. Boyle Ave., in the heart of Boyle Heights.

Duckler’s dancers will be joined there by members of the Danza Floricanto/USA company, which practices traditional Mexican folk dance. And although Duckler’s dancers are familiar with “Expulsion,” the dancers from Danza Floricanto/USA will be invited to “develop their own gestures” and bring their own unique flair to the project.

“It takes a different kind of dancer. It takes a dancer that’s willing to take a risk, and willing to be malleable,” Duckler said. “You’re in somebody else’s environment, and you have to be respectful, and there has to be a level of trust.”

Not surprisingly, locals often wander by during performances and have at times been puzzled, or even worried, by some of Duckler’s work. Some have even been concerned about the safety of the dancers. “Oh my God, they could fall off that roof,” Duckler said, miming the reactions of some bystanders, “but they never do. It’s very carefully planned, and safety is a key issue.”

Duckler recalled that the dance company was commissioned to do a piece in a downtown hotel right after 9/11. At first, hotel security staff members were very jumpy, but later they settled in and learned to appreciate the dancers. “We make friends as we go,” Duckler said. “One of the challenges for us is always to maintain those connections.”

Though Duckler has gained increasing access to sites where she’s wanted to choreograph — usually by being invited by cities or various arts groups that arrange for the use of sites — there’s still one white whale that eludes her: “As a lover of L.A. and a longtime resident, I would love to choreograph a piece that was seen via the freeway,” she said, laughing. “My most favorite site is near the Silver Lake exit off the 101,” she said. Despite the obvious hurdles of staging a performance where it might snarl traffic or cause accidents among rubbernecking motorists, a choreographer can always dream.

After the Boyle Heights performance, Duckler said she would love to hit the road. The company recently bought an old Oasis trailer, “a canned ham,” as Duckler describes it, and it plans to take it on tour. “The trailer is sort of like a tool box, or a treasure chest, that can be explored by other people,” Duckler said. She’s already working on choreographing a piece that takes place in and around the trailer.

“We’re taking it for a test drive,” said Duckler, who’s set her sights on the horizon, never content to choreograph in one location for too long. “We can travel California and see where it leads!”

The fabric of dance at LACMA


When artist Sharon Lockhart traveled to Israel in 2008, she wasn’t searching for Noa Eshkol. The Israeli dance composer and textile artist was not well-known outside her own country. In fact, Eshkol isn’t terribly well-known within Israel, where companies like Batsheva, Inbal, Bat Dor and the Israel Ballet hold far more cachet than Eshkol’s humble troupe. Lockhart came across Eshkol’s work on her journey, and now she’s brought the art of this somewhat obscure but undeniably brilliant, late choreographer to Los Angeles in a new collaborative exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

The curators behind the Lockhart-Eshkol collaboration are Stephanie Barron, LACMA’s chief curator of modern and contemporary art, and Britt Salvesen, the museum’s curator of photography. “Sharon is a Los Angeles artist who the museum has long been interested in, both in terms of acquiring work and showing work,” Barron said in a recent interview with the two curators at Barron’s office. “And this was an opportunity to show, for the first time in the U.S., a new body of work which was created in Israel.”

Surprisingly, this is also the first collaboration between LACMA and the Israel Museum, where Lockhart and Eshkol’s exhibition was shown last year. “We share an interesting history in that both institutions … opened within a month of each other in 1965,” Barron said. “We’re both encyclopedic institutions; we often share some significant donors … so it’s a really nice opportunity for us to collaborate.”

As curator of photography, Salvesen was intimately familiar with Lockhart’s work.  Lockhart, known for both her films and her still photography, has had solo exhibitions at the Walker Art Center; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo.; and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others, and her work has been seen locally at MOCA and the Hammer Museum. Lockhart is known for her ability to infiltrate closed communities and provide an up-close look at their culture. Eshkol, who was born in 1924 and died in 2007, was best-known as a co-creator of the Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation (EWMN) system, a system that attempted to define the motion of limbs around their joints, and her choreography was rooted in this systemic approach. The installation at LACMA includes Lockhart’s films of Eshkol’s dancers performing the work, as well as other archival materials.

In exploring Eshkol’s work, Lockhart conducted lengthy interviews with many of Eshkol’s former dancers, who remain devoted to their leader.

Noa Eshkol, “Umbrella Flower,” 1970s.  Noa Eshkol Foundation for Movement Notation, Holon, Israel.

“The idea of an artist as a historian of sorts was also interesting to us,” Salvesen said. Barron added: “This was really the first time that Sharon, in a certain respect, was collaborating with an artist that was no longer alive.” 

At a press preview for the exhibition, Lockhart said Eshkol “had a very strong opinion and saw things her way” and admitted that she might not have approved of this show, were she still alive.

But the luxury of Eshkol’s approval was not something available to Lockhart, as she told LACMA’s Sabine Eckmann in an interview that appears in the exhibition’s catalog. “I was trying to be as true to her process as I could. I recognize that I was drawn to her by historical precedents with which I identified … but that the work would function only if I could surpass that history and create something really new.

“My association with Eshkol seemed so natural and personal when I was introduced to her production,” Lockhart continued. “I immediately felt a connection, and it was only later that I came to know the distinction between her creations and those of her collaborators. Bringing up the question of memory and the imagination seems appropriate, because in truth that’s the only way I will ever know her.”

How much one truly knows Eshkol after viewing the exhibition is questionable. Her dancers gesticulate on screen for Lockhart’s cameras, her drawings and notations fill displays, and photos of her works line the walls. She resides like a phantom within the body of her materials, but a full portrait of her remains elusive. 

It’s hardly surprising that the woman herself comes into such little focus, considering Eshkol’s company didn’t even perform publicly for much of her later years. The only posters for shows included at LACMA date from the 1950s. This was not a woman who revealed much of herself to the world.

Lockhart stressed that “it was important to me that it was considered a two-person show, with two female artists,” yet it is Lockhart, along with Eshkol’s dancers, who has pulled the earlier artist into the spotlight for a round of perhaps unwanted applause.

All that said, the work, particularly some dazzling wall carpets designed by Eshkol and her dancers, is stunning. And, as Salvesen points out, “Not only did Sharon want to bring to light someone whom she felt was under-recognized as an innovator in modern dance, but to do so in such a way that she points out how this kind of simplicity and purism are radical. … I think she recognized Eshkol as a kind of kindred spirit.”

For her part, Barron sees in the work a new horizon in the art world. “The expansion of dance within contemporary visual art is increasing,” she said. “The Whitney Biennial, which just closed, had on the top floor a space devoted 100 percent to a sequence of different dance performances. … It’s a kind of zeitgest.”

Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol is on display on the second floor of LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum through Sept. 9. For more information, visit lacma.org.

Choreographer debuts morality tale on dangers of jealousy


Barak Marshall didn’t want to be a dancer. A lawyer, a singer, a scholar — anything but a dancer. “It was what she did,” Marshall says of his Yemenite mother, Margalit Oved, the one-time prima ballerina of the Inbal dance company, a giant of the dance world. And so he resisted. He sang in a choir; he went to Harvard and studied social theory and philosophy. But like most stories in which a man tries to flee his destiny, the world had other plans.

In 1994, Marshall moved to Israel where his mother had been offered the leadership of the Inbal, and tragedy struck. His beloved aunt died, leaving Marshall in a deep funk. He found himself working out his frustration in an empty dance studio. A friend saw him and suggested that he “build a piece” in honor of his aunt. And so “Aunt Leah” was born.

“Aunt Leah” won the newly minted artist acclaim and first prize at the Suzanne Dellal Centre’s Shades of Dance Choreography competition in 1995. And from there on out, Marshall began choreographing and performing his own work in earnest, garnering even more acclaim and recognition in Israel and Europe. Pretty soon some big names were knocking at his door. “Ohad Naharin from the Batsheva Dance Company invited me to be the house choreographer.”

By 2000, Marshall was on top of the world — young, successful, a great career ahead of him, and a prestigious job with one the world’s top dance companies. And then it all fell apart. In an instant, with one snap, Marshall’s career crumbled faster than the weight of his body upon his broken leg.

“I couldn’t work in my field, I couldn’t make any money,” said Marshall, now 43, of the dark days after his accident. The break was serious, the recovery took two years, and he couldn’t dance. His livelihood taken away, Marshall returned to his hometown of Los Angeles and humbly began waiting tables and offering academic tutoring to make a living.

After his leg healed, Marshall tried to make a comeback. “I was knocking on doors, pounding on doors, trying to get back into dance,” Marshall said, but no one would have him. “Once you’re off the map … it’s very hard [to get back].”

It was a tough transition but Marshall began to prepare himself for a life after dance. He turned to singing. He worked with Yuval Ron Ensemble and even went on tour with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. He said he was “at peace.” For the second time, the man who never wanted to dance had gotten his wish, but once again, the world conspired against him.

In 2007, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles asked Marshall if he’d be willing to choreograph a dance for its exchange program with Tel Aviv. Marshall developed a piece called “Monger,” and suddenly the dance world rediscovered Barak Marshall. (His troupe performed the work at UCLA’s Royce Theatre in 2010.) Calls came in, as well as commissions, and pretty soon, Marshall was a choreographer again.

Tina Berkett, co-founder of BodyTraffic, a Los Angeles-based dance company, recalls meeting Marshall in an odd way, through the husband of her co-founder, Lillian Barbeito. “We know Barak, because Lillian’s husband met him at the locker room at their gym.”

“Los Angeles has such a gem in Barak,” Berkett said. “He has a movement vocabulary that’s so distinctive and so different. His works are so obviously Barak Marshall.”

And so, in early 2011, BodyTraffic and Marshall hooked up for a performance at REDCAT’s “The A.W.A.R.D. Show” and ended up winning a $10,000 prize to create new piece together. Their luck got even better when the Joyce Theater in New York, impressed with their work, gave them an additional $25,000 toward the partnership.

Berkett couldn’t have been more thrilled. “The reason that we love Barak and love working with him and are so interested in performing his work is that his work appeals to audiences. There are theatrical elements, and the music is always so fabulous that even non-dance lovers find his work entertaining and enjoy watching it.”

The result of those prizes is a work that will preview at American Jewish University (AJU) on May 31, in advance of its premiere at the Joyce. The title remains in flux but will undoubtedly be a mouthful if the original title, “And as the Rooster Crowed the Green Bride Floated Through the Village Square,” is any indication. The piece draws heavily upon his mother’s Yemenite roots.

“It’s a morality tale about these nine children whose parents had so much jealousy of others, and so much envy and greed that they cursed their children to a life of rage and loneliness and unhappiness. They passed that down to them, and these once very beautiful, beautiful children became increasingly, as the years went by, uglier and uglier. And it’s really a story about the danger of jealousy.”

The story is actually based on his mother’s real neighbors in Aden. The people on the street used to call the neighbors’ home “The Burning House,” because screaming would emanate from it at all hours as the family members fought with one another. “Most of my pieces are set in some nostalgic past,” Marshall explained. “This piece is about 10 broken and hopeless people trying to find hope.”

The piece also draws from “Yiddish, Ladino and Yemenite Jewish texts and songs,” Marshall said.

