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The Olympic Arts Festival "We're Not Number One" Gerald Rabkin Last summer's Olympic games in Los Angeles unleashed an orgy of nationalism unabashedly intensified by the American media's parochial focus on our relentless accretion of gold. The spirit of transnational good will was honored, I fear, more in the breach than in the numbing succession of national anthems, most conspicuously and repetitively ours. There were, however, several Olympic arenas where the official spirit indeed prevailed, where a genuine international dialogue took place without the bullying cry of "We're number one." As part of its celebration of its first Olympiad since 1932, as a cheeky assertion of its coming of cultural age, Los Angeles prefaced athletic competition with a staggeringly ambitious Olympic Arts Festival, which ran with diminshed pace, through the two-week duration of the games themselves. In offering the Arts Festival, the Los Angeles Olympic Committee in fact honored a mandate dating back to the founding of the modern Olympics which proposed that cultural events "of an equal standard to the sports events" be offered at every Olympiad, a mandate honored inconsistently through the years. Los Angelss, however, took the mandate most seriously, and in a ten-week, $11 million marathon, presented over 400 theatre events, dance performances, operas, concerts, art exhibitions, and films in theatres, museums, galleries, and public spaces all over its vast territorial domain from Westwood to Pasadena. If a festival must be judged as more than the sum of its parts, as a superevent in its own right, the Olympic Arts Festival in substance as well as scale was a conspicuous success. Audiences as well as critics signalled this success: in attending usually sold-out performances one inevitably had to run a gauntlet of desperate "NEED TICKET" signs. The core of this demand, surveys showed, came not from out-of-town visitors, but from native Angelenos starved for world-class 43 theatre in this media-dominated town. For West Coast theatregoers and theatre artists the impact of the festival's innovations cannot be overstated. But even for those of us familiar with many of the in-gathered international groups, the total festival experience proved exhilarating. For this much credit is due festival director Robert J. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues who refused to play it safe in their choices. Although such dominant arts institutions as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera, the Feld and Joffrey Ballet Companies were indeed present, Fitzpatrick more than balanced their inclusion with such uncompromising groups as Ariane Mnouchkine's Th6atre du Soleil, Tadeusz Kantor's Cricot 2, Tadashi Suzuki's Waseda Sho-Gekijo, and a host of lesser known experimental groups from Australia, BeIguim, Holland, Mexico, Canada, and Japan. The festival aimed at more than an eclectic melange of everything from everywhere. Although it indeed offered in dance every imaginable style from ballet to modern to postmodern to folkloric, in music both Placido Domingo and Joe Williams, in theatre the RSC and California performance art-there still was a main thrust to the over-all selections. Through all the diversity, Fitzpatrick focussed on the unifying theme of arts experimentation across generic and national frontiers. His twin festival models seem to have been Edinburgh's inclusiveness infused with Avignon's experimentalism. The note was struck at the outset by opening the festival not with one of the more familiar arts institutions, but with Pina Bausch's Wuppertaler Tanztheater with its audacious breaking of the traditional boundaries between the performing arts. The focus on the experimental was most apparent in theatre-in sheer weight the dominant art at the festival. Although dance companies outnumbered the theatre groups, the total dance and music performances together added up to less than a third of the theatre performances: 100 to 327. What particularly impressed me about the theatre offerings was that major groups were represented not by one but by several productions, a comprehensiveness that permitted spectators to really grasp the range of a company's work: Mnouchkine's Twelfth Night beside her Richard // and Henry IV, Giorgio Strehler's Arlecchino beside his Tempesta, Kantor's Dead Class and Wielopole, Wielopole back to back. Whether the works on view were making...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 43-58
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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