Tag Archives: Dance

Duende soars in ‘Forever Flamenco’ at the first-class Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood

Flamenco Fanny Ara 2018 FF

Fanny Ara in ‘Forever Flamenco’ at the Fountain Theatre.

by Victoria Looseleaf

The Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion and authenticity, “duende,” roughly translates to a single word, “soul.” It’s also the elusive ingredient at the heart of flamenco, the centuries-old art form whose Andalusian origins, while not completely known, are an exotic blend of Jewish, Arab, and Roma (also known as Gypsy) cultures. Commonly thought of as an art of suffering — and punctuated by fiery footwork, rhythmic hand clapping, and raspy-throated singing and guitar playing that can veer from sensuous to scorching — flamenco, when performed by true artists, not only has the power to exist in a profound and mystical place, but can be a transformational experience for an audience, as well.

Happily, amid the urban sprawl that is Southern California, there also happens to be a rather tight-knit community of flamencans that stretches from Los Angeles down through Orange County and into San Diego, with upcoming performances including the Melissa Cruz-directed “Forever Flamenco — Evocar” (L.A.’s Fountain Theatre, October 27); Lakshmi Basile (San Diego’s Café 21, the Gaslamp location, November 2); the Spanish superstar Farruquito (Segerstrom Center for the Arts, November 6; the Soraya in Northridge, November 9); and Ethan (Margolis) Sultry and friends (Fountain Theatre, November 24).

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Deborah Culver.

That said, the indisputable Godmother of the L.A. flamenco scene is Deborah Culver, who co-founded the 78-seat Fountain Theatre in 1990 with Stephen Sachs, and has been presenting flamenco concerts under the banner, “Forever Flamenco,” ever since. Dubbed “the earth and fire of first-class flamenco” by the Los Angeles Times, the series has been weekly, biweekly, or monthly, with Culver estimating that they’ve produced in excess of 500 unique performances over the years.

Culver said she was drawn to the dance for a number of reasons, first and foremost, that it’s a “great art. It’s compelling, it’s mind-blowing, it’s gorgeous, and we have some very good practitioners here [in L.A.]. I danced it, too, of course, but really, I respect the pros.

“Throughout my time producing Forever Flamenco,” added Culver, “I have seen the community grow, mature, and exceed even my wildest expectations, and there are many dancers who are really pulling it off, who are really in tune with flamenco.”

The Fountain Theatre has also produced numerous flamenco concerts in conjunction with the Ford Amphitheatre, a bucolic, 1200-seat venue across the street from its much larger counterpart, the Hollywood Bowl. Olga Garay-English, executive director of the Ford Theatres since 2016, recently presented Olga Pericet, winner of Spain’s National Dance award in 2018.

Olga Garay-English

“The Fountain Theatre really needs to be praised for being a stalwart with not a huge financial undergirding — I think that they really deserve a lot of credit,” noted Garay-English, who added that under her Ford tenure, they have co-sponsored three concerts with the Fountain, including Pericet’s.

“I thought that flamenco really deserved a larger stage in the greater L.A. area,” she added, “so the first season I booked it in 2017, we actually commissioned a flamenco floor, which is more percussive. I also think that flamenco is an extraordinary art form that has really deep roots and yet it has become an international language, so to speak. You really see people taking up the form in very diverse cultures because it speaks to people.”

Garay-English agreed with Culver that the L.A. flamenco community is thriving and growing. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more excellent flamenco that is available, the more people are interested in seeing the work. People are really thirsty for this caliber of flamenco.”

One performer who has been a fixture of the Fountain’s flamenco series is Los Angeles-based Briseyda Zárate. Born in Delano, California, and brought up by Mexican immigrants, she’s performed at the space for a decade and a half, either dancing with others or directing concerts at the venue with her troupe, Briseyda Zárate Ensemble.

Briseyda Zárate and ensemble | Credit: Sonia Ochoa

In addition to beginning her own series, Noche de Tablao, last January at L.A.’s Bootleg Theater, 44-year old Zárate, a flamencan with a feline presence and feet of fire, has also danced with L.A. Opera in productions that include The Barber of Seville and in last season’s zarzuela hit, El Gato Montés, as well as having choreographed for the company in operas such as Carmen. The dancer, who lives and works several months of the year in the cradle of flamenco, Sevilla, Spain, is nevertheless, wholeheartedly committed to L.A.’s flamenco community.

“It’s an art form that requires, obviously, community,” explained Zárate. “It also requires people who perform, audiences who go see the performers, students who want to learn, teachers who want to teach and not just steps, but the culture itself, through a way of life, a country, a specific part of Spain, though it’s all over the world. It’s about connecting at the very core of the art form — connecting in the moment to the singer, the guitarist, to yourself — and creating the magic that you give to the audience.

“Flamenco is also about the audience feeling something,” she continued. “Yes, flamenco can get really difficult technically, but at its core, it’s a very simple human thing, because it comes from such a deep historical place and a deep emotional place and the music, the dance, the song transmits that place and the artist, the “bailaora” — dancer — has to be able to transmit that. Not every artist does that. People who do it like a machine and depend solely on technique, in flamenco that will never fly. That will never suffice.”