Berkett and Barbeito set out to find some companion pieces for Marshall’s composition. “We knew that Barak’s work would be highly gestural, a lot of theater, a bit of comedy, very fast-paced,” Berkett said. To create a contrast, Berkett chose to stage a piece with a much different tone by Stijn Celis, a Belgian choreographer. “Stijn’s work is very beautiful, has balletic qualities; it’s a bit more ethereal.”

To complete the program, Berkett and Barbeito commissioned a new work by choreographer Richard Siegal. “We wanted a third work that would maybe show a lighter side of BodyTraffic,” Berkett said. Siegal’s work is heavily jazz influenced, lighter and more technical.

The three pieces will have their official premiere at the Joyce Theater in NYC on June 6 and 7, as part of the Gotham Dance Festival, but they’ll be previewed together at AJU on May 31.

“I just can’t think of a better place to do it than the AJU,” said Berkett, whose husband sits on the school’s board. The AJU has shown itself to be an inventive patron of dance over the last couple of years with its “Dancing with the Rabbis show,” and its association with Glorya Kaufman, one of the dance world’s greatest philanthropists. “I feel like … we’re opening up the world to the ability of the Jewish people to produce and create art,” Berkett said. “These men are among the finest choreographers in the world, and they happen to be Jewish.”

For his part, Marshall said he is excited to see his new work performed.

Asked why he’s used the word “rooster” in the titles of multiple pieces, Marshall became reflective. “I think I have a sense of affinity with the rooster,” he said. “Like the rooster, a man is very, very proud, and has this very seemingly strong and beautiful exterior, but can be killed just like that … gone just like that.”

Barak Marshall and Bodytraffic will preview their new work at American Jewish University on May 31 in advance of its New York premiere at the Joyce Theatre. For ticket information, http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/239961

Dancing Queen


At an airy dance studio in the San Fernando Valley, couples dressed in black moodily tango across the floor, stopping in frustration now and then. Hadas Fisher stands out: She’s wearing a bright coral dress, dangly gold earrings and a brilliant smile. Her dance partner, an elderly gentleman, is 3 inches shorter than she is. Fisher guides him through the cha-cha with a gentle patience.

“Turn me, and keep this up,” she says. Fisher adjusts her partner’s arms, demonstrating how to hold them perpendicular to his body. They do a swift turn toward the mirror, but the partner botches a leg movement. Fisher corrects him with a sweet but scolding grin that suggests they had discussed this before.

Fisher, like many others in the entertainment field, came to Los Angeles with a drive to succeed in the big leagues, but far fewer have a level of kindness that equals that drive. Her smile stayed put long after the lesson finished, as she humbly described her list of accomplishments: In January, she won Israel’s “Dancing With the Stars” competition with Israeli actor and comedian Shlomi Koriat; she received the best instructor award out of 300 Arthur Murray studios in 2007; she placed first in the national American Rhythm Competitions in 2006 and 2008; and she has a solid roster of 15 students, many of whom have been with her for many years.

Fisher, 29, was born in Haifa. She danced ballet and jazz starting at age 5 but never considered it a career possibility. Instead, she did her mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces, then studied business management at the College of Management in Rishon LeZion. But throughout college, she found she couldn’t get dancing off her mind. So she joined two dance groups — Arthur Murray and Bat-Dor — and in 2005, after completing her degree, she left Israel for Los Angeles to compete professionally.

Hadas Fisher on Israel’s “Dancing with the Stars” – story continues after the jump.  More videos below.

Photo by Courtney Raney

Professional dancers compete — on local, national and international circuits — for several reasons, other than the obvious monetary incentive: The competitions add structure to an often nebulous career path; the pressure pushes dancers to work hard and constantly improve; and winning — especially in the States — helps get them noticed.

Career benefits aside, Fisher says the move to Los Angeles was one of the most difficult things she’s ever done. She has a tight-knit family — three younger siblings are still in Israel — but leaving has created a pressure that she uses to her advantage: “If I sacrificed and left everybody behind in Israel, I have to be the best,” she says.

Fisher has pursued excellence in two areas: competing and teaching. She started out as a full-time instructor at the prestigious Arthur Murray studios and competed on her own time. In the process, she built up a following of committed students. “I can’t take money from people if they don’t think I deserve it,” Fisher says. “This is my merchandise, my private lessons.”

Not all professional dancers are natural teachers, but Fisher is. “It’s who I am. I like to give information to people and see how it makes them react.”

The student from earlier that day has been particularly responsive to Fisher’s teaching: “Every time he learns something and is able to do it, his mind is going crazy,” she said. “He’s becoming like a baby. He’s 65 years old, and when he comes here, it’s like he’s 15.”

She prides herself on maintaining a balance in her approach to students — she’s tough but kind at the same time. Her affinity for it may be one of the reasons she won “Rokdim Im Kochavim” this past January — and had such a good time doing it. She and partner Koriat prepared for the show for two months before starting to tape. Being on a reality show required a whole new skill set because of the dramatic plotlines among the characters, and teaching the dances week to week was tough at times.

But Koriat kept things lighthearted. “Since he’s a comedian, he was making me laugh the whole time.”

So, is Fisher a celebrity on the streets of Israel today? She giggles: “I don’t know. I’m not a celebrity type of person. But yes, I guess.”

Fisher says she’ll always teach, but her big win whet her appetite for competition, and she doesn’t have much time to fulfill that drive — most dancers retire at age 35, 40 at the latest. She is considering going back to Israel for the next season of “Rokdim Im Kochavim.” She is hoping it may lead to a stint on the U.S. version of “Dancing With the Stars.” “I think that if I really, really want to be on ‘DWTS,’ I can do it.”

But Fisher’s strong family ties may be catching up with her ambition right as she enters the final stretch of professional dancing. Her American boyfriend, whose mother is Israeli, might be popping the question in the near future. And, Fisher wants children — something that is clearly incongruent with a dancer’s demands.

Where to build that family home also remains a dilemma. Despite being part of a solid community here, she has never accepted the idea that she’ll never return to Israel. “My soul is still there,” she says. “I think it’s something only Israelis can feel … you’re always drawn to a certain place on the map.”

The dancing star has some tough decisions ahead of her. Her intense drive and equally compassionate personality have carried her this far in life; it seems those qualities will also help her glide gracefully through those challenges. 

 

Dancing rabbis win cheers


A sell-out crowd packed the American Jewish University’s (AJU) Gindi Auditorium on April 3 and watched as Rabbi Zoë Klein of Temple Isaiah tangoed her way to the inaugural “Dancing With the Rabbis” trophy. An ecstatic Klein, cheered on by her family, wowed the audience with her passionate routine with professional partner Daniel Ponickly.

In what turned out to be an incredibly fun evening, the rabbis and their partners put on a show that had people clapping and cheering in their seats.  Rabbi Mark Borovitz opened the night with a playful, jaunty cha-cha, and was followed by a game Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who danced the fox-trot in a top hat and tux.  Rabbi Nina Feinstein got deeply into the spirit, wearing glittering bell-bottoms as she danced the hustle with partner Forrest Walsh.  And perhaps the sweetest moment of the evening came when Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s partner, Brittany Palmer, spoke glowingly of the respected scholar, saying that she left every rehearsal with him feeling like she’d had a great day.

Louis Van Amstel and Karina Smirnoff of ABC-TV’s “Dancing With the Stars” made a special guest appearance and tore up the stage with some truly impressive dance moves, though their last dance was so racy that it may have had more than a few members of the audience wondering whether they should clap or head home for a cold shower.

But the evening was Klein’s, and she won a generous donation for the American Jewish World Service with her dance moves. Asked what if felt like to be the rabbinic dancing champion, Klein called the experience “once in a lifetime” and said she was “so excited” that her family was there to watch her win. If the success of the inaugural event is any indication, this may not be the last that Los Angeles will see of “Dancing With the Rabbis.”

And for those wishing to get in on the act themselves, the AJU will be offering dance classes taught by the rabbis’ professional partners, so that everyone can learn to tango like a champion.

‘Tov’ Gallops Onto Stage in Blend of Jewish History, Tradition, Dance


Dancers simulating the behavior of horses gallop across the stage, stepping, prancing, tossing their heads as though shaking their manes.  Their performance is mixed with spoken text, music and vocals in “Tov,” a dramatic dance work by choreographer-director Rosanna Gamson linking her Jewish heritage with the attempted reviving of the extinct Tarpan horses by the Germans in the 1930s. The work has its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall’s REDCAT through March 27.

Gamson was inspired to create this piece after seeing the CHOREA Theatre Association, a Polish company based in Lodz that was visiting Los Angeles, and being struck by each performer’s ability to sing, dance and act. She visited Poland last summer and spent three weeks training with CHOREA (the name is based on the Greek idea of “chorus”). Because
Gamson is half Polish, she asked her father about her relatives. He told her that family members had been horse traders for many generations.

“That surprised me, because horse traders didn’t seem very Jewish to me. But that was the family business, and Poland is a big horse culture,” Gamson said. “Then I came across the story of the Tarpan horses, and things started to stew around in my brain about the reconstruction of an Aryan race of horses. At the same time, I started looking at the underpinnings of eugenics and breeding and thinking about my own ancestors as a tribe, and then everything started stirring together, and it came out in this piece.”

From her research, Gamson learned that, leading up to World War II, German zoologists at the Munich Zoo believed they could re-create the Tarpan by selectively breeding for the most Tarpan-like characteristics in domestic horses, trying to bring this extinct strain back to life as an Aryan horse.

For Gamson, the crux of her work lies in the irony of the Nazis trying to resurrect a lost genetic line while trying to destroy the Jewish genetic line, but she doesn’t deal directly with the Holocaust. The title of the production, “Tov,” means “good” in Hebrew, and the director said she wants to focus on the good and to present images of beauty.

In that vein, the evening begins with the lighting of a candle and a depiction of the Shabbat blessing.

“I’m only trying to show tov, because the real tragedy is much stronger and more horrific than anything I could put on stage,” Gamson explained. “It’s going to be apparent, hopefully, because I’m making visual metaphors that you’re going to understand on some kind of gut level. You’re going to see the horses; you’re going to feel the menace in the air; and you’re going to have a response to things on a metaphoric level.”

The only actual reference to the Holocaust occurs when a graveyard is made on stage, where the performers lie down, their outlines drawn in salt.

“We’re basically koshering the stage. We’re trying to pull out the blood of violence,” Gamson said. She stressed that she’s alluding to genocide in general, through the example of what the Jews experienced.

“We make this graveyard, and then a horse comes and desecrates the graveyard. When you see a herd of horses charging around, they look so strong, and they make decisions as a herd. It’s a metaphor for a mob, or the idea that once you’re in a group of great power, you get carried away by that group.”

Emphasizing the universal meaning of her work is a multiracial, multiethnic cast, along with three performers brought over from CHOREA — two Polish, one Bulgarian — who will create music for the piece in the Slavic tradition. And, while most of the text is in English, the audience will also hear a little bit of Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and Spanish, with a great
deal of singing in Polish and Bulgarian.

Tomasz Rodowicz, CHOREA’s artistic director, was drawn to Gamson’s vision largely because, although he was raised as a Catholic in Poland, he is actually Jewish on his mother’s side. Rodowicz, 60, said one reason his family never told him about his roots is that during his childhood it was not easy for people to identify themselves as Jewish.

