Groundbreaking choreographer Rudy Perez, a pioneer of 1960s postmodern dance, died Friday, according to Sarah Swenson, a fellow choreographer, friend and member of Perez’s company.
Perez died of complications from asthma. He was 93.
Perez’s minimalist but wildly experimental work, marked by spare, precise movements, helped ignite a budding Los Angeles dance scene after he moved west from New York in the late 1970s. L.A.’s open spaces and natural landscapes inspired his innovative, site-specific works; and his interpretive abstract expressionism was so revelatory at the time, it opened up the dance landscape to new approaches.
“He came to L.A. as a major artist, a choreographic genius known for making his own rules,” choreographer Lula Washington told The Times in 2015, adding that Perez was an influence on her. “There was nobody here doing that type of experimentation then. He allowed other people to see the possibilities.”
Perez told The Times that his work sprang from the unconscious.
“Nothing is planned,” he said in 2015. “When I put things together, unconsciously, it comes from my lifetime experience up to that moment. Then ultimately, it turns out to be about something for someone, certainly for me. But I don’t expect for it to be the same for the audience.”
Perez was born Nov. 24, 1929, the son of a Peruvian immigrant and a Puerto Rican, and grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx with three younger brothers. He began improvising on the dance floor at an early age, with cha-cha and the samba, at family gatherings. His father was a merchant marine who traveled frequently; his mother died of tuberculosis when he was 7, at which point he contracted the disease and spent the next three years in the hospital, mostly bedridden.
“I think a lot of the pain you see in some of my work that’s very sort of contained comes from that experience, from being in the hospital and hardly having any visitors,” he once said. “It’s all very suppressed, but it’s there in my work.”
Perez studied with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham in the 1950s, as well as Mary Anthony, but found his voice in New York’s ‘60s-era, avant-garde dance scene. He was part of the experimental collective Judson Dance Theater with Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown.
His first choreographed work, “Take Your Alligator With You” (1963), parodied magazine modeling poses. Three years later, he put together his first solo piece, “Countdown,” which featured Perez in a chair smoking a cigarette. He recalled that initially audiences weren’t sure what to make of his unique form of dance. But eventually, he broke through the largely white dance establishment of the time and won over audiences.
Perez moved to L.A. in 1978 for a yearlong substitute teaching job at UCLA and formed a dance company shortly thereafter.
“In L.A., I felt freer; I was able to go beyond,” he told The Times. “I wanted to get away from the emphasis on dance, and work more with theater and natural movement.”
In recent years, Perez’s vision had been severely impaired due to glaucoma and macular degeneration. He continued working every Sunday with his Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble at the Westside School of Ballet. During the early days of the COVID pandemic, several dancers in Perez’s ensemble kept the workshop going over Zoom. They have since moved it to MNR Dance Factory in Brentwood.
“Rudy was so pleased that we continued the workshop,” said Anne Grimaldo, who danced in Perez’s ensemble for 35 years. “Even when his eyesight was going, [Perez] could still ‘see’ like a fine-toothed comb. He’d say, ‘point your toes.’ … He could see everything with extreme detail.”
Shortly after she graduated with her master’s degree in dance from UCLA in 1988, Grimaldo met one of Perez’s dancers at an audition. He told her to come to his class. Grimaldo hesitated; she had heard Perez had a reputation for being tough. She eventually ended up going. “Right away he said he wanted me in the company,” Grimaldo said. “And I never left.”
“Rudy changed all of our lives,” Grimaldo added. The workshop “wasn’t just dance: It was theater, it was choreography, it was improvisation. It was up to a performance level and professional. You didn’t sit down during a break and lean against the bar. When we first started out we’d always wear black. And the company was very tight. It was like a collaboration with all of us and Rudy and his direction.”
“Rudy was a titan of minimalist movement,” Swenson said, “achieved by just being himself, unique in his approach and product. Fierce and demanding in the studio, he secretly had a tender heart, and I’ll miss that more than anything.”
Perez insisted his dancers take Pilates, Grimaldo added. “Now I’m a Pilates instructor,,” she said. “I met my husband, Jeff, in the company and we have a daughter. … I mean, everything I do and what I have is because of Rudy and my connection with him.”