To Zárate, duende is the spirit the dancer generates and is something akin to a ritual. “You’re creating it and it’s very special and not something that can be done by anybody. It takes obviously a lot of study, and technique is the gatekeeper to how you reach that sublime place. However, it’s just the gatekeeper — there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it in flamenco. You cannot base it solely on your technique or virtuosity. Maybe you can get away with that in other art forms, but not in flamenco.”

Someone known for possessing duende in spades is Farruquito, heir to one of the world’s most acclaimed Roma flamenco dynasties. Born in Sevilla in 1982 as Juan Manuel Fernández Montoya, Farruquito has been described by The New York Times’ Alastair Macaulay as “one of today’s superlative dance artists.” Carrying on the tradition of his grandfather, “El Farruco,” the electrifying performer first made an appearance on Broadway at age 5, and is bringing a pair of shows, “Farruquito Flamenco,” to the Southland.

No stranger to drama, Farruquito, a master of line, quicksilver footwork, and authoritative presence, was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident, eventually serving three years in a Spanish prison for the crime. Released in 2010, Farruquito came roaring back, continuing his life’s mission to share the purest form of flamenco on stages around the world.

Farruquito

As to the debate of flamenco being more a matter of nature or nurture, of bloodlines or experience, Farruquito wrote in an email that it is “a little of each. Theory without practice does not achieve much. And if we are looking at it as an art form, I think you have to go much deeper into that world. If you are lucky enough to be born in a family that can give you that experience in exposure, you have to work even harder to make something out of what you are given.”

Farruquito also shared his thoughts regarding duende, writing that it “means being accompanied by a certain magic that allows one to transmit something special, intimate, and ever-fleeting while performing. But for that duende to grace us with its presence, we must lure it in with passion, dedication, respect, humility, and everything else that it rightfully deserves.”

Ethan Margolis

Indeed, high-quality flamenco, whether strikingly presentational à la Farruquito or decidedly internal, thrives on immediacy and texture. It also requires top-notch musicians. With its distinct rhythms and outside influences also coming from Africa and the Middle East, there is a timelessness that exists at the heart of this music. Cleveland-born guitarist/composer/producer Ethan Margolis, 41, known as Ethan Sultry (Sir Sultry is his production company), moved to Spain to study the art of Roma flamenco guitar at 21, eventually moving to Los Angeles in 2010.

While in Spain, Sultry and dancer Cihtli Ocampo (now his wife), cofounded the erstwhile Arte y Pureza Flamenco Company (Art and Purity), an acclaimed troupe that toured Europe and the States for a number of years. Blending American and Spanish roots music into a jazz/flamenco hybrid, Sultry has created a style bursting with complex flamenco rhythms that stem from India — with some of the melodies having an Arabic character — while the dance form, he pointed out, is an expressive, improvisational one that was first shared by Roma families in their homes.

“People don’t realize that dance is not always at the root,” explained Sultry, “because in the Gypsy household, the flamenco dance form before it got on stage, was in someone’s house, at a party, around a campfire. It was very short, about 40 seconds long, then it was over. It was about the singing and the rhythm.

Cihtli Ocampo

“It transformed into what we see now as 10, 15, or 20 minutes of dance that evolved to be put on a stage and sell tickets,” added Sultry. “I try to feature the dance, because it’s incredible, but there’s so many dance-heavy productions. Last year we presented shows that featured songs from Gypsy inheritors and none of them were commercial artists. They spent 400 years developing this stuff and no one knows who they are. I’m trying to help people understand that flamenco is like a work-song culture — they’re singing their sorrows out and it’s not all about fast footwork.”

Which isn’t to say that Sultry is not a fan of the dance. On the contrary, his November concert at the Fountain, “Sonikete Blues: Woodshedding,” will feature dancer Ocampo, vocalist Emi Secrest, cajón (box drum) player Ramón Porrina, as well as his Ethan Sultry Group, including Lee Ritenour’s upright bassist Ben Shepherd, and keyboardist Mitch Forman, who played with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz, to name a few.

“The Fountain is great for flamenco,” said Sultry, “and it’s because of people like Deborah. Other than the Fountain being an intimate venue, it’s the people allowing and pushing for flamenco to happen. They lose money but keep going. They allow artists to come in, do their thing and leave. I can’t imagine that the Fountain has financially benefited much from flamenco because it’s a labor of love. And it’s not,” adds the musician,” like every city has a Fountain Theatre.”

Sultry, who has a rather astonishing YouTube video that features him playing Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” flamenco style, with his body-painted wife slinking around the stage, her arms raised with filigreed fingers slicing the air, has his own idea — no surprise — of what he deems duende.

“What I believe to be spirit — duende — is that [Spanish playwright Federico García] Lorca, who was a Gypsy-rights activist, put it out there as a term and ever since it’s been used all the time. It’s that sense of arriving at a real connection with the art form with your spirit. When he used the word,” added Sultry, “he was living within Gypsy circles, and he wasn’t just talking about a dancer. He was writing about their beauty, their sorrows, that’s where it came from. I believe he lived it and felt it, and once you know that, it’s hard to buy it in another setting.

“And while all art forms have a version of duende,” Sultry continued, “it’s the term within flamenco about arriving at this blissful place of spiritual expression that you can only get to if the elements of the form are true.”

Expressing her true self through haughty glances, an arched back and thrilling turns, California-born Lakshmi “La Chimi” Basile, 37, built her career in Sevilla, and currently lives in San Diego. Over the years she has performed throughout Europe and, at one point, had a company, Luna Flamenco Dance Company. A regular performer at the Fountain for years — having directed shows there, as well — Basile also danced on a weekly basis at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant in San Diego’s Old Town district in 2017.