Rodowicz added that his father, who was not Jewish, spent four years in Auschwitz for being in the underground.

“He told me stories from before he was in the camp about what he saw of the Warsaw Ghetto, and then he told me of some of the terrible experiences in Auschwitz. It was very emotional when I talked of these things to Rosanna, but, when I was finished, she said that the work she wanted to do was not about these terrible events, with their pain and suffering. She wanted to create something about beauty and the need to find hope.”

There is another aspect to the story, according to Gamson. She has an ancestor named Nachum ish Gamzu, who was a rabbi and lived during the days of the Roman Empire.

“He was famous for saying, ‘Gamzu l’tovah,’ meaning, ‘Even this is for the good.’ He meant that God makes everything, thus everything is good, even though we don’t understand why, and, given the horrific events that have come to pass, this position, philosophically, becomes incredibly suspect. I’m not saying that he’s wrong or right. I am presenting [these questions]: ‘Is there good? Is there evil? Is everything good?’  I think I’m illustrating it by telling the story of the Jews and the Tarpans.”

And did the Nazis succeed in bringing the Tarpans back to life?

“Well, you can’t bring anything back from the dead,” said Gamson. “They bred horses that looked like the Tarpans, but, scientifically, they were not the original breed. The experiment was a failure. They were trying to resurrect one animal species while exterminating a whole group of people, and both experiments failed.”

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through Feb. 2009


ALTTEXT

Robert Dowd — Pop Art Money — See Jan.17 listing

DECEMBER

Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ecogift.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.benjamintrigano.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mbfala.com.

Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamoth.org.

Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lacma.org.

Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. http:www.holidaycelebration.org.

MUSIC: ‘That Yemenite Kid’ Diwon makes a mix tape — in Yiddish


NEW YORK (JTA) — Courtesy of Diwon, the artist formerly known as DJ Handler and otherwise known as the executive director of Modular Moods and Shemspeed.com, comes this fresh mix of pop, hip-hop, electronica and . . . Yiddish?

We spoke to “That Yemenite Kid” and asked him what’s up with this unusual release.

JTA: As an artist and producer you’ve focused on highlighting Sephardic and Yemenite Jewish music as an alternative to what some see as the Ashkenazic domination of the Jewish cultural scene. With that in mind, what’s a nice Yemenite kid like you doing in a Yiddishe place like this?

Diwon: I’m half-Yemenite. My other side is Ashkenaz. That is the side that came out here. Don’t forget, I started a klezmer punk band in college called Juez. So this really isn’t too far out for me. I think just because of the recent change of my artist name from DJ Handler to Diwon and some of the press around the music, now I’m seen as very Yemenite and the past is sort of washed over. I’m definitely more passionate about the Yemenite music I’m making because I feel that there has already been a big Yiddish and klezmer music revival.

At the same time, I don’t know of any Yiddish mixtapes that have ever been made — you know, Yiddish through the eyes of a street mixtape DJ. It was a challenge to take the source material flip it over my own beats and remixes and then throw in some of my friends who are fusing Yiddish with electronic music and what not. Plus that Andrew sisters “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” is so hot. I DJ it in clubs all the time. That in itself was almost reason enough to create this mixtape.

JTA: I notice you have some Hebrew language stuff in there as well. That’s going to make the Yiddishists angry . . .

Diwon: Ha! I don’t know. I guess some controversy is good.

There is a lot of great classic Yiddish music out there that, beyond revivals from Golem and Socalled, most young Jews today are completely unfamiliar with.


Click for streaming audio

JTA: Do you see any potential for the reinvigoration of Yiddish music as anything more than a novelty for this generation?

Diwon: I could see why people would say that Socalled is a novelty, but you could argue the music isn’t a novelty because he grew up listening to Yiddish records and this is how he makes Yiddish music — as opposed to say, an artist who put one Yiddish thing on their non-Yiddish album, as a novelty.

It’s a tough question to answer since most artists fuse different elements and genres and influences into their compositions. I don’t think that it’s novelty if an artist fuses their tradition into their music if it’s done in a sincere way and not with a smirk.

JTA: But what about for the consumer? So let’s say your doing Yemenite music isn’t a novelty, it’s an expression of your identity, but for the average music consumer, it’s a novelty. Take Matisyahu for example. Did non-Jews buy his album because he’s a great reggae artist, or because he’s an amusement?

Diwon: I think it depends on the consumer. One who isn’t that familiar with the tradition might buy it as novelty. But someone who knows the music and likes Yiddish or Yemenite music will buy it to expand their collection and for them its not necessarily a novelty purchase.

I know non-Jews who bought Matisyahu’s record because they like reggae. But then there are tons that probably bought it off the hype that was fueled by the novelty of it all. But I don’t think any of that matters. If he had put out one record and then went to making regular, non-Jewish reggae, I think it would be different. People would say “what a fake” and “what kind of marketing stunt is this?” But the fact is this is his true expression. He tours the world playing it and he is onto his third record, making it. It’s obvious that he doesn’t view it as a novelty. And the fact that he is still successful at it shows that it’s definitely more than a novelty. That and maybe the fact that he doesn’t wear a suit and a black hat anymore.

JTA: How’s the Jewish music scene holding up in light of the current economic downturn? Is your label, Modular Moods, surviving, thriving, dying?

Diwon: Well stateside we’re still alright. It’s a bit harder when I tour internationally, but no matter what I’m still going to grind and get as much good music out there as possible. If only to cheer up the people who are down due to the economy.

JTA: Well, giving away free music helps!

Diwon: Yeah, well music is basically free nowadays anyway, so why try and front? I feel like I give 75% of my music out for free and use the other 25% to fund it all and survive.

JTA: So what can we expect from Modular Moods in the coming months?

Diwon: Don’t miss the Sephardic Music Festival this Chanukah in NYC, the Shemspeed 40 Days 40 Nights Tour of college campuses in February, and a slew of new songs and albums unlike anything people have ever heard. We ain’t gonna stop now.

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through November 2008


SEPTEMBER

Fri., Sept. 12
“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” Angelenos can explore the legacy of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved popes in a new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition. Through artifacts, photographs and audiovisual recordings that first appeared at Cincinnati’s Xavier University only weeks after the pope’s death in 2005, visitors can explore the life of Pope John Paul II and the historical and personal circumstances that led him to aggressively reach out to Jews worldwide. Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, recognize the State of Israel and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of the Jewish people. The Skirball will also offer several public programs related to the exhibition: an adult-education course on “Jesus and Judaism” and film adaptations of biblical epics, among others. Through Jan. 4. $10 (general admission), free to all on Thursdays. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thenewlatc.com.

Sat., Sept. 13
“Speech & Debate.” The town is Salem, Ore., and, as in countless other American cities, teenagers are on the prowl for like-minded adolescents via the Internet. However, the three teenagers who find one another in “Speech & Debate” don’t just bond over music, books and movies, but are linked through a sex scandal that has rocked their community. The three adolescent misfits do what anyone else would to get to the bottom of the scandal: form their school’s first speech and debate team. Check out the West Coast premiere of the play, which critics are calling “flat-out funny.” 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Through Oct. 26. $22-$28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-9827. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/ragtime.

Sat., Sept. 13
Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival. Camarillo is offering visitors a one-day extravaganza filled with music, artists and gourmet food, all culminating in an evening concert under the stars. The 2008 Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival will include gospel and bluegrass music, a farmers’ market and more than 50 artists showcasing their work. By evening, retro-band Royal Crown Revue will warm the stage for a secret, Grammy-nominated headliner. 8 a.m. (farmers’ market), 10 a.m. (music and art walk). $20-$60. 2400 Ventura Blvd., Old Town Camarillo. (805) 484-4383. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.apla.org.

Fri., Sept. 19
“Back Back Back” at The Old Globe. There’s nothing poignant about professional athletes using steroids. Or is there? Old Globe playwright-in-residence Itamar Moses delves into the controversial topic and takes the audience beyond the newspaper headlines and congressional hearings to the sanctuary of sports — the locker room. With humor and insight, Moses unfolds the stories of three major league baseball players who struggle to compete in the unforgiving world of professional sports, as well as balance their personal lives and professional images. The up-and-coming playwright has “clearly demonstrated tremendous talent along with a willingness to tackle complex ideas in his plays,” said The Globe’s Executive Producer Lou Spisto. Moses’ other works include “The Four of Us,” which won the San Diego Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award last year and “Bach at Leipzig.” 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Oct. 26. $42-$59. Old Globe Arena Theatre, James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 234-5623. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.nhm.org.

Sun., Sept. 21
KCRW’S World Festival. A remarkable, eclectic lineup marks the last week of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Ozomatli toured the world, engaging audiences with its blend of Latin-, rock- and hip-hop-infused music, as well as its anti-war and human rights advocacy. The multiethnic group headlines this special night at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Michael Franti, a former member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his latest band Spearhead. Mexican singer Lila Downs as well as Tijuana’s premiere electronic band, Nortec Collective and its members Bostich and Fussible, will make it impossible for anyone not to get something out of the mix. If you haven’t had the chance to catch this spectacular summer concert series, don’t miss this last opportunity. 7 p.m. $10-$96. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lfla.org/aloud.

Wed., Sept. 24
Brad Meltzer signs “Book of Lies.” The New York Times best-selling mystery writer is back with a riveting new thriller that links the Cain and Abel story with the creation of Superman. Young Jerry Siegel dreamed up a bulletproof super man in 1932 when his father was shot to death. It may sound like a strange plotline, but trust Meltzer, who has written six other acclaimed page-turners as well as comic books and television shows, to produce a great read. The novel is already receiving major buzz and you can get in on the action in a variety of ways: By watching the trailer on Brad Meltzer’s Web site (yes, the book has a movie trailer), listening to the book’s soundtrack (yes, the book has a soundtrack) and by coming to a reading and book signing by the author. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 380-1636. ” target=”_blank”>http://arts.pepperdine.edu.

Sat., Sept. 27
“Skinny Bitch: A Bun in the Oven.” If there is one thing that doesn’t ever get old, it’s mocking our own culture. Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin do just that in their newly released “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” a sequel of sorts to their best-selling cookbook “Skinny Bitch.” The book is a guaranteed laugh riot and today’s in-store reading and signing could offer a sassy twist as the two authors show up in the flesh to dish about expecting mothers. And don’t be fooled, just because the subjects of this book are in a more fragile state of mind, Freedman and Barnouin refuse to make any exceptions to their insightful and illuminating critiques. 2 p.m. $14.95 (book price). Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jamescolemanfineart.com.

Sat., Sept. 27
“Jack’s Third Show.” Long hair, dramatic eye shadow and electric guitars return for an ’80s afternoon. Billed as a benefit for autism education, radio station JACK-FM stages an edgy blend of retro and new wave rockers. Billy Idol joins Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs and Devo for a musical bash that will have you dancing all day long. 2 p.m. $29-$89. Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. (213) 480-3232. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.931jackfm.com.

