The XXIIIrd Olympiad’s Arts Festival opens on June 1 in a flurry of magenta, orange-yellow, bright green and aqua, as Pina Bausch’s Wuppertaler Tanztheater performs its Rite of Spring for the first time on an American stage. If the United States has never before seen Bausch’s work, neither has it seen an Olympic Festival of this size, shape—or color. The entire city of Los Angeles will soon be awash in the hot, modem versions of primal tones, an apparently random splattering of stars, confetti and bright colors that characterize the programs and other printed matter for the event. They seem to proclaim quite clearly, “This is the work not of Nature, but of Man.”
Overall, the Arts Festival has a price tag of $10 million, half of which has come in the form of sponsorship from the Time Mirror Company, publisher of The Los Angeles Times. The sponsorship funds came not from the company’s charitable foundation, but from its corporate side—an arrangement which Arts Festival director Robert Fitzpatrick supported, because he didn’t want major festival funds competing with nonprofit arts organizations dependent on unearned income.
Early in the festival planning stages, Fitzpatrick said that he was looking for “a moment of exultation [in the festival], so that when we experience the Games, our minds and senses will have beenstimulated by excellence.” The pursuit of that excellence is intertwined with the history of involvement in the modem Olympics.
In 1906, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, organized a Paris conference to study how the arts could be integrated into Olympic competition. The conference recommended five arts competitions for new works directly inspired by sport—complete with prizes and hoopla—in the categories of architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature.
Not until the 1912 Stockholm Games did the arts competition become a part of the Olympiad, and instantly it was beset by troubles. Difficulties in assembling large orchestras to play new compositions, the mechanics of transporting huge exhibitions and logistical and organizational problems plagued the arts competition from the start. It was even difficult to find notable arts contestants, as famous artists didn’t want to risk losing to young unknowns.
So intent was the Baron de Coubertin on the success of the arts competition that he took to assuring its standards himself. Under a pseudonym, he submitted an essay entitled “Ode to Sport” and—sacre bleu!—walked away with the top literature prize that Stockholm summer.
The number of categories and competitors did increase, if the quality did not. And a tradition of style and flair surrounding the arts competition developed. At the 1932 Los Angeles Games, artists from 32 countries submitted 1,100 entries. Thornton Wilder could be found on the literary judging panel. Winners were announced in grand awards ceremonies (like those for the athletes) and as the victors’ names flooded the loudspeakers, the orchestra struck up the appropriate national anthem.
By 1948, the number of categories had increased to 13 (now including such unlikely categories as Town Planning, Medals, Songs and Reliefs), and following the ’48 Games, the International Olympic Committee eliminated arts competition in favor of an arts exhibition or festival. Indeed the Olympic charter now states that arts involvement “shall be of an equal standard…as the sports events.” The type of festival is determined by the host city. Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980 presented national festivals only. Mexico City in 1968 and Montreal in 1972 presented international festivals.
This year’s international festival in L.A. is not only much larger and wide-ranging than any previous one, it boasts more events than the Games themselves.
The mind-boggling numbers tell a part of the story: Nearly 350,000 seats available for a total of 400 performances by 75 companies, which include 12 artists’ U.S. debuts, 10 world premieres and 8 U.S. premieres. In theatre alone there are 304 performances by 30 companies, including 7 U.S. debuts and 6 world premieres. But the statistics pale in comparison to the huge logistical problems of marketing, planning and mounting the festival.
In January the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee distributed 1.2 million festival brochures, and by April the festival was more than half sold out. Final attendance may well be in the 70-80 percent range overall. The festival is being staged at more than two dozen locations in L.A. and neighboring communities, including the U.C.L.A. campus, Pasadena Civic Auditorium, the Japan America Theatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Hollywood Bowl. In organizing the project, festival officials turned 47 of the most respected members of L.A.’s arts community into co-producers, whose roles ranged from helping in the actual selecting of companies to mounting mini-festivals and exhibitions.
But nothing, nothing, compared in range or sheer whimsy to making the production arrangements for the 75 diverse performing companies.
Pina Bausch needs 1,200 gallons of autumn leaves for the performance of Bluebeard. Where do you find autumn leaves in the middle of summer in a place that doesn’t have seasons anyway? Out of town. From a New York prop house, dance co-producer Bella Lewitzky Company acquired over 100,000 real autumn leaves, specially treated with a preservative to render them fireproof.
France’s Theatre du Soleil sent the LAOOC its fiche technique, a thick manual of technical specifications for everything including the height of the urinals, the times performers’ costumes must be ironed, and where the cocoa mat must be installed in the theatre (everywhere).
This thick, bristly padding covers virtually the entire interior of the company’s warehouse-theatre outside Paris. They’re used to cocoa mat; they want the same in L.A. Initial cocoa mat research revealed that it was manufactured only in India, and that the cost of importing enough would be $60,000. But then Kathleen Gavin, the festival’s theatre project coordinator, located a local supplier, and yes, the cocoa mat will be everywhere. “No one has been as organized as Theatre du Soleil in the way they sent their information to us,” she attests.
