UCLA Live's new season: Annette Bening stars in world premiere
UCLA Live will kick off its 2009-10 performing arts season with a world premiere production that also represents the first original production to be created by the UCLA Live series: a new interpretation of the Euripides classic "Medea," starring Annette Bening and directed by Croatia's Lenka Udovicki.
The four-week run of "Medea," Sept. 23 to Oct. 18, launches the performing arts season of jazz, music, dance, spoken word and theater, as well UCLA Live's Eighth International Theatre Festival.
The theater fest will also include Druid Ireland theater company with the West Coast premieres of two plays by Enda Walsh: "The Walworth Farce" (Nov. 11-15) and "The New Electric Ballroom" (Dec. 2-6); "Purgatorio," from the Italian theater company Societas Raffaello Sanzio (Oct.2-31); two works by Polish companies -- TR Warszawa's "T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T." (Nov 18-19) and Teatr Zar's "Triptych" (Dec. 1-3) -- and the Belgian theater company Ontroerend Goed's "Once and for All We're Going to Tell You Who We Art So Shut Up and Listen," with a teenage cast (Nov.3-7).
In an interview Wednesday, series artistic and executive director David Sefton said that, despite the fact that Udovicki does most of her theater and opera directing abroad, she and her husband, Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija, are based in Los Angeles and Udovicki was eager to do a production in L.A. She had already negotiated with Bening to star in "Medea" before she brought the project to UCLA Live.
"She said: 'I really want to do 'Medea,' Annette Bening is already committed to it -- do you want it?" Sefton said. "I said: 'Uh, let me think about that ... yes, please!'
Sefton added that it has always been his intention to self-produce for UCLA Live when the right opportunity came along. "Making work yourself is when you really stick your neck out," he said. "It is by no means simple to bring in the things we bring in from around the world, but by taking that next step, you are kind of making a bigger investment ... of course, it's riskier."
Other season highlights include a 25th anniversary gala performance by the local performance troupe Culture Clash, featuring guest performers Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, comedian Carlos Mencia, singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked and others, and a preview of the troupe's new theater project "Palestine New Mexico" (Oct. 30), and appearances by the rock groups They Might Be Giants (Nov. 14) and East L.A.'s Los Lobos (Jan. 30), both of which will offer family-oriented matinees as well as full-length evening concerts designed for, as Sefton puts it, "the over-14 crowd."
Because of the success of the spoken-word series in the 2008-09 season, Sefton said that UCLA Live is doing two separate spoken-word series featuring readings, lectures and conversations with prominent writers. Among this new season's speakers are Afghanistan-born novelist Khaled Hosseini (Sept. 30), novelist Margaret Atwood (Oct. 9) and Mexican essayist and novelist Carlos Fuentes (Dec. 12). A second series focusing on graphic novel creators will include a rare appearance by R. Crumb (Oct. 29).
In dance, two contemporary companies will take the stage: London's Hofesh Shechter Company (Oct. 16-17) and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, led by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater member Benoit-Swan Pouffer (May 7-8). Britain's DV8 Physical Theatre will present "To Be Straight With You," a documentary dance-theater piece dealing with issues of tolerance, religion and homosexuality, tol be presented Nov. 6 and 7. Also on the list is Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group in the new work "The Good Dance -- dakar/brooklyn," a collaboration with a Congolese choreographer (Nov. 20-21).
Another dance/music highlight: Folk singer Joni Mitchell and Canada's Alberta Ballet collaborate on "The Fiddle and the Drum," an evening-length dance piece performed to Mitchell's music. Mitchell's paintings will also be projected on screens behind the dancers. (Feb. 26-27).
Sefton said that, despite the grim economic climate, the series will operate with approximately the same budget as it did for 2008-09 ($9 million) and will present approximately the same number of performers and performances. He said the global economy has hit hardest in the area of classical music presentation. "I had five major orchestras cancel on me this year -- that's why classical music is just contained within the Royce Choice series this year. I don't have a separate classical series," Sefton said.
Next year, Sefton wants to reintroduce a classical music series, "but I'm ... looking at smaller groups and recitals, as opposed to expecting ensembles of 60 or 80 people to show up."
For more information, visit the UCLA Live website.
— Diane Haithman
Photos: Annette Bening in "Medea;" Hofesh Shechter Company; Khaled Hosseini. Courtesy of UCLA Live.