Sat., Sept. 27
Museum Day. Art and cultural institutions are hoping to attract folks from all walks of life by making them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free admission to museums across Southern California. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, this event gives art lovers and art novices alike the opportunity to visit venues from the Getty Center to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, free of charge. Natural history and science museums, like the California Science Center are also participating in the event. Regular parking fees do apply and advance reservations are recommended for some exhibitions. For a complete list of participating museums, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.museumsla.org/news/asp.

Sat., Sept. 27
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Season Opening Gala. L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director, Sir Neville Marriner, will conduct its current director, Jeffrey Kahane, in a piano solo to celebrate its 40th year. A symbolic bridge between the orchestra’s past and its future, expect to hear classical masters Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction for patrons. 6 p.m. $35-$125 (concert only), $750 (full package). The Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. Saint John Ave., Pasadena. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks August 16-22: Politics, dance, education and music


SAT | AUGUST 16

(BALLET)

In the role made famous by actor Kirk Douglas, dancer Arsen Serobian reinvents the legendary character of Spartacus for the stage. “An Evening of Khachaturian: The Composer and His Ballets,” presents excerpts from three of Aram ” target=”_blank”>http://www.alextheatre.org.

(NATURE HIKE)

If there’s going to be gelato in a body-conscious city like Los Angeles, there must also be exercise. But instead of moving the clothes hanging from your treadmill, head to a night hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, followed by a delicious treat with MOSAIC Outdoor Club of Greater Los Angeles. Enjoy a 360-degree view of Los Angeles from the observation tower at a former military missile control site with your fellow hiking enthusiasts, and then partake in some gelato at Piccomolo in Pacific Palisades. Don’t forget some water, snacks, layers and your hiking A-game! Sat. 6:30-9:30 p.m. (hike), 9:45-10 p.m. (gelato). Free (hike), $5 (gelato). Meet at the intersection of Mandeville Canyon Road and Garden Land Road, Los Angeles. Piccomolo, 970 Monument St., Suite 118, Pacific Palisades. (310) 420-3600. johnseeman@aol.com.

SUN | AUGUST 17

(DARFUR)

Families torn apart. Women raped. Charred bodies. Mass graves. How many times will we have to endure these horrifying images before we make “Never again” finally mean something? Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Paul Freedman’s stark new documentary, “Sand and Sorrow,” asks that tough question and others as he ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishworldwatch.org.

(ART EXHIBIT)

What do artist Mariona Barkus and photographers Sheila Pinkel and Joe Ravetz have in common? Talent, strong opinions on political and social standards and the “Art and Advocacy” exhibit at the Platt and Borstein Galleries at American Jewish University (AJU). From Barkus’s black-and-white images and mixed-media sculptures to Pinkel’s and Ravetz’s photographs of imprisonment and homelessness, respectively, these artists use their work as a means to provoke thought and action. Meet the man and women behind the images at the exhibit dedicated to the memory of courtroom artist David Rose, a longtime member of AJU’s Fine Arts Council. Sun. 3-5 p.m. Exhibition through Nov. 23. Platt/Borstein Galleries, AJU, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 201. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.middleeastcamp.com.

(SPEAKER)

Do you know the cultural differences among Serbs, Albanians, Bosnians and Croats? Did you know that there are dangerous neo-Nazi groups in Croatia? Were you aware that some Palestinians are actually of Bosnian descent? And did you ever think that one of the most complicated and least-understood modern historical events could be presented through comedy? The Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors Los Angeles is hosting comedian, author and pundit Julia Gorin in “Komedy and Kosovo,” a thought-provoking presentation that dissects a complex political issue that still holds relevance today. Come learn, come laugh and come with your own questions. Sun. 3 p.m. $12 (suggested donation). 20367 Lander Drive, Woodland Hills. (818) 704-0523. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rjchq.org.

WED | AUGUST 20

(BOOK READING)

Peter Ivers was a mischievous composer and host of the L.A.-based punk-comedy cabaret TV show, “New Wave Theatre.” West Coast punk acts like Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys shared the stage with such comedy players as John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis on the late ’70s and early ’80s UHF show. “New Wave ” target=”_blank”>http://www.vromansbookstore.com.

(LECTURE AND BOOK READING)

Jews have influenced America’s society and culture for more than three centuries. This impact is explored in “The Encyclopedia of American Jewish History,” edited by Stephen H. Norwood and Eunice Pollack with contributions from 125 noted scholars of American Jewish history and culture. Spend an afternoon with Norwood at the Museum of Tolerance examining the evolution of Jewish culture and ideology through American history. Wed. 2 p.m. Free. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2527 (RSVP required). ” target=”_blank”>http://www.songofdavidmovie.com, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.booksoup.com.

(SHABBAT)

Ethiopian Jew and Los Angeles icon Alula Tzadik is bringing the mountain to Muhammad. The avid musician and community activist figured if the religiously-disconnected Jewish teens loitering at the Third Street Promenade won’t come to synagogue for Shabbat services, he’ll bring Shabbat to them. Tonight is the first of a series of Promenade services to be held by the familiar dinosaur every fourth Friday of the month, with rabbis, cantors and musicians who are volunteering their time to reach out to the post-bar/bat mitzvah, pre-Birthright set. Fri. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. 1322 Third St., Santa Monica. For more information, contact Alula Tzadik, (323) 472-7484. Alulamusic@aol.com.


— Jina Davidovich contributed to this article

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks for August 1-7, 2008: Dance, comedy, sports, theater, politics


SAT | AUGUST 2

(DANCE)

“Gamzu l’tovah.” This saying, attributed to a talmudic scholar renowned for his unwavering belief that everything that happens is God’s will, means “This, too, is for the good.” It is the inspiration for the title of choreographer Rosanna ” target=”_blank”>http://www.redcat.org.

(COMEDY)

Quite often, comedians will draw upon personal experiences to color their performances, but what about comedy for the more intellectually inclined? Enter Emily Levine, a Harvard alumna whose sense of humor is anything but straight-laced. “I take abstract concepts and show how they impact our everyday lives. I make connections, like Newton’s ‘Principia’ and The National Enquirer. I connect the high and the low and the sublime and the ridiculous, in ways that are obviously funny and I hope have an emotional impact on people.” Be prepared as this Angeleno “comedian-philosopher” makes you laugh as well as think in “Five Easy Steps to Metaphysical Fitness: They Actually Work!” Sat. 8 p.m. Also, Aug. 3 and 5. $20-$25. Steinway Hall at Fields Pianos, 12121 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 471-3979. Jeannine@FrankEntertainment.com.

(THEATER)

Eliza Jane Schneider, the star of her own award-winning one-woman show “Freedom of Speech,” puts overachievers to shame. Her accomplishments include doing the voice of almost all the characters on “South Park,” playing 11 instruments and writing several plays. The show’s concept was born out of Schneider’s senior thesis, which led her to remote corners of the United States to explore regional dialects. Schneider’s excursions, which involved more than 300,000 miles and a second-hand ambulance, resulted in an overabundance of interviews, a great thesis and a play. In “Freedom of Speech,” she portrays more than 30 of the individuals she encountered on her odyssey and turns the spotlight on real, raw American life. Sat. 8 p.m. Through Sept. 7. $7.50 (Aug. 2 and 3), $15 (regular). Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 754-4264. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>and the Irvine Multicultural Association is throwing them one huge birthday bash with entertainment, presentations, exhibits, a kids play area, food and information booths. StandWithUs is the major sponsor and their international director, Roz Rothstein, will speak, along with other notables. You may have been to several events marking Israel’s 60th, but we bet none of them have featured doughy naan bread and coconut chutney or K-pop — Korean popular music. Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free. Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine. irvinemulticultural@hotmail.com.

(ART EXHIBIT)

Marla Fields and Yoella Razili are two artists not jaded by 21st-century attitudes toward the ordinary tools they find inspirational. On display at the L.A. Artcore Union Center for the Arts, Fields uses the method of hollowing out layers of paper to discover the hidden textures and beauties underneath, while Razili uses everyday materials from aluminum to wood to wax to reveal the “relationship between the matters.” The combination of these two women’s work opens your eyes to the beauty of the seemingly mundane. Sun. 3-5 p.m. (artists’ reception). Through Aug. 30. Free. L.A. Artcore Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. (213) 617-3274. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.booksoup.com.

(EDUCATION)

Adat Chaverim is the only Humanistic Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, and it caters to perhaps the most populous sect of them all: “cultural Jews” — Jews who love the traditions of Judaism but feel that we, not God, determine the course of our lives. If you’re interested in learning more, drop by one of the cultral school’s Open Houses, marking their move to a new location, at the American Jewish University. The move to the big hill separating valley and city dwellers may be just the incentive you need to join Congregation Adat Chaverim and take advantage of the classes they offer for secular Jews of all ages. Sun. 2 p.m. Also, Sep. 7. Free. The American Jewish University. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. R.S.V.P. to (310) 839-9793. Ksilbiger@juno.com.

(ISRAEL)

Super Sal Market, Aroma Bakery and Café and Sababa parties not enough Israel for you? Well, the Fullerton/North Orange County Chapter of ORT America is hosting two Israeli teenagers who will be bringing “A Taste of Israel” to our city. Sixteen-year-old high school students Dafna Heiman and David Yagazo, guest speakers for the event, are staying in Orange County for the summer, a visit sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, during which they are set to meet with various local organizations. Back home, the young ambassadors are gifted students, athletes and community-service volunteers. The teens will field questions as refreshments are served after their presentation. Sun. 3-5 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Tikvah, 1600 N. Avacia, Fullerton. (714) 738-1987. For more information, call (714) 871-6326. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thehayworth.com.

MON | AUGUST 4

(THEATER + ART)

During “Pageant of the Masters: All the World’s a Stage,” art comes to life —literally. Dressed in costumes that evoke certain periods, moods or styles, actors recreate classic and contemporary masterworks in painting and sculpture before a live audience. This field trip begins by bus at American Jewish University (AJU) and travels all the way to pretty Laguna Beach where the scenery is as artful as the scene. Mon. 2 p.m. $85. Bus departs for Laguna Beach from AJU Familian Campus, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>some rockin’ Jewish talent in music and dance (plus a rabbi for spiritual insights) to stage a Chanukah spectacular titled “Lights: A Live Concert Event.” Taubman joins rocker Josh Nelson, Jewish gospel singer Joshua Nelson (yes, these are two different people), Mare Winningham, Dave Koz, Alberto Mizrahi, Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, The Klezmatics and Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe for the brightest Hanukkah you ever did see. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $36. The Aratani Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles. (818) 986-7332. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.doublepump.com.

(POLITICS)

In a shifting political climate, one thing remains constant: Israel needs American Jewish support in order to survive. AIPAC’s new leadership division in Los Angeles, the Ambassador Club, aims to equip the next generation with the knowledge and skills needed to become effective pro-Israel advocates. Think you fit the bill? This AIPAC Young Leadership Event is your starting point. Thu. 7-9:30 p.m. $20. Call for location. (323) 937-1184.La-office@aipac.org.


— Jina Davidovich contributed to this article.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks July 26-August 1 — Rothman, Pressman live


SAT | JULY 26

(LIVE MUSIC)

First there was the mischievous musical duo of Miriam and Shoshana, who rocked YouTube and the Jewish community with their (un)orthodox rhymes. Now there’s the real-life Jewish musicians Chana Rothman and Stephanie Pressman, who offer Jewish soul instead of Jewish satire and inspire audience participation, not ” target=”_blank”>http://www.myspace.com/chanarothman; ” target=”_blank”>http://templebethdavid.org.