Italy’s Piccolo Teatro di Milano and China’s Performing Arts Company will each bring about 70 people. Arrangements with China have been particularly difficult, because one can’t just dial direct to Beijing; all communications must go through the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.
Logistics are equally complex. The Chinese acrobats must practice four hours every day, and the juggling troupes—Australia’s Circus Oz and the American Flying Karamazov Brothers—must practice daily as well. The American Repertory Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company are both presenting plays with children, and there are attendant complications; in addition the RSC’s two shows, Much Ado About Nothing and Cyrano de Bergerac, are gigantic.
The RSC contract requires a tearoom for performers; Piccolo Teatro’s contract requires a place 16 to cook the pasta they’re bringing with them; and “all the companies want to know where to buy fresh fruit,” says Gavin. Circus Oz requires a list of local pool halls for post-play play. For those companies whose festival stay is longer than a few days, the staff is trying to accommodate requests for trips to the beach and Disneyland. Initial contract negotiations revealed deeper cultural differences. For Cricot 2, the Polish demanded that “an act of God” be changed to “an act of God or Party.” The Chinese balked at certain arbitration provisions in the LAOOC contract, and replaced them with a statement that “differences shall be resolved by gentle discussion and friendly persuasion.” Robert Fitzpatrick says that this was the only such contract he signed, and on returning home, LAOOC lawyers were fit to be tied.
The lost dream of Robert Wilson’s the CIVIL warS haunts the festival like the sad ghost of Hamlet’s father.
It was to have been an Olympics in its own right, created in—and subsidized by—six different nations, performed in at least as many languages, featuring Wilson’s striking designs and the music of four breakthrough composers. It was to have been presented for the first time in its entirety. Of the $13 million cost of the opera, only $2.4 million needed to be raised in the U.S., but on April 1 the project was cancelled because U.S. funding was still $1 million shy. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the cancellation perpetuates the sense that Americans are culture consumers, not culture creators.
Still, the festival offers artistic opportunities unparalleled.
Many Americans got their first glimpse of Pina Bausch in Federico Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On, in which she plays the lithe and eerie blind princess. In its American debut, Bausch’s Wupper-taler Tanztheater—its very name begins to break down the usual distinctions between theatre and dance—consists of 39 dancers, actors, singers, tricksters, stuntpeople. Bausch unites strange and apparently trivial elements in her work: curious elements of nature, audience-confronting conga lines, bourgeois teatime commonplaces. The Rite of Spring (1975), although revolutionary, still retains many conventional assumptions of what constitutes dance.
Bluebeard (1977), with its autumn leaves, marks the break with tradition and the beginning of Bausch’s drive toward radical performance, which continues through Cafe Muller and 1980. In the latter, the entire stage is planted with live grass.
Ariane Mnouchkine was born in France one year earlier than Bausch. Since Theatre du Soleil sprang into existence in 1964, she has been its artistic leader, although the group remains an egalitarian workers’ cooperative in which menial work is shared and all are paid equally.
A self-proclaimed return to the “sources of theatre” and a rejection of the psychologism and artificiality of the modern stage characterize the company’s recent work, and their techniques incorporate commedia dell’arte, masks and strong Oriental influences. The three Shakespeare pieces they bring to the Festival—Richard II, Twelfth Night and Henry IV, Part I, all highly praised throughout Europe—demonstrate Mnouchkine’s belief that immediacy comes through a system of high convention and stylization. Like the Wuppertaler Tanztheater, this is the company’s first visit to the United States.
Tadeusz Kantor and Cricot 2 (the company’s name is an anagram for the Polish word for circus) have come to the States before, but poor relations between America and Soviet-bloc countries make U.S. appearances rare and difficult. Kantor, now nearly 70, participates in the performances. One of his central motives is to break down the regular dichotomies of reality/fiction and living/dead—the immediate presence vs. the absence that must be recalled. Kantor, calls Cricot 2’s work “the theatre of the dead,” and this theme appears in his two festival offerings: The Dead Class, in which actors matched by mannequins confront their hidden selves; and Wielopole, Wielopole, named for the village of Kantor’s birth, which recounts the events of his youth from family nostalgia to the devastation of war.
These are but a few of the highlights of the festival, which is half composed of American companies, nine of which are based in Los Angeles.
“We are going to take risks,” Robert Fitzpatrick said as he began putting the festival together. And indeed the festival does take risks, some at least. It has succeeded fairly well at walking the narrow path between risk-taking and being representative—two forces which can be in opposition, since the most avant-garde theatre often least reveals what is most commonly indigenous.