Throughout his career, Perez created dozens of pieces, including work for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. He was also a teacher whose influence — at the USC School of Dramatic Arts and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, among other places — lives on in generations of choreographers and dancers.
Dance critic Lewis Segal told The Times that Perez’s vision sparked “a real firestorm in L.A.” in the late ‘70s. “Teaching it and choreographing [in his style], he made a difference,” Segal said. He added: “It encouraged people to really go with their instincts, to go for broke.”
In November 2015, UC Irvine presented Perez with a lifetime achievement award during “The Art of Performance in Irvine: A Tribute to Rudy Perez.” Perez’s dance ensemble debuted work there that he’d choreographed for the event: the three-piece performance “Slate in Three Parts.” A month later, Colburn School restaged Perez’s 1983 piece “Cheap Imitation.”
Among his many honors, Perez was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and L.A.’s the Music Center/Bilingual Foundation’s ¡Viva Los Artistas! Performing Arts Award. He held honorary doctorates from the Otis College of Art and Design in L.A. and the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, and his archives are part of the USC Libraries’ Special Collections.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Perez said in 2015 of his long-running career. “I’ve always been told, ‘Grow old gracefully’ — and I’m good at that. At this stage of my life, sure, it’s hard, but I’m striving for excellence. I wanna go out with a flash.”
He is survived by his brother Richard Perez, his niece Linda Perez, and nephews Stephen and Anthony Perez, as well as numerous former Rudy Perez Ensemble Members, collaborators, and friends. A memorial for Perez is being planned.
Times arts editor Paula Mejía contributed to this report.
Adjunct film professors at USC move to unionize: ‘Enough is enough’
Adjunct professors at the University of Southern California’s prestigious film school are moving to unionize in pursuit of higher pay, benefits, better working conditions, expanded career opportunities and other demands.
The college’s Adjunct Faculty Alliance-UAW announced that its colleagues at the USC School of Cinematic Arts will march Wednesday to the provost’s office and deliver a letter of request for their union to be recognized.
In a news release, the AFA-UAW accused the film school of preventing its adjunct professors from teaching more than one class “to avoid providing health and other benefits.” The alleged class cuts have resulted in a “severe” loss of pay, the alliance said.
Other grievances outlined in the announcement include “low, fixed wages, gender disparity in divisions, lack of diversity school-wide, no clear path to full-time, expecting adjuncts to work unpaid on committees, training, meetings, etc.”
Adjunct professors make up approximately 75% of the film school faculty, according to the alliance, and specialize in a wide range of subjects, including screenwriting, producing, film editing, sound design, animation and cinematography.
“SCA Adjuncts are recognized creatives in their fields. They teach the majority of both undergraduate and graduate courses and are advisors, mentors, and often counselors. Students depend on adjuncts and they are often students’ first adult role models after leaving home,” the news release states.
“Adjuncts love what they do, love USC and the students, and want to continue to provide the excellence both the students and the school deserve. However, USC is severely hindering the adjuncts’ ability to do their job with new and existing policies. … Enough is enough.”
A spokesperson for USC was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Earlier this week, about 3,000 graduate student workers at USC averted a strike by reaching a tentative labor agreement with the university that includes wage increases and anti-harassment protections.
“Graduate student workers’ first contract will improve the lives of thousands of workers at USC and create a culture of accountability,” said Stepp Mayes, a fifth-year doctoral student in environmental engineering and a bargaining team member. “This agreement marks the beginning of a stronger USC.”
Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.
Movie Review: “Five Nights at Freddy’s”
Bringing the heart-pounding terror of classics like “Hush,” “The Black Phone” and “Insidious” to the big screen, Blumhouse Productions takes a stab at turning Scott Cawthon’s wildly popular “Five Nights at Freddy’s” video game franchise into an edge-of-your-seat horror film. This film is sure to delight and disturb fans who love horror and the franchise. With a track record of adapting frightening source material into blockbuster scare-fests, Blumhouse seems set up to transform the sinister, animatronic characters that have terrified players for years into equally chilling movie antagonists aiming to stalk their way to box office glory. As of Nov. 6, the movie has made over $217 million worldwide.
