Earlier this year, in one of those New York Timesarticles in which an East Coast commentator spins into town for a week to tell us who we are, John Rockwell wrote, referring to the Sellars era, that “Mr. Sellars’ programming, with its emphasis on the work of Asians and local minorities, has proved prescient in today’s climate.” Rockwell was arguing that the cutting-edge performance scene is alive and well in L.A., thanks to UCLA Live!’s International Theater Festival, the Los Angeles Opera, the Eclectic Orange Festival and, possibly, CalArts’ REDCAT Theater in Disney Hall.
But UCLA Live! may owe considerably more to Fitzpatrick’s legacy than to Sellars’, who embargoed Old Europe from his festival. As Fitzpatrick put the best of London’s theater and opera alongside Korean and Chinese dance companies, so has UCLA Live! director David Sefton mingled Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre from London, New York’s Wooster Group and Canada’s Robert Wilson with the Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan and Peru Negro, a Peruvian-African blend of dance music born of South American slavery, coming early next year.
REDCAT seems to be following more in Sellars’ footsteps in its fledgling phase, with dance troupes from Japan (Dumb Type) and Mexico (Delfos Danza Contemporánea, appearing in January), and nary a European cobblestone in sight. But it’s still early going.
Despite Mr. Rockwell’s optimistic revision of the Sellars era, the downside of Sellars’ Europhobia (which clearly had no bearing on his staging of European operas across that continent) was that, by excluding an entire hemisphere, he was playing into the city’s already chronic Balkanization. I’ve never forgotten the disheartening sight a few years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard of two adjacent theaters with their respective audiences spilling out into the street during intermission. One audience was entirely black; the other, white. The trick is to get all those people into the same room.
If the aftermath of 9/11 teaches us anything, it’s that our challenges are no longer provincial, but global. We live in a country with a history of insulating itself from entire quadrants of the world. Never mind the self-absorption reflected in our television programming, even our theater over the past 20 years has been a mélange of identity politics and special interests that are suddenly of dubious significance in the face of ecological evisceration, terrorism and our questionable responses to both.
The world’s knocking at our door has turned to pounding.
The memory of the Olympic Arts Festival, and the first baby steps of Sefton’s programming at UCLA Live!, provide at least a suggestion of how to open that door without destroying ourselves.