Still, there’s a mix. The festival is presenting the world premiere of a new musical work by Karlheinz Stockhausen, but its commissioned theme music is by Star Wars composer John Williams. And the official “supplier of programmed music services for the 1984 Olympic Games” is, believe it or not, Muzak.
Never before has an Olympics been so fraught with charges of commercialism. This first-ever privately organized (rather than government organized) Olympics is supported by 30 official sponsors and 58 suppliers, which include an official soft drink (Coca-Cola), candy bar (Snickers), fast food (McDonald’s), poultry (Foster Farms) and hair care product (Vidal Sassoon).
If the Arts Festival parries successfully with commercialism, it also reinforces the fact that some art sells, but sometimes the best art doesn’t sell as well. As is traditional, “popular” theatre events are expected to sell out, while more avant-garde pieces may have as little as 60 percent attendance.
But the deepest ambition of the festival isn’t to sell tickets: it is to provide a stage for artistic linkage and inspiration on a professional level. The question remains whether American artists—taking a cue from their Olympic counterparts in the world of athletics—will use this opportunity to expand the boundaries of their art.
Adam Leipzig is the dramaturg/associate director of the Los Angeles Actors’ Theatre, which next spring becomes the Los Angeles Theatre Center.
PINA BAUSCH WUPPERTALER TANZTHEATER, GERMANY, four dances, June 1-8
ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY, ENGLAND, Much Ado About Nothing, Cyrano de Bergerac, Terry Hands, dir., June 7-23
NIGHTFIRE, USA, Liquid Distance/Timed Approach, Laura Farabough, dir., June 9-17
MARK TAPER FORUM, USA, Moby Dick—Rehearsed by Orson Welles, Edward Payson Call, dir.; The American Clock by Arthur Miller, Gordon Davisdon, dir.; Wild Oats by John O’Keefe, Tom Moore, dir., June 10-July 1
THE GROUNDLINGS, USA, Olympic Trials, A Chick Hazard Mystery, June 11-21
ROOM FOR THEATRE, USA, Skylark, June 12-24
LE THEATRE DU SOLEIL, FRANCE, Richard II, Twelfth Night, Henry IV Part 1, Ariane Mnouchkine, dir., June 13-24
CARLO AND ALBERTO COLOMBAIONI, ITALY, Commedia dell’arte, June 17-24
L.A. THEATRE WORKS, USA, Agamemnon, Steven Berkoff, adapt. and dir., June 17-30
WASEDA SHO-GEKIJO, JAPAN, The Trojan Women, Tadashi Suzuki, dir., June 18-23
VICTORY THEATRE, USA, Back to Back by Al Brown, Tom Ormeny, dir., June 21-July 8
THE CAST, USA, Brain Hotel, Tony Abatamarco, dir., June 22-July 8
ODYSSEY THEATRE ENSEMBLE, USA, Edmond by David Mamet, Ron Sossi, dir., June 23-July 8
ACTORS FOR THEMSELVES, USA, TBA, June 24-July 8
AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE, USA, School for Scandal, Jonathan Miller, dir.; Six Characters in Search of an Author, Andrei Serban, dir., June 25-29
NEGRO ENSEMBLE COMPANY, USA, A Soldier’s Play by Charles Fuller, Douglas Turner Ward, dir., June 26-30
EPIDAURUS FESTIVAL PRODUCTION, Oedipus Rex, Mino Volanakis, dir., June 28-July 1
ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE/LOS ANGELES, USA, Sporting Goods, series of one-act plays, June 30-July 15
RADIES INTERNATIONAL, BELGIUM, Scaffoldings, July 2-7
NATIONAL THEATRE OF THE DEAF, USA, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Larry Arrick, adapt. and dir., July 3-7
CIRCUS OZ, AUSTRALIA, July 4-8
CRICOT 2, POLAND, The Dead Class, Wielopole, Wielopole, Tadeusz Kantor, dir., July 5-15
LOS ANGELES ACTORS’ THEATRE, USA, Sherlock’s Last Case by Charles Marowitz, also dir., July 6-22
PICCOLO TEATRO DI MILANO, ITALY, The Tempest, Harlequin, Giorgio Strehler, dir., July 7-22
GRUPO DE TEATRO MACUNAIMA, BRAZIL, Macunaima, Antunes Filho, dir., July 9-14
TEATRO TALLER EPICO, MEXICO, Novedad de la Patria, Luis De Tavira, dir., July 10-14
CHINA PERFORMING ARTS COMPANY, PRC, Cheng Du Acrobats, Central Ensemble of National Music, July 11-15
THEATRE SANS FIL OF MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA, The Hobbit, giant puppets, July 16-22
ANTENNA THEATRE, USA, Amnesia, Chris Hardman, dir., July 16-22
DE MEXICAANSE HOND, NETHERLANDS, TBA, July 17-22
GOODMAN THEATRE/FLYING KARAMAZOV BROTHERS, USA, The Comedy of Errors, Robert Woodruff, dir., July 18-22
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