(THEATER)

Set in the tumultuous time of World War II, “Lost in Yonkers” manages to capture the ideals of that moment in history — the importance of family, love and survival — infused with humor. Called Neil Simon’s best play, “Yonkers” is a coming-of-age story within a dysfunctional family, focused on two young boys left by their father to live with their grandmother and aunt following the death of their mother. Sat. 8 p.m. Through Aug. 28. $20-$22. Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 364-0535. ” target=”_blank”>https://www.plays411.net.

SUN | JULY 27

(DINNER PARTY)

Beverly Hills, Beethoven and Mozart are on the menu at this sizzlin’ summer soiree, where three virtuoso musicians will pluck their strings for ” target=”_blank”>http://www.americancinematheque.com.

(NATURE HIKE)

The Jewish Outdoor Adventures crew can help get you off the couch today. Enjoy breathtaking views as you and your fellow nature buffs conquer the seven-mile hike on Mount Islip — the San Gabriel Mountains’ pride and joy. Get out of your pajamas, turn off those summer reality TV shows that have been piling up on your Tivo and get some fresh air! Sun. 10:10 a.m. Pacific Crest Trail. Various carpools are available; call for more information. (310) 926-1344. JewishOutdoor@yahoo.com. Sam@jewishventuracounty.org.

TUE | JULY 29

(ART)

Allow yourself to be dazzled as six painters, who also happen to have been friends since the ’80s, come together to showcase their talent in “Personal Views.” Although they are all graduates of the Art Center in Pasadena, no two artists’ works are the same; they range from expressionism to cityscape, realism to iconic art. Curator and participating artist Pnina Ben Daniel described the work as “seductive and professional.” At the Finegood Gallery. Tue. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Mon.-Thu.), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri.), 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sun.). Through Aug. 10. Free. Bernard Milken Community Center, Finegood Art Gallery, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3218.

WED | JULY 30

(ART)

Political, provocative and controversial, Russian-born artist Roman Genn was dubbed “the attack dog that [William F.] Buckley unleashed upon humanity” by the New York Review of Books. The political cartoonist and contributing editor to ” target=”_blank”>http://www.alpertjcc.org.

THU | JULY 31

(COMEDY)

You can never hear too many Jewish jokes, can you? Here’s a good one: What do you call steaks ordered by 10 Jews? A filet minyan. Get it? Well, get more when ATID’s young Jew-pros head to the “Kosher Comedy” fest at the Laugh Factory. The monthly series features some of Los Angeles’s best-known Jewish comedians who want to prove that their schtick don’t stink. If they don’t get you grinnin’ from ear to ear, there are always Woody Allen flicks at Blockbuster. Thu. 7 p.m. (VIP reception), 8 p.m. (show). $20, plus two-drink minimum. Laugh Factory, 8001 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 656-1336 ext. 1. info@chaicenter.org.

Malibu tango on Carbon Beach


It is not a secret that many beachfront homeowners in Malibu have a disproportionate sense of ownership of the surf and turf that fronts their properties. They pay millions for the illusion that they own the beach.

It’s also not a secret that they don’t.

So, the battle between some small-hearted residents and the determined beach-going public persists, with all sorts of cross accusations and bad feelings.

I’d blocked all of that from my mind on a recent weekend afternoon, when I dragged my reluctant 13-year-old daughter to a dance performance by CalArts’ dance program dean ” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map

Rachel and I joined our group just at the conclusion of an introduction to public beach rights by Jenny Price, a ” title=”Los Angeles Urban Rangers”>Los Angeles Urban Rangers, you can figure out how to set yourself up for a nice beach day, lawfully.

If you can stand the neighbors.

Still, on this day neither Price’s talk nor the bullying were the main attraction. Quickly, they became backdrops for what turned out to be a bit of magic.

Koplowitz, who has devoted his career to using dance to transform how we see the world around us, was in the midst of presenting a full week of free programs at water-side sites throughout L.A. With the eye of a New Yorker, these new works pointed us to look beyond the obvious Los Angeles landmarks to experience a fundamental determinant for the region’s character — how we use, share, experience and get our water. Among the sites his dancers performed at were the downtown Watercourt at California Plaza, the Port of Los Angeles and several stops along the L.A. River.

On this day, his eight-member Taskforce dance troupe — extremely beautiful, athletic young performers — had the “task” of “taking back the beach.” Through what he calls “structured improvisational dance” that encompasses both classical form and playful everyday posturing, the dancers acted out reading, sandcastle-building, playing ball, swimming and hanging out, all on newly public easements that only recently have been restored as public lands.

The performance flew by and ended with the dancers playing in the ocean. And as they performed, the day’s tension and hostilities dissipated. The walkers stopped; the partyers set down their drinks and stood rapt on the edge of their decks to watch. Though the rap music thundered on, time stopped. Everyone was enchanted, and for those few moments, we were as one.

A couple of strollers stopped next to Rachel and asked her what it was all about. Briefly, she stopped pretending to be a bored teen and explained that these dancers had come here as part of an art piece. As she talked, I could tell she’d taken to heart the politics of the moment and also the cultural significance of all that was happening.

And as they talked, I thought of how art can be a healing force. How music can calm. A painting can transport. A good book can distract us from our troubles. And an extraordinary piece of dance, like Koplowitz’s clean, structured yet interwoven narrative work, can sear through an angry crowd. How a shared experience of beauty can diffuse tempers.

Koplowitz, for a moment, achieved a truce by making the beachgoers, all of us, his audience. And the site became his stage — it was no longer theirs, ours or none of the above.

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For more information about Steve Koplowitz and Task Force, go to:

Arts in L.A. Calendar June — August


JUNE

Thu., June 12
“The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company.” The ragtag band of tech-geeks who created such enormously successful hits as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “Ratatouille” are dissected and discussed in David A. Price’s book about the high-minded company and its rags-to-riches success in filmmaking. At his appearance, Price will share behind-the-scenes stories about the animation studio dreamed up during a power lunch. 7:30 p.m. Free. Barnes and Noble, 1201 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. (310) 260-9110. http://www.bn.com.

Sat., June 14
Beastly Ball at the Los Angeles Zoo. Monkeys and hippos and tigers, oh my! The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) is, for the 38th year in a row, throwing its annual animal-filled shebang in support of the educational and conservation of endangered animal programs subsidized and run by the Los Angeles Zoo. No small get-together, GLAZA’s event is expected to be one of the hottest parties of the year, including special tours of the zoo, high-end catering, various forms of live musical entertainment and a silent auction with phenomenal items. Ever wonder what really happens in the jungle at night? Here is your chance to find out! 6 p.m. $1,000. Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 644-4708. http://lazoo.org/calendar.

Sat., June 14
Toy Theatre Festival at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Devoted to giving all genres of stimulating art a place to shine, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is hosting a festival recognizing the talents of numerous international toy puppeteers. A delightful treat for both adults and children, Toy Theatre is a production that encompasses two-dimensional rod puppets in mini-theatres that date back to the early 19th century. Adaptations of such classics as “Alice in Wonderland” are only a few of the many enthralling performances that will be taking place over the course of this two-day event. 10 a.m-6 p.m. Through June 15. Free. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-8500. http://www.musiccenter.org.

Mon., June 16
Silverdocs: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival. With documentaries becoming some of the most talked-about films on the silver screen today, the Silverdocs festival is one of the hottest film fests in town. This year’s opening-night film, “All Together Now,” follows the powerful panoply of creative talent that makes up the Cirque du Soleil production of “Love” at the Mirage in Las Vegas. The closing-night film, “Theater of War,” also takes a look at the behind-the-scenes creation of a different theatrical production — The Public Theater’s 2006 performance of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-war play “Mother Courage and Her Children” starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Sandwiched between these two films are many other screen-worthy documentaries. Through June 23. $10 (general admission). For a full listing of films, visit http://www.silverdocs.com.

Tue., June 17
“The Body Has a Mind of Its Own.” Mother-and-son science writing duo, Sandra and Matt Blakeslee, will explore how the brain connects with your body parts, movements, space, actions and emotions of others during the ALOUD Science Series on Seeing and Being. Find out how the brain directly links to your body’s health and susceptibility to disease. Engage in conversation with science writer and author Margaret Wertheim on how your mind knows where your body ends and the outside world begins. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. Mark Taper Auditorium at Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. (310) 657-5511. http://www.lfla.org/aloud.

Wed., June 25
“Zocalo at the Skirball: The Oracle in the Gut.” New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer will discuss surprising and fascinating research that makes E. coli more than just a deadly bacteria in fast food. The Skirball hosts the popular Los Angeles cultural forum, Zocalo, in this discussion of how the Escherichia coli microbe has had a significant role in the history of biology and continues to advance the search for life-saving medicine, clean fuel and a greater understanding of our own genetic makeup. The lecture, subtitled “E. Coli and the Meaning of Life,” is part of a quarterly Zocalo at the Skirball series of engaging expert-led talks on some of today’s most pressing subjects. 7:30 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. strongly recommended. (213) 403-0416. http://www.zocalola.org.

Fri., June 27
“American Tales.” Mark Twain and Herman Melville, two of the most notable writers in American history, will be brought to life in a musical performance, “American Tales,” directed by Thor Steingraber. Los Angeles’ Classical Theater Ensemble, the Antaeus Company, is kicking off this year’s eight-week ClassicFest with “The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton,” an adaptation of Twain’s comic look at the telephone — one of the world’s most valuable inventions. Meeting by chance through crossed telephone lines, Alonzo from Maine and Rosannah from California develop an instant love connection. Playing off broken and mended connections, “American Tales” brings in Melville’s tragic story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.” Catch the play’s world premiere along with workshops and readings of classic plays featured throughout the festival. 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat. Through August 17. $25. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 762-2773. http://www.deafwest.org.

Sat., June 28
“Cover Version.” This innovative exhibition is the result of a challenge New York-based artist Timothy Hull posed to 20 other artists from around the country: design the cover of your favorite book. Turning the aphorism “Don’t judge a book by its cover” on its ear, this clever analysis demonstrates quite the opposite — that a book’s cover is actually indicative of its emotional and intellectual resonance and becomes something of a cultural icon. In the same vein as musicians reinterpreting canonical songs by “covering” them, these artists reify and re-imagine the cultural import of such classics as “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville and “The Book of Mormon,” among others. 6 -9 p.m. (opening reception), 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tue.-Sat.). Through Aug. 10. Free. Taylor De Cordoba, 2660 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 559-9156. http://www.taylordecordoba.com.

Sat., June 28
Heidi Duckler Collage Dance Theatre: “A Guide to an Exhibitionist.” Triple-billed as a gallery opening, live performance and party, Duckler’s latest site-specific work explores nudity, still-life and the colors framing the space in a performance that ponders the relationship between artist, audience and the physical space in which these three elements intimately collide. 7 p.m. (performances every 30 minutes until 9 p.m.) $25 (includes wine and cheese reception). Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 784-8669. http://www.collagedancetheatre.org.

