One of the striking facets of local cultural life is the recent proliferation of dance activities. Dance companies have been exploding on the scene something like bicentennial fireworks. And this blossoming of dance theatre is creating a solid bedrock for the art. increasing community awareness as well as financial support.
An ephemeral experience, dance is viewed, and felt, and then stored away in memory. But behind the short-lived performance proper, the business of show business goes on. For it is not only artistic quality, but financial stability that determines which dance companies survive and which expire. It isn’t enough that the dancers be good, the choreography fresh, the lighting, scenery, costumes appropriate, and the audience enthusiastic. Dance requires the sustenance of continual fund-raising and skillful financial management.
Costly, luxurious sets are the norm for ballet companies, with designers such as Salvador Dali and’ Christian Berard contributing. The Nikolais Dance Theatre is known for its unique, specially designed costumes made from expensive stretch fabrics, and its multi-media special effects, in which numerous slide projectors click their synchronized images across bodies and stage. The costumes, no matter how brief, of Vegas chorines, dazzling in sequined glitter and ostrich plume, do not come cheap: and even less ostentatious folk-dance dresses and boots are prohibitive when multiplied by a troupe of 40 bodies. Consider also that dancers want to be paid for their work, for rehearsal and performance hours, just as any architect or plumber wants to be paid for his labor.
Ticket sales seldom cover these production costs. Superstars may sell out the house, but even then, with high-priced tickets, expenses normally outweigh income. Wages, theatre rents, and production costs make other sources of assistance necessary. And with the increased popularity of dance, there are fortunately outside sources.
The National Endowment of the Arts is Washington's answer to socialization of the arts, and offers an extensive program of aid to choreographers, resident companies. touring companies. The San Diego Ballet is the only local recipient: a substantial amount of the tab for its California-Arizona tour is NEA-provided.
The California Arts Council holds the state purse strings. But only a mere S49.00() of the S589.000 budget supports dance in the entire state. And the Metropolitan Correctional Institute, which offers a program of dance and visual arts for inmates, is the sole local grantee.
Combo, the Combined Arts and Education Council, is a local. private. fund-raising group that benefits its own members: it is not a public arts council providing dollars to all visual and performing artists. Applicants to Combo must already be somewhat established financially in order to be accepted, and they must raise funds only through Combo-approved methods. In its scope, Combo is quite effective, establishing a community awareness of arts activities without any local peer. Due to its innate limitations, it is also manipulative: there are certainly strings attached to Combo aid. Not long ago. Combo placed itself in an uncomfortable position when it strongly recommended a merger between the San Diego and the California Ballet Companies. The tension that resulted was increased by questions of priority, artistic quality, and community support, creating a more than healthy competition in the ballet scene. After some months, the ballet companies still cling to their individualism. “This fall, Combo is setting aside much of its budget. $40,000 conservatively, for ballet," relates Executive Director Fred Snyder. Both companies have been assured a minimum of $20,000, with the balance of $16,000 allocated to a victor to be determined by the adjudication of the American Association of Dance Companies, which is studying the criteria of funding these companies. Combo has also awarded $3.000 to the Civic Youth Ballet for seven performances. one in Tijuana, three performances of “Thumbelina.” and three spring concerts. So far, only ballet companies have the strength and appeal for Combo support.
Some of the leaders of dance in San Diego are spotlighted below.
San Diego Ballet Company. Since the recent departure of artistic directors Dame Sonia Aroa and Thor Sutowski. this company is undergoing the pleasure-pain of choosing new leadership. The previously contracted September production of Swan Lake was achieved through the collaborative effort of San Francisco Ballet’s Keith Martin, as Guest Director, and S.D. Ballet’s Ballet Master, Wayne Davis, and Ballet Mistress, Elaine Thomas. Originally premiered in 1895. Swan Lake is the fairytale of a lovely princess transformed into a swan. It’s known for a white-clad corps de ballet— long lines of waif-like maids on either side of the stage, behaving like a flock of swans. Dancing the SD Ballet's dual principal role of Odette-Odile are Helen Dexter and Monica Mudgett. with Prince Siegfreid interpreted by Michael Capparo and Duncan Shute. The San Diego Ballet Company is rapidly becoming the pride of the city with a regional reputation spilling into the Western states. It is edging toward a national reputation; and if the next ten years areas productive as the recent past, it may well put San Diego on the map. balletically.