Now working on a project-to-project basis, Basile, who was born to an Argentinean/Paraguayan mother and an American father with Czech roots, also teaches flamenco and runs her own show at San Diego’s Café 21. While patrons might be eating and drinking during her performances, Basile said she’s had no problem with that.

“It requires a lot of stamina, but I present my show in a way that makes them pay attention. It just depends on how you attack it — and you can be mindful. That show ended up turning into a mini-showcase and I had regulars come to see me, so I was happy with how that turned out.”

But did Basile have flashes of duende during any of those performances? The dancer explained: “Duende, I believe is something you’re born with or you can stumble upon it at any given moment. It’s not something you work on like a step — duende doesn’t work that way. It either comes or doesn’t come, you can’t control it. Some people have duende moments a lot because they can transmit with a lot more ease than others.

“Even the people that have duende moments,” added Basile, “they can’t have it whenever they want. It’s more of a thing that comes, although I do believe some are born with it. There are also excellent performers who don’t have that magical moment. It’s almost like a spiritual thing — you have to channel energy in a different way than just being mental about the steps.”

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Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning international arts journalist who covers dance, music, theater and the visual arts. 

10 reasons to support the arts in 2018

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Katie McConaughy and Susan Wilder in ‘Freddy’, 2017. 

by Randy Cohen

The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts bring us joy, help us express our values, and build bridges between cultures. The arts also are a fundamental component of healthy communities, strengthening them socially, educationally, and economically—benefits that persist even in difficult social and economic times.

  1. Arts improve individual well-being. 63 percent of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences,” 64 percent feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” and 73 percent say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world.”
  2. Arts unify communities. 67 percent of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity” and 62 percent agree that the arts “help me understand other cultures better”—a perspective observed across all demographic and economic categories.
  3. Arts improve academic performance. Students engaged in arts learning have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates. The Department of Education reports that access to arts education for students of color is significantly lower than for their white peers, and has declined for three decades. Yet, research shows that low socio-economic-status students have even greater increases in academic performance, college-going rates, college grades, and holding jobs with a future. 88 percent of Americans believe that arts are part of a well-rounded K-12 education.
  4. Arts strengthen the economy. The arts and culture sector is a $730 billion industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, and agriculture (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences), which supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.
  5. Arts are good for local businesses. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters—valuable revenue for local commerce and the community. Attendees who live outside the county in which the arts event takes place spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($39.96 vs. $17.42).
  6. Arts drive tourism. Arts travelers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more to seek out authentic cultural experiences. Arts destinations grow the economy by attracting foreign visitor spending. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that, between 2003-2015, the percentage of international travelers including “art gallery and museum visits” on their trip grew from 17 to 29 percent, and the share attending “concerts, plays, and musicals” increased from 13 to 16 percent.
  7. Arts are an export industry. The arts and culture industries had a $30 billion international trade surplus in 2014, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) exceeded $60 billion.
  8. Arts spark creativity and innovation. Creativity is among the top 5 applied skills sought by business leaders—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The Conference Board’s Ready to Innovate report concludes, “The arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.” Research on creativity shows that Nobel laureates in the sciences are 17 times more likely to be actively engaged in the arts than other scientists.
  9. Arts improve healthcare. Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.
  10. Arts and healing in the military. The arts are part of the military continuum—promoting readiness during pre-deployment as well as aiding in the successful reintegration and adjustment of Veterans and military families into community life. Service members and Veterans rank art therapies in the top 4 (out of 40) interventions and treatments.

Happy New Year!

Randy Cohen is Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, the nation’s advocacy organization for the arts.

Q&A with Fred Herko biographer following ‘Freddy’ performance Thursday Sept 28th

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Fred Herko

Audiences seeing the world premiere of the new theatre/dance work Freddy on Thursday night, September 28th, will enjoy an added treat when Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde engages in a Q&A discussion immediately following the performance at 8pm in the Caminito Theatre at LA City College.  Freddy is written by Herko friend Deborah Lawlor, directed by Frances Loy, with dance/movement direction by Cate Caplin.

Set in 1964 Greenwich Village and based on a true story, Freddy blends theatre, dance, music and projected images to tell the tale of a naïve young woman who falls under the spell of Fred Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory.

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Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde and Deborah Lawlor

Gerard Forde is a curator, writer and translator. Over the past eight years he has been researching a biography of Fred Herko and a history of the New York Poets Theatre, founded in 1961 by Herko, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), Alan Marlowe and James Waring.

In 2014, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Herko’s death, he curated a week long program of events in New York, including an exhibition of photographs of Herko at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery and a symposium at NYU.

His recently published essays include ‘Plus or Minus 1961 – A Chronology 1959-1963’ in ± 1961: Founding the Expanded Arts, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2013; ‘Poet’s Vaudeville – The Collages of James Waring’, in James Waring, Galerie 1900-2000, Paris, 2013; and ‘Dramatis Personæ: The Theatrical Collaborations of Kenneth Koch, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle’, in Niki de Saint Phalle: At Last I Found the Treasure, Kunst- und Kulturstiftung Opelvillen, Rüsselheim, 2016.