CalArts dance dean creates site-specific ‘Fluid’ movements


When he first started out as a dance artist, Stephan Koplowitz often performed his work in senior centers, shopping malls and on public streets.

“I already had the sensibility of taking my work out of the theater into the outdoors,” he said. “It became part of my DNA.”

Though Koplowitz has gone on to create a number of dances for conventional theaters, he has become best known for his site-specific works, which at times have involved hundreds of dancers, thousands of audience viewers and locales as varied as the windows of New York City’s Grand Central Station, a German coal factory and the British Library in London. In these places, Koplowitz’s dancers have raced across narrow catwalks, wrestled with machinery and rolled between stacks of books. Uniting the works is Koplowitz’s quest to create compelling interactions between people, nature and architecture, and his results have frequently been critically acclaimed.

“Like a calm unfurling of the sea,” wrote one critic on the The Dance Insider Web site in describing performers successively “trickling and rolling” down steps in Koplowitz’s 2004 “Grand Step Project.” In that work, Koplowitz used 50 dancers to explore the kinetic possibilities of six major New York City staircases.

At 52 and the new dean of California Institute of the Arts dance program, Koplowitz is currently preparing to make his Los Angeles debut with what he calls his most ambitious project to date.

“I definitely have never done anything like this before,” he said.

The “this” refers to TaskForce, Koplowitz’s new company of eight dancers who will embark on a three-year exploration of public sites related to water in Los Angeles, England and Germany. The project, called, “Liquid Landscapes,” has as its premiere a weeklong series of performances in Los Angeles at the end of June and entails dancers performing a mix of set choreography and improvisational movement at the Los Angeles River, the Farmers Market, under the Spring Street Bridge downtown and at nearby California Plaza, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Port of Los Angeles and the beaches in Malibu.

As they travel from site to site, the dancers will draw from three repositories of material: movements that will be performed at all the sites, rehearsed movement specifically for one site and structured improvisations that stem from interacting with a particular site.

“You could look at the dancers as water,” Koplowitz said. “Water takes the shape of whatever container it’s in, and we’re going to try to adhere to the shape of each site.”

Speaking by phone from his office at CalArts, Koplowitz comes across as gregarious and thoughtful. Though he hadn’t yet begun rehearsing with his dancers, he knew for certain that his latest work “is not a show. They’re more like events, happenings or installations,” he said, noting that other visual and performing artists will appear at the various sites and juxtapose their own work with the dancers’ movements. “This should add another layer of spontaneity.”

The dancers will have only three weeks of rehearsal time to immerse themselves in a process that Koplowitz has spent some 20-odd years refining.

“I am training them to live and breathe site-specific work, so I want them to take ownership of each site,” he said. Meaning, “I might give them parameters like, ‘Here are three ways of looking at this site, and here are three things we can do here.'”

In the past, Koplowitz has said he takes three elements into consideration when creating site-specific work, the physical site itself, its history and what he contributes as a choreographer. “I always attempt to create a bridge between these three elements, as well as communicating something about people,” he said.

Another iron-clad rule for Koplowitz seems to be “always taking the audience into consideration.” For example, people attending the Los Angeles River performance will be conducted along the banks as if on a tour, while office workers taking lunch breaks at the tables at California Plaza will be able to see the dancers communing with the Watercourt fountain from any vantage point.

“No one seeing my work should have the equivalent of a bad seat,” he said.

Koplowitz’s initial “aha” moment as a site-specific artist dates back to 1987, when he created his breakthrough work in Grand Central Station. Called “Fenestrations,” Koplowitz positioned 36 dancers so they could be seen performing through different windows of the famous train terminal.

Over the course of two nights, 16,000 people watched lines of dancers walking, running, leaping and collectively creating different shapes and patterns on the glass-encased catwalks behind the windows. Though the movements were often simple and pedestrian, critics lauded the work for its wit and clarity.

“I was inspired by the walls of the building and the homelessness that infused the place,” Koplowitz said. “And when I saw everyone in that terminal had a front row seat to the work just by tilting their head and looking upward, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that is powerful.’ There is this allure to make work on a scale where you can enter into a dialogue with the public in a way you can’t necessarily do in a conventional theater.”

Raised in Washington, D.C., and Paris, Koplowitz grew up with a father who worked for the CIA but also wrote music and poetry. His aunt was a professional opera singer, and he found himself drawn to all artistic mediums.

“I was interested not only in the arts but in how they connected to people,” he said, observing that while he doesn’t make “Jewish work, I would call myself a Jewish artist. My art has always been about what it means to be human and to have dialogue and exchange, and I’ve always associated this with being Jewish.”

Koplowitz majored in music at Wesleyan University and unofficially minored in dance. He went onto to receive his master’s in fine arts in choreography at the University of Utah, and though he remained passionate about music, “I wanted to plant my pole in contemporary dance, because it was an art form that fully encouraged the blurring of artistic lines,” he said.

Spring Calendar



Trailer for the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, May 8

MARCH

Sun., March 9
Barrage in “High Strung.” The young, hip cast of Barrage, a contemporary string ensemble, will dish out high-energy virtuosity in their newest show. The international cast features six violinists/vocalists, a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist who will present an amalgam of music, song and dance with a diverse fusion of cultures and musical styles. Join in on the spine-tingling fiddle-fest. 2 p.m. $35 (adults), $20 (17 and under), $10 (Pepperdine students). Pepperdine University Smothers Theatre, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 506-4522. http://www.barrage.org.

Tue., March 11
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The renowned dance company, founded by a giant of American dance, comes to Orange County for a program that incorporates gospel, jazz and popular music, modern dance and ballet. Highlights will include Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations,” which has been performed on hundreds of stages around the world and has been received with awe and delight since its debut in 1960. As an added bonus, ticket holders are invited to a free performance preview with a member of the Ailey company, one hour before the show. 7:30 p.m. Through March 16. $25-$85. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787. http://www.ocpac.org.

“Lessons From Bernard Rudofsky.” In a day and age where body image is the craze, an exhibition of the work of late Austrian-born Bernard Rudofsky will display innovative concepts of the body and fashion in an exhibit presented by the Getty Center Research Institute. Rudofsky, an architect, designer and critic, believed that people in Western society lost their spontaneity to design liberating, not restricting, clothing. Devoting his life to exposing the West to foreign architecture paradigms and unfamiliar customs, this breakthrough artist wrote nine books and more than 100 articles on the subject. View Rudofsky’s work accompanied by a 296-page catalogue with contributions from several talented artists. Tue.-Sun. Through June 8. $8 (parking). The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. http://www.getty.edu/.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It’s difficult to separate the dashing Johnny Depp from Sweeney Todd’s character, after having seen the recent film. Although Depp won’t be on stage at this show, you can still have an up-close-and-personal look at the eerie character in an exciting theatrical performance based on the 19th-century legend of a London barber driven to madness after a judge takes his wife and child away. Sweeney Todd, played by David Hess, plots his revenge with Mrs. Lovett, played by Judy Kaye, who conjures up surprisingly tasty meat pies infused with a secret ingredient. Adapted from a book by Hugh Wheeler, the production’s music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim with musical orchestrations by Sarah Travis. 8 p.m. Through April 6. $30-$90. Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets and additional show times, call (213) 628-2772. http://www.centertheatregroup.org.

Fri., March 14
“Beaufort.” The Israeli war film “Beaufort” stirred up scads of excitement this year with its Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination. Although the film didn’t win, it won many people’s hearts. Based on a novel by Ron Leshem, “Beaufort” was directed by Joseph Cedar and recreates the events prior to the Israeli troop withdrawal from the Beaufort military base in Southern Lebanon. Led by 22-year-old commander Liraz Liberti, played by Oshri Cohen, the small Israeli cohort of troops become weary of their mission when fellow soldiers are killed and injured. The film takes an in-depth look at the fear and drudgery of soldiers’ daily routines and examines the country’s ambivalence toward the 18-year presence in Lebanon. Playing in two locations: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; and Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For tickets and show times, call (310) 274-6869 or (818) 981-9811. http://www.laemmle.com/index.php.

Tori Spelling at Barnes and Noble. Admit it, you have a tinge of curiosity about how Aaron Spelling’s daughter is prolonging her 15 minutes of fame. Since playing Donna Martin on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” the high-school soap-drama that started it all, Spelling has appeared on various reality TV series, wed and borne children and endured a public tussle with her mother over her alleged exclusion from her late father’s estate. Now, Tori Spelling is telling the story like it is with her new memoir, “sTORI Telling,” and today she’ll appear to sign books you can place alongside old “90210” posters. Just don’t expect her to talk about her “poor little rich girl” reputation. 7:30 p.m. Book purchase required for signing. Barnes and Noble at The Grove, 189 Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0366. http://www.bn.com.

“Strauss Meets Frankenstein” at the Long Beach Opera. In a dramatic and different double-bill, actor Michael York will perform Tennyson’s epic poem “Enoch Arden,” about the love and loss that ensues when three friends find themselves romantically entwined. The heartbreak of destiny is deepened by Richard Strauss’ rich, evocative score. The performance changes tone when the audience enters the wild, macabre underworld of Frankenstein where rodents, vampires, werewolves, John Wayne and Superman coalesce in a real monster of a musical. 8 p.m. Also March 15 and 16. $45-$95. Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach. (562) 432-5934. http://www.longbeachopera.org.

Pasadena ArtWeekend. During a fun-filled weekend featuring more than 20 exhibitions, performances and cultural activities, Pasadena will host a comprehensive celebration of fine arts, visual arts, poetry, spoken word, music, storytelling and theater. Several cultural institutions will open their doors for “ArtNight,” offering a free peek at their collections. “ArtTalk” features a variety of performances, and the weekend is rounded off with “ArtMarket,” a design open market focusing on the work of students, faculty and alumni from Art Center College of Design and Pasadena City College, which will be available for sale. Sponsored by the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs with the Arts & Culture Commission. ArtWeekend will take place at various venues and times over the course of three days, and all events are free and open to the public. For more information, call (800) 307-7977 or visit http://www.pasadenaartweekend.com.

Gypsy Kings at Cerritos Center. Starting on the shores of the French Cote d’Azur, the Gypsy Kings fused South American rumba with fiery Spanish flamenco and their colorful blend of rhythms, leading to international success and recognition on the World Music scene. Tonight they “cast their spell” for a Southern California audience. 8 p.m. $45-$100. (562) 467-8818.

Calendar Girls picks, clicks and kicks for February 16 – 22


SAT | FEBRUARY 16

(SHABBATON)
leah@linkla.org.

(ISRAEL)
Celebrating 60 years of a Jewish homeland means nonstop partying in Jewish communities around the world. The kick-off is well underway here in Los Angeles, where Israeli-born songman Danny Maseng will perform as part of “Israel: 60 Years of Song and Story,”an evening of food, wine and dance. As an added mitzvah, five trees will be planted in Israel for every ticket sold. 6:30 p.m. $150. Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village. (818) 761-0192. johnseeman@aol.com.