The main animatronics in this movie are Freddy Fazbear, Chica, Bonnie and Foxy. During the first three and a half minutes of the movie, I felt very tense and anxious. The movie opened with a security guard, Mike, beginning his first overnight shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, and he barricaded himself inside of the security office so that the animatronics couldn’t catch him. While watching this scene, I was lulled into a false sense of security since I thought the guard was going to be okay. Unfortunately, he was chased down by one of the animatronics and was strapped down to a chair. When he woke up, he was face-to-face with a nightmarish bear mask contraption that had glowing red eyes. The interior of the mask was filled with blades and it was moving quickly towards him. I was immediately hooked in and really liked how the film wasted no time bringing the horror, jumpscares and nerve-wracking chase experiences straight from the games to the big screen.
However, the first 34 minutes of the movie felt really slow to me and were not engaging. After the harrowing opening sequence, the film settled into a slower pace as it showed Mike looking for a job while also delving into the backstory of the five missing children tied to the pizzeria, whose souls inhabited the animatronics. There were also many scenes where Mike’s sister, Abby, followed him to his new job at the pizzeria and met the animatronics.
While these events were important for setting up the plot, this section of the film felt drawn out compared to the terror, fear and intenseness of the opening scene. I thought that it was a bit confusing and hard to follow since there were so many storylines happening at once. While watching these plotlines unfold, I found myself willing for the pace to be picked back up, eager to get back to the frights promised by the first vigorous moments. I think that the film could have benefitted from tightening up these slower parts to better maintain the fear factor, as the real action and interesting parts didn’t start until about 40 minutes into the film, which is when I started to get into it again.
After the slow parts were over, the rest of the movie really delivered on the horror and suspense aspect. The action picked back up after Mike started his night shift and the movie kept me on the edge of my seat with nonstop scares and shocking moments. I have to say, for a PG-13 rated horror movie, some of the jumpscares were a bit over the top. I think that an R rating would have made much more sense for this frightening film. For example, there were three jumpscares that were definitely uncomfortable to watch, even if they didn’t scare me.
Those who don’t wish to read about the descriptions of the jumpscares should skip the following paragraph. One of those three jumpscares was when Carl, a thief who trashed each room of the pizzeria, got attacked by Mr. Cupcake, Chica’s sidekick. Mr. Cupcake was hiding in an abandoned fridge and jumped onto Carl’s face after he opened the door, mangling him. Not even two minutes later, Hank, one of Carl’s friends and another thief, got killed by Bonnie in a storage closet. During this scene, there was a bloody handprint on the door and disturbing sounds of bones cracking. Four minutes later, Max, Abby’s babysitter, got chomped in half by Freddy, which reminded some fans of “The Bite of ‘87,” while others are calling it “The Bite of ’23.” Watching those three very graphic and violent back-to-back jumpscares made me wish the movie had toned the jumpscare aspect down a bit for the PG-13 rating.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and would recommend it to horror fans looking for a scary good time. When it came to building suspense, once the pace picked back up after the slower middle parts, I could not stop watching and I loved the nonstop action once the horror ramped up. The film had chilling atmospheres as the animatronics chased the characters through the pizzeria in the dark and even followed some to their houses. While a few moments pushed the boundaries of the rating, a majority of the scenes were creative, fun and intriguing. So, if you love horror, jumpscares and animatronic terror, definitely check out “Five Nights at Freddy’s” for a thrilling flick, just be prepared for some gruesomeness. I’d give this movie an 8.5/10 overall because I liked the way that it was entertaining and provided an exhilarating horror experience.
Mads Mikkelsen as a (mostly) good guy leads ‘The Promised Land’ in its run for Oscar
More than a decade after joining forces on the Oscar-nominated film “A Royal Affair,” actor Mads Mikkelsen has reteamed with writer-director Nikolaj Arcel for “The Promised Land,” a stunning historical epic that has been selected as Denmark’s entry for best international feature at the 2024 Academy Awards.
Based on Ida Jessen’s “The Captain and Ann Barbara,” the engrossing period drama tells the story of Capt. Ludvig Kahlen (Mikkelsen), who defied his low status as the illegitimate son of a nobleman and housemaid to become an esteemed military leader in 18th century Denmark. Impoverished and newly retired, Kahlen sets out to cultivate and establish a colony on the notoriously barren heath of Jutland in the name of King Frederik V — a plan that puts him at odds with Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), an insolent, sadistic aristocrat determined to claim Kahlen’s land as his own.
