By Don Heckman
David Sefton, artistic and creative director of UCLA Live has had some impressive accomplishments over the nine years that he has managed the University’s showcase arts presentations. But rarely has he matched the breadth and the innovation of what he has planned for the 2009 – 2010 season at Royce Hall.
Topping the schedule is UCLA Live’s first-ever original production – a presentation of Euripides’ classic drama, Medea, staged by inventive Croatian theatre director Lenka Udovicki, with film actress Annette Bening in the thorny title role. The play makes another breakthrough with its four week schedule of performances, running from Sept. 23 to Oct. 18. “This project,” says Sefton, “lets us stretch in new directions as a producer. I am certain audiences are going to be blown away by the results.”
When Sefton took over the reins at UCLA, I teased him about a comment he made to an English magazine, suggesting that he would bring L.A. audiences around to his sometimes edgy, always adventurous view of the arts. Not quite a boast, it was nonetheless a proud banner for a man with a vision – but one which took a while to come fully into focus. And there were times over the course of his first few seasons when Sefton’s programming seemed to move uncomfortably from the cutting edge to bland predictability, in his efforts to remain true to his creative vision while simultaneously filing the nearly 2,000 seats at Royce Hall. But over the past four or five seasons, he has consistently found the right mix, staging acts and shows that would otherwise probably never be seen in the Southland.
The new season schedule is a classic display of what Sefton can do, at his best. The production of “Medea,” for example, is the pivot for UCLA’s Eighth International Theater Festival. Other scheduled theatrical items include a pair of plays from the Druid Ireland Theatre (Nov. 11 – 15 and Dec. 2 – 6), radical works by two Polish theatre companies — TR Warszawa (Nov. 18 – 19) and Teatr Zar (Dec. 1 – 3), and productions from Italy’s Societas Raffaello Sanzio (Oct. 28 – 31) and Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed (Nov. 2 – 7).
The Dance line-up, like the theatre collection, is cutting edge across the board. The Hofesh Schecter Company (Oct. 16 – 17) presents a work inspired by the Paris uprisings of 2006. The DV8 Physical Theatre’s (Nov. 6 – 7) docu-dance work, “To Be Straight With You,” deals with tolerance, intolerance, religion and sexuality. The Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group.(Nov. 20-21) employs body percussion, aspirated breath, singing and shouts. The Alberta Ballet (Feb. 26 – 27, 2010) dances to Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum,” with Mitchell’s paintings projected as backdrops. And the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (May 7 – 8, 2010) makes its L.A,.debut.. .
The four musical areas – Pop, Jazz, World and Classical – embrace both the innovative and the familiar. The Pop music programming reaches from the bluegrass of Ralph Stanley (Oct. 25) and the alt-cabaret of the Tiger Lilies (Oct. 31) to the folk rock of Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson (Nov.13) and the always entertaining They Might Be Giants (Nov. 14). A Latin tinge surfaces in appearances by Los Lobos (Jan. 30, 2010) and Perla Batalla (Feb. 12, 2010 ), whose Valentine’s Day-themed show includes guest appearances by Culture Clash and Strunz & Farah. But the Pop programming hits its peak in the genre’s final three events – the iconoclastic Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (Feb. 18, 2010), a rare concert appearance by Randy Newman (Feb. 10, 2010), and an all-join-in family appearance by Arlo Guthrie (April 9, 2010) with various children and grandchildren.
The World Music acts are centered on the African-Latin American connection: Flamenco guitarist Paco Pena (Oct. 8), the superb Brazilian singer Gal Costa (Oct. 24), the Tuareg trance ensemble, Tinariwen (Feb. 20, 2010) and Senegal’s Afro-fusion master, Baaba Maal ( April 17, 2010). The Jazz selections are a bit more predictable, but no less appealing in quality: Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (Oct. 9), McCoy Tyner (Nov. 12), The Blind Boys of Alabama with Allen Toussaint (March 6, 2010) and the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour (April 22, 2010).
Classical and New Music events reach out in all directions: A partnership of Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer (Oct. 22); an organ recital by Felix Hell (Nov. 15). that includes his renderings of the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings; the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France in an all-Ravel program; and the Royce Hall debut of tenor Ian Bostridge.
UCLA Live’s growing attention to lectures and spoken word events increases even more in 2009 – 201 with appearances by novelists Khaled Hosseini (Sept. 30), Margaret Atwood (Oct. 9), Carlos Fuentes (Dec. 12), and graphic novelists Harvey Pekar and Allison Bechdel (April 23, 2010), and screenwriter/comics creator Neil Gaiman (Feb. 4, 2010). There’s also an evening with poet Mary Oliver (Feb. 25 (2010), story telling by David Sedaris (May 5, 2010) and a rare public appearance by R. Crumb (Oct. 29).
Special events include a celebration of Culture Clash’s 25th Anniversary (Oct. 30), a reprise of the always popular Organ and Film (Feb. 13, 2010), with live music on the Royce Hall organ accompanying classic silent film clips, and Hitchcock! (April 1o, 2010) with live organ performances of music from several classic Hitchcock films.
All in all, that’s an impressive banquet of theatre, music, dance and more. One of the local radio stations persists in describing Los Angeles as the “creative capitol of the world.” I can think of a pretty good handful of locations around the world that would happily contest that assertion. But when it comes to David Sefton’s programming for UCLA Live, creativity in the Southland can comfortably stand up to the competition.
For more information about the 2009-2010 UCLA Live season, click here. Or call (310) 206-3843.