Fred Herko (1936-1964) was a central figure in New York’s downtown avant-garde. A musical prodigy, he studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music before switching to ballet at the age of twenty. In 1956 he won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School and within a few years was dancing with established choreographers including John Butler, Katherine Litz, Buzz Miller, Glen Tetley and James Waring. He was a founding member of Judson Dance Theater, presenting six of his own works in the group’s concerts between 1962 and 1964 and dancing in works by Al Hansen, Deborah Hay, Arlene Rothlein and Elaine Summers. He was a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, which staged one-act plays by poets and provided a podium for happenings by Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow and Robert Whitman; dances by Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown; music by La Monte Young, John Herbert McDowell and Philip Corner; and films by Brian De Palma, Stan VanDerBeek and Andy Warhol. Herko starred in seven of Warhol’s earliest cinematic experiments in 1963, including Jill and Freddy Dancing, Rollerskate/Dance Movie and Salome and Delilah. His untimely death in 1964, at the age of 28, robbed New York’s underground scene of one of its most exuberant and versatile performers who was equally at home performing Comb Music by Fluxus composer George Brecht or camping it up in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies.

 

Reserve Now for Freddy, Thursday, Sept 28 followed by Q&A with Gerard Forde

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Iconic 1960’s dancer Fred Herko leaps to life in Deborah Lawlor’s ‘Freddy’ at LACC

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Fred Herko

She knew him in the final years of his life. He shared her apartment months before he died. His memory, and the inspiration his passionate spirit ignited, has firmly gripped her for fifty-three years. Next week, Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor pays tribute to her gifted and troubled friend with Freddy, her new theatre/dance work opening as a co-production between the Fountain Theatre and Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy.  It runs September 27 – October 14 at the Caminito Theatre.

Even today, no one is sure if Fred Herko intended to kill himself when he jumped out of the window of his friend Johnny Dodd’s Greenwich Village apartment in 1964. The 28-year-old dancer and performer – one of the central figures of New York’s 60s avant-garde and a star of Andy Warhol’s first movies – was high on speed, and possibly LSD.

He was a founder member of the experimental Judson Dance Theater and co-founder of the New York Poets Theater, both famed for their unconventional work, “happenings” and productions, and the manner of Herko’s strange death – leaping naked from a fifth floor window, Mozart on full blast – merely added to his mythology.

Fred Herko leaped from the top floor of this apartment building in NYC.

Herko was born and raised in a blue-collar home. His first two years were spent on the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, before the family settled in Ossining, north of New York, the location of the notorious Sing Sing maximum security prison. His father ran a diner. His mother was a housewife. Herko showed early proficiency in piano and was also a great flautist. He was groomed to be a concert pianist, and attended Juilliard, the prestigious performing arts conservatory.

Forde is amassing material for his biography through those who knew him and memoirs of figures like the poet Diane di Prima, Herko’s great friend; Herko himself left no diaries or letters.

Within a year of starting ballet training, Herko performed with established choreographers like his mentor, the dancer, artist and designer James Waring. In 1962, with figures like David Gordon, Lucinda Childs, and Yvonne Rainer, Herko co-founded Judson Dance Theater, which defined what became known as modern dance – elliptical, pared-back sound and movement with a deliberate lack of linear narrative.

Fred Herko
Herko and Aileen Passloff in James Waring’s In the Mist, 1960. Photograph: Vladimir Sladon/Public domain

“Just as pop artists were proposing that cartoons and trucks could be art,” says Forde, “at Judson they showed dance could be combing your hair, rubbing your thighs together, running on the spot, or barking like a dog. It completely rejected Martha Graham’s narrative dance, and Merce Cunningham’s pure dance.” Herko performed in 16 performances between 1962 and 1964, and six original pieces of his own choreography. He also appeared on Ed Sullivan’s TV show, supporting stars like Rosemary Clooney and Pearl Bailey as a backing dancer.

Away from the stage, Herko was having lots of sex. One of Di Prima’s poems was called, For Freddie, Fucking Again, a diatribe which followed him being late for a restaurant date with her. “He liked hanging out at sleazy bars,” says Forde. “He was extremely aware of his sexual power.”

In 1963-4, Herko hung out with the Warhold Factory posse, “an extremely flamboyant crowd who were unashamed of their sexuality”, says Forde. He had relationships with the son of a wealthy Hollywood family, and was rumored to have been kept by a wealthy member of the De Rothschild family in an Upper West Side apartment. He had a relationship with the poet Alan Marlowe, who was then married to and had children with Di Prima.

Herko was very close to Warhol, and performed in some of the artist’s earliest cinematic experiments. One 40-minute film, Roller Skate, is entirely devoted to Herko, dancing all over New York on one rollerskate. The films features him bleeding and hobbling, but smiling and wearing a YMCA Good Guys sweatshirt.

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Herko as Icarus in James Waring’s At the Hallelujah Gardens with costume by Robert Indiana, February 1963. Photograph: Judith Searle

In his memoir Popism, Warhol said Herko had been taking more and more amphetamines. “He destroyed himself: speed, LSD and marijuana,” says Forde. “Everyone was taking speed at that time. Doctors were prescribing it for slimming pills, kids were using it to cram for exams. People snorted it, mainlined it. Drugs became a problem with Freddie at the end of 1962. He was injecting it.”

