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Ancient Wisdom

Iconoclast Havelock Ellis, whose writings are not as much known or heeded, or considered as shocking, as they once were, declared in his essay The Dance of Life: "The art of dancing stands at the source of all the arts that express themselves first in the human person."

In his article "Dance in the Dark" (Back Stage West, 3/15/01), director/choreographer Grover Dale poses a passionate query and expresses tactful chagrin at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' long-standing refusal to recognize the art of dance and its importance to films with a Best Choreography Oscar ("When will the Academy get in step and recognize the art of choreography?"). Dale concludes with gentle optimism, "Someday it's going to happen." And sooner, perhaps, rather than later.

The lively art of dance was noticed in the L.A. Times' Calendar of Sun. Mar. 11, which featured an interview with Carmen de Lavallade, still beautiful at 69 and the current embodiment of Terpsichore. A native Angeleno, de Lavallade, now New York-based, began her professional career with the late Los Angeles choreographer Lester Horton's celebrated dance company. It's said her youthful solo performance in an L.A. high school gym inspired an equally youthful Alvin Ailey to become the icon of modern dance he became. During his lifetime Ailey choreographed six pieces for de Lavallade, whom he hailed as his muse. She returned the compliment by choreographing two pieces for "Sweet Bitter Love," staged by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre a couple of weeks ago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Which brings up memories. Pat Warfield and I in the late '40s belonged to a discussion group that met in the mid-Wilshire home of two elderly ladies who always generously provided punch and homemade cookies for our refreshment. Our friend Dick Cutting had led Pat and me to this group. Dick had been a Shakespearean actor from San Diego's original Old Globe Theatre, and his mellifluous voice had gained him a spot as staff announcer for CBS radio station KNX, where all three of us were employed.

The wise and wonderful leader of our group-its guru, if you will-was the remarkable Boris de Zirkoff. Boris was an exiled Russian aristocrat, so many of whom the Soviet revolution had displaced. His father had once been a highly placed official in the Czarist regime-director of waterways or something. His mother was living in a community of Russian exiles in Paris. The legendary Mme Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the modern Theosophical movement, was his aunt. Theosophy's only tenet, we were told, was, "There is no religion higher than truth." It was not a religion-more like a cosmogony; based on "the ancient wisdom" of India, it was sometimes mind-boggling and provided no end of fascinating topics for discussion.

Boris quietly devoted his life and impressive intellect to promulgating Blavatsky's discoveries and translating her writings. They include such formidably weighty tomes as The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled. Boris had a small office up a steep stairway in a nondescript building on Western near Melrose. It was dominated by a picture of his amazing aunt, whose hypnotic eyes were so riveting I can still see that picture and those eyes in my mind.

What does this have to do with Carmen de Lavallade and the art of dance? That Times interview struck a resounding note and provides the connection, for among those in our discussion group was a slender, soft-spoken gentleman of color named de Lavallade-if memory serves, his name was Leo de Lavallade. This quiet and reticent gentleman was employed, as I recall, at the post office. It was an era of limited opportunity for "people of color." Boris told me de Lavallade had a daughter named Carmen, a promising young dancer of whom he was very proud. I hope Leo de Lavallade, wherever he is, knows how richly his daughter has fulfilled that promise.

And anyway, it's about time Terpsichore gets her Oscar. For-again we quote Havelock Ellis-"Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts... because it is life itself." Isn't it?


Being an ingenious and resourceful young actress, not to mention an uncommonly intelligent one, Ginna Carter decided the best way to be sure of a good role was to write her own. It's a proactive solution that can work brilliantly, as unknown New Yorker Chazz Palminteri discovered when he launched his successful film and TV career with his autobiographical A Bronx Tale in 1989 at West Coast Ensemble.

Carter's initial venture consisted of three one-acts, presented at Stages Theatre Center last year, directed by her, under the umbrella title And Then What Did You Do? One of the plays, A Girl Thing, won the Orange County Playwrights Alliance 2000 "Page to Stage" competition. Carter told me she thinks of herself as more actress than playwright (happy to be either) and finds her award most encouraging. She has taken it as a go-ahead to remount A Girl Thing and write Traffic School to go with it. She and her co-producer Audrey Malone are presenting both at Stages as You Did What? Both plays deal with difficulties and delights of affairs with married men. "The whole thing," their actress/writer/director/producer observed, "could be titled The Pros and Cons of Adultery."

Harvard/Radcliffe graduate Carter, who holds a degree in English literature, enjoys writing, but continues taking acting classes, is a member of Interact Theatre Company, and feels at home at Stages Theatre Center, which she serves in various volunteer capacities. An actress is what she has wanted to be from childhood. It's in her blood and in her genes.

Helpfully, and not surprisingly, Ginna is as beautiful as her mother. That's saying something, for her mother is the gorgeous Dixie Carter. Resemblance is unmistakable, although Dixie's eyes are brown, while Ginna's clear, wide-set eyes are an unusual shade of blue-tourmaline, maybe?

Dixie Carter's performance as Calamity Jane in Fathers and Sons at the Solari Theatre in Beverly Hills (now the Canon) left me with one of those indelible impressions. I mentioned that I had reviewed the play in 1980, and Ginna, who must have been too young to remember, remembered. She responded enthusiastically, "Oh, yes! That play by Thomas Babe that she did with Richard Chamberlain." (Chamberlain played Wild Bill Hickok). Robert Allen Ackerman, who directed the Broadway premiere of Bent, was director. Dixie's young daughter was paying attention. Now mother is paying attention; she'll be in the Stages audience more than once. Ginna's father, newspaper publisher Arthur Carter will be there too; he'll fly in from New York to see his daughter in her plays.

How does it feel to be Dixie Carter's daughter? Well, great-but then she's never been anything else.


Recent visitors to Palm Springs bring back reports of a sensational cabaret performer, Christopher Peterson, whose evocations of legendary females also evoke-and rival-those of the late impressionist Charles Pierce. In an under-the-wire pre-deadline phone chat from the desert, where Peterson is a star attraction at the Marquis Resort, Chris told me he embodies 18 feminine icons, who of course include Barbra, Judy, and Marilyn, and he does the singing-no lip-sync, all live. Eyecons will have a trial run at the Tiffany Apr. 10 and 11.

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