Faced with increasingly vicious threats from De Schinkel, Kahlen chooses to stand his ground. But having spent most of his life fending for himself, the former soldier is forced to reckon with risking not only his life but also those of his newfound chosen family: his servant-turned-partner Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin) and a young orphaned girl named Anmai Mus (Melina Hagberg).
It’s a particularly meaty role for Mikkelsen, who has combined the hallmarks of the ruthless antiheroes he’s played in Hollywood with qualities from the more vulnerable leading men he’s played in Danish cinema to create one of his most compelling characters to date.
Arcel, who credits becoming a father in his late 40s with helping him to realize there was more to life than just creating stories and art, said he and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen “wanted to tell a grand, epic tale about how our ambitions and desires will inevitably fail if they are all we have,” according to a director’s statement. “Life is chaos; painful and ugly, beautiful and extraordinary, and we are often helpless to control it. As the saying goes, ‘We make plans, and God laughs.’”
For Arcel, Mikkelsen’s on-screen magnetism and subtlety of emotion, paired with his willingness to take “co-responsibility” of the story being told, made him the only actor capable of embodying the complexity and inscrutability of Kahlen.
“He is quite courageous in not being precious about wanting [his characters] to always be just a good guy and like, ‘Oh, he has to be the hero,’” Arcel said in a joint interview with Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen didn’t have any qualms about the audience “losing sympathy” for Kahlen. “I wanted it to be a man who was so stubborn that it’s almost unbearable to watch, because I think that’s where we find the drama,” said the actor, 57. “So, I go, like, ‘No, let him hit the kid, let him hit the woman, because this is 1750.’ We are all obviously living in 2023, so some of our morals come in without even us realizing. Sometimes, we just have to take a step back and say, ‘Listen, let’s make him so stubborn that we want to kill him, and eventually we will turn the tables on Page 80 and he will open up to become a human being.’”
Although De Schinkel is a formidable foe to Kahlen, Mikkelsen and Arcel were hesitant to call him a “villain.” They prefer the label of “antagonist.”
“I see De Schinkel as a little boy who has all the toys and all the little other boys will play with him, but they don’t like him and he knows it,” said Mikkelsen, who has played his share of antiheroes (“Hannibal”) and antagonists (“Casino Royale,” “Doctor Strange,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”). “So I try to approach all the ‘villains’ I do in America like this guy is apparently the hero, [even if] he’s doing a lot of terrible things. The gray zone is more interesting for us.”
Since their last film together, Mikkelsen and Arcel have made further inroads into Hollywood, but they’ve intentionally kept one foot firmly planted in their native country. Although Mikkelsen quips that his “funny accent” has allowed him to corner the market on international baddies — an archetype that he has relished and embraced for nearly two decades, because “it’s better than not doing anything over there” — his most effective star vehicles, including Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” and Oscar-winning “Another Round,” have been made on home soil.
“The Promised Land” is Arcel’s first directorial effort since the 2017 film “The Dark Tower,” which “scarred” him because of the autonomy he lost working on a big-budget, major studio movie. “You don’t have final cut, you don’t have final say on the script, you don’t have final say on the cast — that was a little bit of a shock to the system for me,” Arcel said.
Shot over 42 days last fall in Denmark, Germany and the Czech Republic with a budget of around $10 million, “The Promised Land” feels like a return to form for Arcel, who believes the tightknit Danish film industry is most conducive to the kind of camaraderie and collaboration that he was missing abroad.
As a European filmmaker, “you fail and succeed on your own terms and not on somebody else’s,” Arcel said. Even though there is still an element of competition, the community of Danish directors “is a little bit akin to new Hollywood in the ’70s, the New Wave in France, where all the directors will go, ‘Oh, come and see my movie,’ and then you have five very critical directors sitting in the editing room, watching your first cut or reading your script.”
Mikkelsen said Arcel is “the only one in Denmark who’s doing epic films for almost the same budget [as English-language indies] — a little higher, but not much.” The director is proving that Denmark can produce more than kitchen-sink dramas. “You’re also looking at us as filmmakers with very different kinds of films,” Mikkelsen said. “So we are very proud that you see us with different eyes.”
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