Herko was reaching a point where he couldn’t perform. “He was choreographing and teaching, but he realised he had fucked his career up,” says Forde. “Doors were closing for him: he was unreliable, strung out, unpredictable; a once sweet boy had become aggressive and had started disappointing people. He’d also become homeless.”

Warhol said that Herko had let himself into Dodd’s home on 27 October 1964. A former lover of Herko’s, Dodd also did the Judson Memorial Church lighting for performances.

However, Forde says Dodd found Herko dancing on the counter of a diner, out of control. “Freddy was covered with filth, and he was dancing on the counter,” Dodd recalled to Warhol biographer David Bourdon. “He said he hadn’t had any drugs for three days, but he was wacked out and his body was quivering.”

Dodd took Herko to his fifth-floor Cornelia Street apartment. Forde says Herko had a shower, and put on the Coronation Mass by Mozart. Warhol told Bourdon that Herko said he had a new ballet to do “and he needed to be alone. He herded the people there out of the room.”

“He danced naked around the living room. The window was open and at the moment of the Sanctus,” says Forde, “Herko leapt out of the window to his death.”

In Bourdon’s version: “Freddy poured a bottle of Dodd’s perfume into a tub of steaming hot water and took a long bubble bath” – Forde says the tub was too squat for this. “He seemed to cheer up as Dodd, who knew that ‘Freddy was a Mozart freak,’ put a recording of the composer’s Coronation Mass on the phonograph. Herko dried himself, then started dancing naked around the living room, whirling round and round, periodically making a long run toward the front windows. Dodd couldn’t help but wonder whether this was going to be the ‘suicide performance’ that Freddy had been promising his friends for so many weeks. ‘It was obvious that Freddy had to do it now: the time and the place were right, the decor was right, the music was right.’

“Herko made another long run and, like Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose, leaped out an open window, his momentum carrying him almost to the opposite side of the street. He was 29 years old. Several of Andy’s friends heard him lament on various occasions that he had not been there to film it.”

Fred Herko
Herko as Peter Peterouter in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies with Charlotte Bellamy as Sister Thalia and Al Carmines as Father Shenanigan, 1964. Photograph: Van Williams/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

However, Forde doesn’t believe Herko’s was a performed death. As part of a piece he was preparing, he would routinely go up to the gallery of Judson Memorial Church (which has helped organize the 50th anniversary events) and leap off a 20-foot ledge, landing perfectly. “Every ballet dancer has the sense they can fly, and for seconds suspended in mid-air, they do.”

Had he lived, Forde thinks Herko may have formed his own company, a forerunner of the kind of dance Michael Clark became famous for 20 years later. “There wasn’t any figure taking Freddy’s direction in the 60s and 70s. But people said he didn’t have much discipline. One report from Juilliard said he had problems making up his mind. He was making costumes, collage and painting; he was interested in too many things. In combination with the drugs, it led to his downfall.”

Warhol later said, “For the 26 nights following Freddy’s death, the group at Diane di Prima’s apartment met formally to read the Tibetan Book of the Dead … There was a memorial service for him at Judson Church, but so many people showed up that there was another one for him, at the Factory. We showed the three films.”

Now, 50 years later, for Herko’s surviving loved ones, friends and downtown obsessives, the celebratory events in his name aim to accord him his rightful place in the avant-garde pantheon, in what was a too short – but dramatic – life.

Freddy at LACC Theatre Academy More Info/Get Tickets

This post originally appeared in The Guardian

Fountain partners with LACC Theatre Academy for world premiere on 1960s dancer ‘Freddy’

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Marty Dew is Fred Herko in ‘Freddy’. 

A naïve young woman falls under the spell of Fred Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Written by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, the world premiere of Freddyopens on Sept. 27, inaugurating a new partnership between the Fountain Theatre and the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy at LACC’sCaminito Theatre.

Set in Greenwich Village in 1964 and based on a true story, Freddy fuses theater, music, dance and video to capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era. Marty Dew (Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Mascot) stars as Fred Herko, a founding member of Judson Dance Theater who was a legendary figure of New York’s avant-garde in the 1960s. Susan Wilder (Still Life at Rogue Machine Theatre) portrays Shelley, whose memories create the framework of the play, while Katie McConaughy (American Idiot at Cupcake Theater) plays her younger self.Mel England (Indie films Best Day Ever and Ron and Laura Take Back America, Swimming with the Polar Bears off-Broadway) takes on the role of dancer, artist and designer James Waring, Herko’s friend and mentor. The cast is rounded out by Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy students Alexandra FiallosJamal HopesTristen KimJackie Mohr, Lamont Oakley, Connor Clark Pascale, Justice Quinn, Savannah RutledgeBrianna Saranchock, Trenton Tabak and Jesse Trout. Frances Loydirects.

Lawlor, who began her career as a dancer, choreographer and actor in New York, was a personal friend of Herko’s.

“I carried around all those memories for a very long time before I finally sat down to write,” she says. “Freddy and I were students of Jimmy Waring together, and we were both involved with the Judson Church, which was at the heart of the downtown dance scene. Freddy was a brilliant talent and good friend to many people. His death shocked us all.”

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Fred Herko, 1964.

