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A modern dance legend celebrates his 80th year with free performances

October 20, 2009 |  9:16 pm

Birthday celebrations for postmodern choreographer Rudy Perez are starting early. Though he's not turning 80 until Nov. 24, the Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble is presenting his two latest works at All Saints Church in Pasadena on Friday and Saturday. The concerts -- part of the 20th anniversary of Pasadena's Armory Center for the Arts --  prove that age is but a number.

"I just take things day by day," says Perez, a native New Yorker who studied with legendary choreographers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. "Maybe I can say I'm zeroing down, but I'm still waving banners on the way."

The real deal, Perez developed his own voice in the 1960s, when he became part of New York's experimental Judson Dance Theatre, a group of artists that defined boundary-breaking "downtown" aesthetics. Forming his own company, Perez toured nationally and internationally and was eventually asked to teach at UCLA.

The 1978 move proved propitious. In addition to creating a new ensemble, he has made more than 50 dances since relocating here. The Pasadena programs, dedicated to Cunningham, who died in July at 90, feature "Surrender, Dorothy!," which makes use of text from poems of Dorothy Parker, and "open suite/WHOOSH.the traffic." Both have original music by longtime collaborator Steve Moshier, performed live by the composer and his Liquid Skin Ensemble.

In spite of a dire arts economy and the fact that Perez has been visually impaired for the last decade, he says he has no plans to retire. "L.A. has been very good to me, and dancing has really kept my head above water.  But in the end, it's all about persevering. "The best revenge," adds the soon-to-be octogenarian, "is longevity." 

To read all about Rudy Perez, click here for my Calendar story.

-- Victoria Looseleaf

Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble
at All Saints Church, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena. (626) 792-5101, Ext. 122.  Free, but reservations required.

Photo: Rudy Perez and his dancers. Credit: Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times