California Ballet Company. Beginning its tri-season with an October Gala, this group will then do the traditional Nutcracker in December and the classic Coppelia, with music by Delibes, in April. The Gala includes another white ballet, Les Sylphides, with its Chopin score, moonlit forest, castle ruins, and lively dances. Chuck Bennett’s Alhinotti Adagio is also slated, along with an untitled Bennett ballet that digs into historical San Diego (it's set in the notorious section once called the Stingaree). Local TV personalities Tom Lawrence. Jack White, and Amalia Barreda guest in a dramatic seance scene. Ballerina Marlene Jones, the local girl who danced off with honors at the Varna, Bulgaria International Dance Competitions, will once again grace the California.Ballet’s list of principals. Well-recognized for her portrayal of Coppelia. Miss Jones assumes the lead role in this 1884 Russian work, known for the colorful Doll Act.
Ballet is not the only thing happening locally, however. The modern dance bag is bulging with diversified talent. Also called contemporary dance it is 75 years in tradition the movement here isn't descriptive of fairy tales or spectacles, but instead delves into personal, emotional experiences.
Three’s Company. This ensemble has steadily increased its following in a tender two-year association. A tight-knit trio, these dancers are known for their satire, melodrama, and lyricism delivered in a colorful, distinct style of spins, soars, and springs. Members Betsi Roe, Jean Isaacs, and Patick Nollett have performed together throughout California and the Western states, giving concerts and conducting classes and workshops in dance and choreography.
The Company Dancers are the regional explorers. They’ll show frenzied runs, strong gestures, unified designs. Breaking from the pack, this quintet rides a tide of fresh ideas, using sound that runs from live narration, to live opera, to original and electronic compositions, and even to their own shouting. They perform mainly in high schools and colleges, and their excitement stems partially from their willingness to risk new ways of moving and communicating with their audience.
For basic skills and beautifully conditioned bodies lifting in high, stretched leaps and flowing turns. The Dance Players effect a marriage of ballet and modern. Even with their well-developed, smooth style, there is a need for more spice, for more projection of the dancing to the audience. And hopefully, future budgets will provide for the visual embellishments of more innovative costuming and special lighting.
Mary Lou Blankenburg is a local soloist who relates well to audiences in informal galleries as well as in theatres. She shows incredible endurance and considerable charm in her portraiture dance. “The Adventures of Felicia Fleetfoot." Thriving in the chamber-dance domain, she gives a driving, nonstop performance. And though definitely of an avant-garde genre, her art is not ostentatious or shocking, but full of delicate, personal meaning and humor.
So far, musical theatre dance shows no jewels. Aside from Starlight and the Broadway Dinner Theatre, high-quality dance of this type is undeveloped locally. A hybrid of modern jazz, ballet, tap. and ethnic, those dances that saturate TV, Broadway, and Vegas arc spectacular and visually exciting. With imaginative staging, skillful execution of sharp, on-off, punctuated movements, and special effects in lighting and costumes, the music theatre dance offers movement for its own sake, with little thought to eliciting deep feelings or developing stories.
Perhaps the surfacing of Day Power's new group will fill this vacuum. Recently having assumed directorship of the San Diego Dance Theatre. Mr. Power's intent is to guide a group of competent dancers in performances of modern and jazz works, with optimum use of innovative .costuming, lighting, staging. Rapidly emerging as the local magician of the jazz dance, he may be the one to do it.
Traditions of the past are preserved and shared by various ethnic dancers. Religious, social, and cultural heritage are shown by the Scottish Highland Dancers. Cygany, and Samahan. Also stamping, clicking, and clapping the dances of Andalucia is Juana de Alba's Fantasia Espagnola. The sensuality and arrogance of traditional Spanish entertainment is done to live guitar with plenty of brio.
All told, more than 30 performing groups have emerged recently in San Diego. Most speak of themselves as “professional.’’ This loose term may characterize their salaries, their quality of dance, or their ultimate desires. -Some of admittedly semi-pro status evince such gritty dedication that they surpass their immodest sisters. In any case, the environment is now fertile for dance companies, and the chances of survival are looking good.