Fred Herko (1936-1964) was a central figure in New York’s downtown avant-garde. A musical prodigy, he studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music before switching to ballet at the age of twenty. In 1956 he won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School and within a few years was dancing with established choreographers including John Butler, Katherine Litz, Buzz Miller, Glen Tetley and James Waring. He was a founding member of Judson Dance Theater, presenting six of his own works in the group’s concerts between 1962 and 1964 and dancing in works by Al Hansen, Deborah Hay, Arlene Rothlein and Elaine Summers. He was a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, which staged one-act plays by poets and provided a podium for happenings by Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow and Robert Whitman; dances by Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown; music by La Monte Young, John Herbert McDowell and Philip Corner; and films by Brian De Palma, Stan VanDerBeek and Andy Warhol. Herko starred in seven of Warhol’s earliest cinematic experiments in 1963, including Jill and Freddy Dancing, Rollerskate/Dance Movie and Salome and Delilah. His untimely death in 1964, at the age of 28, robbed New York’s underground scene of one of its most exuberant and versatile performers who was equally at home performing Comb Music by Fluxus composer George Brecht or camping it up in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies.

Freddy was always conceived as an off-site project because it requires a larger performance area than what we can offer at the Fountain,” explains Lawlor’s co-artistic director, Stephen Sachs, who is an alumnus of the LACC Theatre Academy. “In addition to sharing their remarkable facility, this collaboration gives Academy students the opportunity to work with professional actors and designers, and it gives us the chance to mentor young people who will become theater artists of tomorrow.”

The creative team for Freddy includes dance and movement director Cate Caplin, scenic designer Tesshi Nakagowa, lighting designer Derek Jones, sound designer Vern Yonemura, costume designer Jillian Ross and props master Amrit Samra. The production stage manager is Jasmine KalraJames Bennett and Leslie Ferreira produce for the Fountain Theatre and LACC Theatre Academy respectively.

Deborah Lawlor began her career as a dancer, choreographer and actor in New York before moving to South India, where she lived for five years. There, she was involved in the initial development of the international township of Auroville and created two full-length outdoor dance/theater pieces celebrating the community. She spent the next ten years in Australia and France studying ancient cultures of India and Egypt and translating several books in these fields from French into English. Returning to the U.S. in 1986, she became deeply involved in the intimate theater scene and, in 1990, she and Stephen Sachs co-founded the Fountain Theatre. Lawlor is responsible for the Fountain’s extensive dance involvement, including the company’s renowned “Forever Flamenco” series. Other dance projects at the Fountain include The Women of Guernica, Lawlor’s flamenco-based adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, which she also directed, and three full-evening dance-theater pieces which she created and directed: Declarations: Love Letters of the Great Romantics; The Path of Love, which she also directed in South India; and the dance opera, The Song of Songs, with music by Al Carmines. Actor’s Equity Association honored Lawlor with its Diversity Award for her dedication to presenting work at the Fountain that is culturally diverse.

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Deborah Lawlor and Frances Loy

A British director currently living in Los Angeles, Frances Loy creates text-based, ensemble driven work inspired and ignited by the darker experiences of humanity. She has a strong aesthetic towards up-close and intimate theater that puts the audience in the heart of the world created by the actors, and has particular experience in alternative performance spaces and immersive theatrical experiences. Frances was co-founder and artistic director of Theatre Delicatessen, described by Time Out London as “the leading light of pop-up theatre,” and she is artistic director of Ferment Theatre, whose production of Tonight/Jungle was given a New York Times “Critic’s Pick” by Ben Brantley. Frances also creates content for VR 360 films and is currently in pre-production for her first short film.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric being selected by Center Theatre Group for its inaugural launching of Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; and grant awards from The Greenberg Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and a $50,000 gift from Drama-Logue founder Bill Bordy. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

Established in 1929, the theater training program at Los Angeles City College is one of the oldest and most respected training programs in the country. It has trained countless numbers of students who have gone on to successful careers in the entertainment industry in acting, directing, casting, production, writing, production coordination, design in lighting, sound, costuming and sets, technical production, technical direction, owners and directors of various theater-oriented businesses and organizations, and numerous technical and costuming specializations. Graduates from LACC have won numerous awards, including recipients of the Academy Award, Emmy Award, Tony Award and Bravo Award. Its teaching excellence has been heralded by the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival, the California Community College Academic Senate, the California Educational Theatre Association, the Los Angeles Community College District, the County of Los Angeles and the City of Los Angeles. Further, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle gave LACC a special award for “maintaining consistently high standard of programming and production.”

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New Video: Join the adventure of ‘Freddie’, a new theatre/dance work in progress, Oct 27-29

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Ottavio Taddei is Freddie in the lab workshop

Be part of the process as Deborah Lawlor develops her new theatre/dance piece about ballet dancer and friend Freddie Herko. Directed by Frances Loy, the Freddie workshop is an exploration of blending dance movement and theatre to tell the compelling true story of the charismatic dancer who was part of the Andy Warhol scene in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960’s.

An exploration, not a full production, this workshop puts you at the center of the creative journey as we invite you into the rehearsal studio for three free public presentations this Thursday, Oct 27th – Saturday, October 29th, at 8pm. Your feedback is important. There will be a conversation following each presentation.

Be bold! Join us for the adventure. Because of the uniqueness of the project, the Freddie workshop is happening at BP Studios at The Brewery, 618 Moulton Avenue, in downtown Los Angeles. Map and directions. Free parking.

