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Kaufman Kicks Up Its Heels


By Cynthia Lee

Published Jan 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Fall turned festive last October when one of UCLA's most unusual arts showcases once more offered its singular brand of live cultural entertainment and enlightenment after a $35-million renovation and a three-year absence.

Glorya Kaufman Hall, with two renovated performance spaces and a new outdoor garden theater, opened with the panache that is the hallmark of the World Arts and Cultures Department based there. (Created in 1995, WAC is the offspring of the merger of the Department of Dance, the first in the country to be based at a university, with the world arts and cultures program.) The opening was celebrated with an open house and gala reunion attended by nearly 500 WAC alumni, guests and friends. The department filled the building with dance - hip-hop, traditional Javanese court dances, film screenings, installations and cutting-edge performances. Originally associated with sweat, sports and UCLA's women's physical education program, the historic Italian Romanesque building opened in 1932 as the Women’s Gymnasium. It became the Dance Building in 1984, but the new name didn't really upgrade its locker-room ambiance.

"Students were dancing in dark places with almost no ventilation," recalled Christopher Waterman, dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture and former WAC chair. The basketball court became WAC's dance theater. Sound and lighting were perched atop a tower of lunch tables.

When the building was damaged by the Northridge earthquake, the University of California allotted funds for repair and life safety upgrades, but no one expected anything exciting. "We thought we'd be lucky if they spackled over the cracks in the walls," said acting department chair David Gere.

But philanthropist and arts patron Glorya Kaufman believed in the central notion underlying WAC, that music and dance could unite people of different backgrounds and beliefs. With her $18-million gift to UCLA, suddenly the renovation became far more ambitious than making the building safe. The plan was expanded to include multimedia labs, classrooms, an outdoor dance pavilion, studios and a state-of-the-art theater.



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