SUN | FEBRUARY 17

(FILM)
” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’ alt=”pick gif”>Brazil’s high buzz Oscar-nominated film, “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation,” is opening for a limited run at three Los Angeles theaters. Here’s a tantalizing tidbit from a review published in the Forward: “Set in Brazil in the 1970s, during the exuberance of a World Cup victory and the fear-driven torpor of a military dictatorship, the film shows what happens to Mauro after his parents go on a highly euphemistic vacation (they are leftists running from the government). Mauro is dropped off in front of his grandfather’s apartment in Bom Retiro, an immigrant enclave in Sao Paulo, only to discover that the old man has died. The boy’s livelihood soon becomes the concern of a group of the building’s Yiddish-speaking residents, with a surly religious man named Shlomo reluctantly taking the lead. Mauro — as unimpressed as he is uncircumcised — shows little interest in the Jewish goings-on around him. Visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.sinaitemple.org.

(MUSIC)
” target=”_blank”>http://www.yuvalronmusic.com.

MON | FEBRUARY 18

(WINE + FOOD)
You don’t have to go all the way to South Beach for a wine and food festival. Herzog Wine Cellars brings you the best of both worlds with the inaugural International Food and Wine Festival. Kosher winemakers from France, Spain, Israel and California invite you to slosh and spit your favorite grapes before chasing them with chef Todd Aarons’ Mediterranean-style dishes. 7 p.m. $100 (per person), $80 (two or more people). Herzog Wine Cellars, 3201 Camino Del Sol, Oxnard. (805) 983-1560, ext. 305. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.templemenorah.org.

(THEATER)
Award-winning playwright Bruce J. Robinson brings a seat-gripping true story to life with director Alex Craig Mann in “Another Vermeer.” Set in postwar Europe, Dutch art dealer Han van Meegeren is in deep after being arrested for selling a Johannes Vermeer masterpiece to Nazi Hermann Goering. To free himself from prison and looming death, Van Meegeren must convince the authorities that the Vermeer is a forgery. Mon.- Sun. Through March 9. $20-$22. Beverly Hills High School, Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 364-0535. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.uclahillel.org.

(THEATER)
Playwright Jon Robin Baitz, creator of the ABC series “Brothers and Sisters,” brings another riveting drama to the stage with “The Paris Letter.” Set in the early 1960s, a successful New York businessman has an affair with a young male associate, after which he becomes tangled in a tragic game of financial and moral betrayal, sacrificing friends, family and love. Ron Rifkin, John Glover, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor and Patricia Wettig star in this L.A. Theatre Works production, which will be recorded for the nationally syndicated radio theater series, “The Play’s the Thing.” Wed.-Sun. Through Feb. 24. $20-$47. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 827-0889.

Lithuanian festival excludes Yiddish dancers


Next July 6, more than 1,000 Lithuanian folk dancers decked out in authentic woven costumes, representing close to 40 dance ensembles, will perform the windmill, the scarf dance and other traditional dances at the XIII Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival, hosted for the first time in Los Angeles.

But an innovative proposal to invite a group of Yiddish performers to participate as representatives of Jewish Lithuanian heritage was turned down by the folk dance organizing committee, resulting in the resignation of the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Lithuanian American Community, the national nonprofit organization sponsoring the festival.


Local chapter president Darius Udrys (photo), 35, made his proposal on Nov. 12. He envisioned the inclusion of a Yiddish song and dance as “a touching and powerful moment,” and afterward, with the Yiddish troupe joined on the dance floor of USC’s Galen Center by hundreds of Lithuanian dancers, a dramatic gesture of “openness and inclusiveness” that would help counteract the strained relations, both historic and current, between ethnic and Jewish Lithuanians.

Frank Joga, co-chair of the 2008 Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival Committee, informed Udrys that the committee felt that seven months was not enough time to modify the program, explaining that the agenda for the festival, which has taken place approximately every four years since 1957, is set up to two years in advance.

The committee also felt that if they included a Yiddish group, they would have to invite other Lithuanian minorities, and the festival would lose its “Lithuanian character.” As a compromise, the committee suggested that Yiddish dancers participate by learning and performing one of the already designated ethnic Lithuanian dances.

“The way he presented his proposal was very unprofessional,” said Joga, objecting to Udrys distributing an e-mail to 15 people from related organizations without initially discussing the idea with the dance committee.

Udrys is currently serving his third year as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Lithuanian American Community, a national organization with 60 chapters in 27 states that promotes Lithuanian culture, education and other activities. His resignation is effective Feb. 10, but he will continue as coordinator of the Los Angeles-Kaunas Sister Cities Program.

One of Udrys’ major goals has been to foster better relations between the ethnic and Jewish Lithuanian communities in Los Angeles, where he estimates there are 7,000 to 9,000 people of non-Jewish Lithuanian ancestry.

In October 2006, the chapter sponsored a visit by Dr. Egle Bendikaite, adjunct professor of Yiddish language and Lithuanian Jewish history at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University, to speak to Jewish and Lithuanian groups. Bendikaite, who is not Jewish, spoke at St. Casimir’s Parish Hall in Los Angeles and at Temple Akiba in Culver City about the contributions of Lithuanian Jews to that country’s independence.

Additionally, this past November Udrys arranged for Holocaust survivor and Lithuanian resident Dr. Irene Veisaite to speak to students at St. Casimir’s Lithuanian School. And on Feb. 3, the chapter is sponsoring a concert by Lithuanian singer Marija Krupoves, who will present “Songs of Vilnius: Music of Lithuania’s Ethnic Minorities.”

Udrys also submitted a proposal and received a grant from the Lithuanian government’s Department of National Minority and Expatriate Affairs to organize a symposium on Lithuanian-Jewish relations, to be co-sponsored by the Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, an independent, nonprofit educational foundation that supports the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and held at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. The symposium, however, has been postponed indefinitely.

“In many ways, feelings on both sides were too touchy to do this in exactly the right way,” said Dr. Richard Maullin, Santa Monica resident and president of the Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. He explained that there are still many outstanding issues to be discussed and arbitrated between the Jewish community and the Lithuanian government, including property claims and restitution.

One major and ongoing controversy concerns the Lithuanian government’s approval to allow construction on land thought to cover the part of the historic Snipiskes Cemetery, where an estimated 10,000 Jews are buried.

Another issue involves what many consider an “outrageous” request from Lithuania’s chief prosecutor to question Dr. Yitzhak Arad, former director of Yad Vashem in Jersusalem, regarding the killing of Lithuanian civilians as a teenage partisan fighter in Lithuania during World War II.

The Jewish community is also upset that the Lithuanian government has yet to investigate or prosecute Vladas Zajanckauskas, a 91-year-old retired factory worker deported from the United States to his native Lithuania in August 2007, for participating in Nazi atrocities.

“Not a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal sat one minute in jail in independent Lithuania [since 1991],” said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel.

But the issue regarding Lithuania and the Jews is much larger, according to Zuroff. Of the 220,000 Jews residing in Lithuania under Nazi occupation in June 1941, 210,000 were murdered. Of those killed, almost 97 percent were murdered in Lithuania with the help of extensive local collaboration. Yet Zuroff states that the Lithuanians have been unable or unwilling to re-examine their role in the mass murder.

Lithuanians living in the Diaspora are even less willing.

“The emigre Lithuanian communities are generally far more nationalistic and rightwing than their counterparts in the homeland,” Zuroff said, explaining that in many cases these are the descendants of Nazi war criminals.

Vytas Maciunas, president of the Lithuanian American Community, agrees that dialogue needs to take place between the ethnic and Jewish Lithuanian communities. And while he supported the proposed symposium, he opposed the inclusion of Yiddish dancers in the folk dance festival.

“There’s a tradition, and we need to follow that tradition,” he said.

Calls to Ambassador Jonas Paslauskas, who serves as Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York, were not returned.

Still, Udrys does not believe that the current leaders of the Lithuanian American Community are themselves anti-Semitic.

“I think what is most lacking is leadership — setting a tone and policy of inclusiveness that indicates to all who identify with Lithuania that they are welcome in our community,” he said.

Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival

Lithuanian American Community

Los Angeles Lithuanian Community

Operation Last Chance,” a joint project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Targum Shlishi Foundation

Vilnius Yiddish Institute

Tom Brokaw, social documentary photos and controlling your closet


Saturday

In the 1950s, Milton Rogovin was a Jewish American optometrist with a passion for social justice, living in Buffalo. He spent his free time promoting workers’ rights and registering black voters. In 1957, The Buffalo News decided to brand him “The Top Red in Buffalo” and turned his life upside down. Rogovin refused to be intimated; he picked up a camera and began documenting the city’s poor, disenfranchised and marginalized residents as a form of protest and activism. Now 97, Rogovin is considered one of America’s premiere social documentary photographers and is the subject of the inspiring documentary “The Rich Have Their Own Photographers” by Ezra Bookstein. The film will be screened as part of the Artivist Film Festival, which promotes the union of filmmaking and global activism (photo above).
6:15 p.m. $10 (student), $12 (general). Egyptian Theater, Spielberg Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 712-1222. ” target=”_top”>http://www.lifetimetv.com/on-tv/movies/it-was-one-us.

Monday

” target=”_top”>http://www.townhall-la.org/programs.

Tuesday

” target=”_top”>http://www.barnesandnoble.com.

Wednesday

” target=”_top”>http://www.latw.org.

Thursday

” target=”_top”>http://www.uclalive.org.


Friday

Creatively fusing religion and the arts, Rabbi David Baron and the Temple of the Arts are formally launching the Temple Arts Company, an organization dedicated to Jewish-infused professional productions of music, dance and theatre. Their first production promises to be nothing short of grand: a fully staged reading of “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Alfred Uhry with music from the Oscar-winning film “Gone With the Wind” by Max Steiner. The Tony Award-winning play delves into the complex lives of upper crust German Jewish Southerners trying to assimilate in 1939 Atlanta, Ga.
8 p.m. $25-$100. Temple Arts Company at the Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 271-0892.

Flamenco and tango melodies strike Jewish chords


Ethan Margolis, co-founder of Arte y Pureza (Art and Purity), a Seville, Spain-based flamenco troupe, says three influences stand out as soon as you begin reading about flamenco: Sephardic, Arabic and Indian. Margolis, whose company will perform at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater on Friday, Sept. 28, attributes the influences to the peregrinations of the Romani people, some of whom migrated from the Indian subcontinent, across northern Africa through Arabic countries and into southern Spain before the Spanish Inquisition.

While Margolis said the “complicated rhythms” of flamenco come from India and some of the melodies have an Arabic quality, the Sephardic component can be heard in the “Jewish chants and laments,” as well as the “Phrygian mode” and “chromatic scales,” which, according to Margolis, have a “Middle-Easty sound to” them.

Margolis hails from a family of musicians, among them his father, a rock and blues pianist and songwriter, and his brother, a classical guitarist. Margolis was “following in his father’s footsteps” as a rock musician and songwriter when he heard flamenco music for the first time about 11 years ago. At the time, Margolis was an electric guitarist and Spanish major at the University of Michigan, but after attending a live show by Paco de Lucia, viewed by many as the “most famous flamenco guitar player ever,” Margolis switched his attention to flamenco.

The young Margolis moved to Spain, where he studied flamenco and Spanish at the University of Seville. He was “looking for a dancer” when he met Cihtli Ocampo, who was studying dance on a Fulbright and was “looking for an accompanist.” The two — who now are engaged — co-founded Arte y Pureza, which on its tour of the United States will perform in San Diego, Berkeley, San Francisco and New York, in addition to Los Angeles.