Thursday, Oct 27th – Saturday, October 29th, at 8pm

Seating is FREE. (323) 663-1525 More Info/Make Your Reservation       

This project is supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

First workshop rehearsal in unique space to develop new theatre/dance piece ‘Freddie’

7Deborah Lawlor’s new theatre/dance hybrid Freddie is not a conventional play. Therefore, the development of the new work required locating a unique space. The Fountain team found it at BP Studios downtown in The Brewery Arts Colony.

Covering 23 acres in 14 buildings, The Los Angeles Brewery Art Colony has been called the largest live-and-work artists’ colony in the world. The compound includes twenty-one former warehouses, an old Edison power plant chimney dating to 1903, plus studios, lofts, restaurants and galleries. 500-700 artists and businesses call The Brewery their home.

It will now be the home for our experimental project Freddie for the next three weeks. Written by Deborah Lawlor and directed by Frances Loy, Freddie tells the true story of the passionate, charismatic and troubled ballet dancer Frederick Herko who leaped to his death from a NY city apartment window in 1964. Lawlor was a close friend of Herko and has created this new work to dramatize their friendship. 

The new project will be in residence at BP Studios for a 3-week developmental lab workshop to explore the interweaving of text and dance/movement for the piece. Open presentations, free to the public, will take place Oct 27-29. The developmental lab is being supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.   

The cast includes Tanya Alexander, Addie Doyle, Efé, Michael Matthys, Christopher Nolen, Chris Smith, Douglas Scott Sorenson and Octavio Taddei. The choreographer is Laurel Jenkins.

We look forward to this innovative new project blossoming to life. 

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PHOTO SLIDESHOW: First reading of new play on passionate and iconic 1960’s dancer

4The upstairs rehearsal room at the Fountain last night was transported back to 1964 and Andy Warhol’s Factory with the first reading of the new play, Freddie, written by Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor. Freddie tells the unforgettable true story of Frederick Herko, the young avant garde dancer who galvanized audiences and those who knew him in New York’s East Village during the turbulent 1960’s.

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Frederick Herko 1964

Continuing its commitment to developing new plays, the reading last night offered Lawlor and the Fountain team the opportunity to hear the script read aloud by actors for the very first time. Reading the new play last night were actors Kristin Carey, Faith D’Amato, John Dyer, Harry Farmer, Dennis Gersten, Matthew Hancock, Rob Nagle, Natalie Ochoa, Erin Reed, and Donna Simone Johnson. The reading was directed by Frances Loy.

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A dazzling storm of charisma, beauty and artistic passion, Herko was a brilliant 28 year-old dancer of extraordinary talent haunted by dark self-destructive demons. A fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory and the experimental scene in Greenwich Village, Herko became more eccentric, unpredictable and self-destructive. In 1964, while dancing in his apartment to Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Herko leapt out the window and fell to his death five stories down. Created by Deborah Lawlor, who was a close friend of Herko in the final year of his life, the project chronicles the blazing comet of the Icarus-like Freddie and the explosive creative energy of the 1960’s. By fusing theatre, music, and dance the project will capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era.

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Freddie Herko

The development of Freddie is supported, in part, by a grant from the national Endowment for the Arts. A workshop presentation of the new work will be presented this fall. 

The night I went from selling flamenco fans to becoming one

FORD Merch table Victoria Sela

Victoria Montecillo and Marisela Hughes

by Victoria Montecillo

This past weekend was the biggest event of the summer for the Fountain: Forever Flamenco at the Ford. Since I’ve been working here at the Fountain, this event was something we were all working towards, and I found myself growing more curious and excited to see what all of the fuss was about. As a newcomer, Forever Flamenco sounded like an amazing opportunity to showcase a beautiful and unique art form to the communities of Los Angeles. In the weeks leading up to the big night, everyone in the office kept telling me about the fervor and passion of the flamenco community, and that I had to just wait to see it for myself. No amount of preparation, however, could have prepared me for the experience. 

FORD seats fansOn the day of the show, I came to the venue early with the rest of the Fountain family in order to put out the VIP gift bags (I had spent the weeks leading up to the show working very hard to make sure the bags were all ready and had what they needed, so I was very proud of them), and set up a merchandise table up front. By the time it got to be about two hours before curtain, I started to notice a sizable crowd gathered outside, ready and waiting with picnic baskets. Once the gates opened, people came streaming in, chatting excitedly and eyeing our merchandise and flamenco fans as they passed our merchandise table. And once the gates had opened, the people just kept streaming in. There were people laughing and eating together, and greeting others in what felt like a true community. 

Many of the people who approached our table were loyal, longtime flamenco fans who loved and appreciated the Fountain’s commitment to producing flamenco. Others were drawn to our beautiful fans, where they shared that this was their first flamenco show. It was amazing to see and be able to meet all of the different people that were in attendance at this big event, and to get to feel the pure excitement in the air.

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Barbara Goodhill, Victoria Montecillo and Marisela Hughes at the merchandise table.

The show itself was truly something to see. With the extent of my knowledge about flamenco being pretty much the dancing lady emoji and the sounds of fervent stomping and complex guitar riffs coming from the rehearsal room of the Fountain that week, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I certainly could not have anticipated the raw passion and artistic skill that I saw in each of those performers. What I found to be most striking about watching these flamenco musicians and dancers was that each one of them seemed so happy to be there. They were all doing what they loved most, with a group of artists that understood that passion. 

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On top of that, I could feel the excitement and joy in the crowd around me throughout the show. During each number, the audience would interject with enthusiastic applause, clapping, and excited cheers. Families around me grabbed each other’s shoulders and clasped each other’s hands as they shouted encouragements to the musicians and the dancers as they did what they do best, and I truly felt like I was experiencing a new community full of joy, passion, and celebration. It was a truly unique and amazing experience. 

I am so grateful to everyone at the Fountain, as well as the fantastic team of flamenco artists, for introducing me to the beautiful community of flamenco. I certainly hope I’m able to witness something like this again in my life.

Victoria Montecillo is the Fountain Theatre’s 2016 Summer Arts Intern. We thank the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission for their support. 

‘Forever Flamenco’ at the Fountain Theatre is the best ticket in town

Marina Valiente

Marina Valiente

by Ernest Kearney 

Well once again you have the opportunity of experiencing one of the true treats of L.A.

Sunday, May 22 8pm – Forever Flamenco.

Why do I keep urging you to get down to the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood and partake in this monthly series?

What makes Flamenco so special, you ask?

Well, all right, since you asked –

It is the nature of all life to evolve. From the nascent state we develop until the fullness of our potential is obtained or the natural limitations of our species reached. One can disagree and debate the question of potential-limitation, but not that the ultimate stage bears slight similitude to that of the inception stage.

In a fashion, the babe is lost to the child, the child to the youth, the youth to the adult.

It is true of art forms that they evolve from a primal form, developing intellectual dimensions artistic frameworks. The loss of a certain primal intensity is payment for that progression.

Yeah, that’s a mouthful, I know, so let ‘s put forth some illustrations.

Pliny the Elder reports that Zeuxis, a Greek painter of the 5th century B.C.E., would have guests try to eat the grapes painted on his canvases. And that Parrhasios, a fellow artist of Zeuxis, invited him to view a new work covered over by a lace curtain. When Zeuxis went to lift the lace curtain he found it was part of the painting.

The 13th century Italian artist Giotto liked to paint little flies on his works then watch patrons try to shoo them.

In 1849 twenty to thirty thousand rioting New Yorkers confronted the National Guard troops called up to re-establish order resulting in more than thirty deaths. The cause of their uprising? A production of Shakespeare.

When J. M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World premiered it too caused a riot, though not nearly as bloody.

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Timo Nunez

My passion for theatre knows no bounds, but sadly, I’m reduced to imagining what the state of catharsis must have been like to reduce an ancient Greek audience to a sobbing mass incapable of speech, or what passion could be played upon to plunge me into a frenzy of rioting.

When the raw throbbing notes of jazz was first heard it threw some into wild paroxysms. Decent women fainted.

The same can be said of rock and roll and even rap.

Once, not very long ago, the experience of rap was felt by some as less “music” than throbbing hammer blows of anger, rage and revolt.

Now, Ice-T does pamper commercials and you can hear “Fuck the Police” as muzak while waiting in line to make a deposit at Bank of America.

Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 The Great Train Robbery, one of the first film “works” to employ editing in the telling of its story, concludes with one of the robbers on the screen pointing his gun at the audience and firing.

When first shown, members of the audience dived under their seats.

Film, the youngest of arts, has all but lost that quality that permitted those engaging in it to be engulfed by its artifact, transported by its manufactured illusion.

The exception that tests the rule here being Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, a 2 hour, 6 minute Christian stuff film with only 16 torture free minutes of which 2 minutes were taken up by the resurrection and none to the tenets of Jesus’ teaching. 

Whatever forms the creative imperative embodies, the accretion of artistry infuses accessibilty but defuses the ascendancy of the incipient urging behind the creative act.

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Gabriel Osuna

Art, like the Titan Antaeus is robbed of its strength when removed from the soil that is its mother.

Flamenco, I find, still has a fast grip to the dark and tragic history, the pain and passion that was the life breath of the cante jondo, the traditional “deep song.”

In the sound of Flamenco, the fury of its dance, we have echoes from the dark corners of the human soul as profound today as they were three centuries ago.

Nowhere will the sorrow and joy of the human condition find expression with more sublime defiance than in the music and dance of flamenco.

Deborah Lawlor, for one Sunday every month, has lured world class talent to a small corner of Hollywood with the Forever Flamenco series at The Fountain Theatre.

Scheduled to appear at the next performance on Sunday May 22nd at 8:30: Gabriel Osuna will be the evening’s guitarist. Osuna plays with garra, meaning “guts” or “vitality.” Evidence of this is found if you examine his fingers which he coats in Super Glue to give the tips added protection.

Mateo Amper will be at the piano and Gerardo Morales is the featured percussionist as well as the evening’s director.

If these three musicians were matched in a battle of the bands with any philharmonic orchestra in the country, when it was over, it wouldn’t be the ones in tuxes wearing the laurels.

Dancer Timo Nuñez is a melding of grace and raw power who is stunning to watch.

Singer Jesus Montoya is another familiar face in the series, who fills every note he sings with such emotional power it could make bricks weep.

Marina Valiente will be making her debut at the Fountain. I am confident it will be a debut very worth seeing.

I know, I said it before. Well guess what? I’m saying it again: Forever Flamenco – The best tickets in LA. Click 

Ernest Kearney is an award winning L.A. playwright and freelance writer. This post originally appeared in The Tvolution.