Although Margolis said that 50 percent of flamenco musicians he has encountered worldwide and many of his recent flamenco students in San Diego are Jewish, he is the only Jew in his seven-person troupe, which includes singer-dancer Miguel Pena Vargas, known as El Funi. “Flamenco doesn’t seem to pan out among other cultures until you leave Spain,” he said.

Not unlike flamenco, the tango has multiple influences, including Spanish, Latin American and African. According to Dr. Lina Kaplan, who along with Vladimir Estrin will be teaching a tango class at American Jewish University this fall, you can hear the Russian Jewish influence in the melodies of many pieces of tango.

The tango developed mostly in Buenos Aires in the mid- to late 1800s, when Ashkenazi Jews migrated to Argentina.

The tango even has a grisly link to the Holocaust. Kaplan, a practicing psychologist, said that the term, “Death Tango,” originated in the concentration camps when Jews had to play tango numbers during executions of their co-religionists.

To Kaplan, however, the tango is about so much more than Jewishness or any other ethnicity. To her, the tango becomes a quest that is as much metaphysical as physical. She wants her students to “enhance awareness, mindfulness, being in the present moment.” She and Estrin “emphasize much more the interpersonal and the personal elements of dance,” as opposed to learning just the steps.

That is not to say that she is solely a philosopher of the dance. Kaplan, 43, is also a practitioner who recently returned from a trip to Argentina, where for two weeks she said she spent half her time dancing.

If she sounds like a teenager at Carnaval, she has an appreciation for the higher forms of the art. She speaks of the tango as “a metaphor for life…. It’s not simply a dance.”

Arte y Pureza will perform “Maestria” on Friday, Sept. 28, at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd. For tickets or more information, call (818) 249-1428.

American Jewish University will offer “The Spirit of Tango: A Path to Personal and Interpersonal Growth” on Sundays from noon to 2 p.m., beginning Oct. 7. For information, call (310) 440-1246. For tickets to the Arte y Pureza performance, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.arteypureza.com.

For more information about the class “The Spirit of Tango,” visit

Concert shakes up the way people view belly dancing


Suzy Evans has spent a significant chunk of her life debunking myths about belly dancers.

“There were so many times when I came across people who thought that belly dancers were like strippers,” she said. “Or the belief that belly dancers only come from the Middle East.”

Since she began her career in the 1970s, Evans has been on a mission to educate the public about a dance form “that is so much more than what you might see in a restaurant or in a class.” As the founder of the now 11-year-old International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (IAMED), Evans is producing her fourth “This Is Belly Dance!” concert at the Ford Amphitheatre on Aug. 11.

In addition to giving “top-end” dancers a prime performance opportunity, Evans views these concerts as a kind of belly dance 101 for the general public. “People sometimes think this dance is just another form of exercise that’s being offered at their gym or something that’s been done to entertain men,” she said. “But there is so much to belly dancing, and belly dancers have to be as talented and work as hard as any other kind of dancer.”

Featuring some 60 performers from all over the country, the concert will present dances ranging from flashy “Arabic disco” and Bollywood numbers to demonstrations of classical styles, such as the nuanced and controlled Egyptian dances and the more exuberant Turkish dances, often performed with finger cymbals.

And though they might have stage names like “Jamileh” or “Delilah,” the dancers hail from all ethnic backgrounds.

“Most belly dancers today are American,” said Evans, who estimates that “a good number” of belly dancers are Jewish.

Belly dancing is truly an international dance, with people of all races and cultures embracing it.”

Mae Ziglin Meidav, a Jewish belly dancer from Berkeley, has taught and performed belly dance since the early 1980s and never had any “qualms about integrating Arabic music and culture and attending annual belly dance festivals.”
I loved combining Arab and Israeli songs when putting together music for my performance troupe,” she said.

Meidav, who’s also a playwright, actress, sociologist and wife of an Israeli, noted that belly dancing in recent years has become more acceptable in Israel. “There used to be a cultural stigma, similar to the snobbery that valued European culture over Middle Eastern culture,” she said. “Today my niece teaches belly dancing in Israel, and there is definitely a thriving community of belly dancers.”

What unites belly dancers, be they from Israel or Korea, is gender.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re short, tall, 60 years old or 300 pounds. This is a dance that’s uniquely female,” Evans said. “You don’t get very many men interested in becoming belly dancers, and if you do, it’s kind of like, OK, whatever.”

Practiced for centuries in the Middle East, belly dancing was traditionally performed for women at parties that celebrated an impending marriage or other life cycle occasion. In America, the dance form first took off in the 1960s, when dancers from Algeria settled here and started teaching classes. In the 1970s, Turkish women started teaching, and the dance “became a fad,” Evans said.

“And I’d say in the past five years, there’s been a resurgence, with everything from the Internet to Shakira having something to do with that.”

In Evans’s opinion, belly dancing should really be called “torso dancing,” since that’s where the dance’s movements originate.

“You’re using the hips, stomach and chest, and you have to learn how to isolate the various parts of your body,” she said. “And everything has to do with the music. All the great belly dancers are extremely musical, plus they allow their individual personalities to come out in the dance. Excellent technique is only part of what makes a star.”

Evans began her own belly dance career when she was in her early 20s.

“I was flipping through the Yellow Pages, found someone teaching belly dance and thought, ‘Ooh, that sounds fun,” she said. “Unlike ballet, you can start belly dancing in your 20s and 30s and become a great dancer, though you still have to work really hard.”

Today, Evans considers Los Angeles to be “the hub” of belly dancing in the United States, primarily because of the concentration of teachers. And while Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles have offered belly dance shows for years, Evans always believed there could be greater performance opportunities for dancers. She founded IAMED precisely “because I saw a great need to bring belly dance to the concert stage.” She also currently produces a series of DVDs, both instructional and performance-oriented, and has customers from all over the world.

“It’s hard not to like this dance,” she says. “It’s feminine, sexy and mysterious and it’s about making the dance your own. I want to keep passing on this dance to future generations.”

IAMED presents “This is Belly Dance!” on Sat., Aug. 11, 8:30 p.m., Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. $5-$36. (323) 461-3673. For more information, visit IAMED at www.bellydance.org.

Time for the last dance at folk dancing venue


This week marks the closing of Café Danssa, a mecca for folk dancers in Los Angeles for 41 years. For much of that time, Danssa was a slice of Israel, or on some nights a slice of Greece, the Balkans or Brazil. In its early years, it was a pilgrimage point for dance aficionados and amateurs alike; in later years, it was a pickup joint for singles or a destination for anyone who just wanted to pick up their feet and move for joy.

Danssa’s founder, Dani Dassa, envisioned the business as an international meeting place, where people could enjoy each other’s culture without thinking about their differences.

“Through dance, people of differing cultures and politics were united with their hands and feet,” Dassa, 78, said in an interview this week.

The renowned Israeli folk dance teacher and choreographer moved to Los Angeles with an entrepreneurial spirit to get others involved in the medium he cherished.

But the Dassas are but half the story. My family, the Blumes, have run Café Danssa for the last 31 years — a decent span by any reckoning. And our family place of business has been Los Angeles’ most prominent and, by far, the longest lasting folk dance cafe.

For most of this time, Danssa’s formula for success was the product of the dynamic relationship between the club’s founder and its later owner, my father, Dave Blume. Dassa used his charm, dance talent and dark, lean and handsome looks to make folk enthusiasts clamor for a dancing place they could call their own.

Dad was his complement, with his Buddha-like placidity and hostility to any form of physical exertion. Dassa instantly recognized the virtues of Dad’s solid business sense and ever-present sense of humor. The two remained close until Dad’s death last March.

Café Danssa opened for business in December 1965 on a nondescript block of West Los Angeles on Pico Boulevard. The name of the business was a morphing of the first three letters of Dani Dassa’s first name and the last three letters of his last name.

Dassa, a native Israeli who’d fought in the War for Independence and the 1956 Sinai campaign, and who was at heart a dancer, aspired to bring the art of dance to the masses, especially to Jews in America.

A front page story in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times proclaimed Café Danssa’s arrival, and soon after, the entire second-floor space was packed to the brim with elaborately clad traditionalist folk dancers and a bunch of out-of-place Beverly Hills socialites in fur coats.

The ethnic music blared and bounced off the cinder-block walls, one of which was painted with three shadow-like images of Dassa line dancing and the other depicting the biblical scene of Rachel at the well. The décor never got complicated; Dassa hung strawberry pots upside-down as light fixtures. They’re still there.

Dassa offered Israeli, international and Greek nights, occasionally working with other teachers/partners. Because the kitchen was unable to keep up with the demand for the homemade falafel and hummus, he bought property less than two blocks from Café Danssa in hopes of opening a space that could house both an Israeli nightclub for live music acts and a restaurant.

But his new partner backed out of the deal, leaving the Dassas with the burden of keeping two businesses going. It was too much, so Dassa sold Café Danssa to a customer named Lori Anderson to pay off the debt accrued from the construction of the new building. Then his new business, Jericho, was gravely undermined by the 1973 war in Israel, which dried up much of the cross-cultural commerce.

The new Café Danssa owners did not last, and soon the business was up for sale again. On Dec. 31, 1975, my parents, Dave Blume and Carolyn Hester, became the new owners. They had plans to turn it into a nightclub to feature their own musical endeavors.

Dad was a jazz pianist and Grammy-nominated composer, best known for writing the hit pop tune, “Turn Down Day.” My mother was a central figure among the folk music scenesters who emerged from Greenwich Village in New York in the late ’50s and early ’60s. She’s also known for helping launch Bob Dylan’s career by hiring him to play harmonica on one of her albums.

The Blumes were not folk dancers. But then, as my mother said, they also never had it in them to make people feel bad: “David kept saying, we’ll make the change in six weeks, but then that became six months, then a year.”

The customers warmed to the new ownership, and business began to pick up. Dad quickly concluded that Dassa should be invited back to Danssa. The Israeli dance equivalent of a rock star, Dassa to this day still has the magnetism to make women swoon.

Dad on the other hand, was a master of puns and a formidable manager of egos, and he took a laid-back approach to handling the desires of the customers, as well as the competitive squabbles among dance instructors. Dad would tell us not to take it personally when people would try to get in without paying admission, because as customers, “it was their duty to try to sneak in as much as it was our duty not to let them.”

My brother, Howard Blume, recalls that, “on some nights, people would literally be lined up outside the back office waiting for an audience with Dad either to seek his advice, tell him their troubles or just commune.”

Dad, a nondrinker otherwise, kept a bottle of cognac in his desk, which was consumed only as part of a friendship ritual between him and Dassa. The cognac bottle is still there today, only now Dassa has inscribed his own name as well as, Dad’s, Mom’s, mine and my sister Amy’s on the bottle in Hebrew.

For years, Dassa and two of his children, David and Dorite, each taught Israeli dance at Café Danssa. Although Israeli dancing remained the breadwinner for the nightclub, Balkan and Greek nights continued through the early ’80s. Café Danssa continued its reputation as “the first stop for Israeli immigrants when they land at LAX,” and the crowd was a mix of tan, Israeli men in tight pants trying to woo beautiful California girls.