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Los Angeles Ballet Brilliant

Bubbles at the ballet! And what a fantastic way to end a program, which is precisely what Los Angeles Ballet did by presenting Jiří Kylián’s deliriously witty, “Sechs Tänze,” a 1986 bauble set to Mozart that should be required viewing for those who think ballet is a mysterious and elite art form.

Performance

Los Angeles Ballet: “Directors’ Choice”

Place

Redondo Performing Arts Center, Redondo Beach, California, May 16, 2015

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Julia Cinquemani, Britta Lazenga, Christopher McDaniel and Zachary Guthier in “Sechs Tänze.” Photograph by Reed Hutchinson

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Indeed, as Pete Campbell of Mad Men might have said: “A thing like that!” Seriously, Los Angeles Ballet is the little company that could. Concluding its ninth season, the troupe has grown by leaps, fouettés and pirouettes over the years, continually proving its mettle in a town that’s been ballet-averse—at least to local talent. But with a dedicated husband-and-wife team at the troupe’s helm—Colleen Neary (a New York City Ballet dancer under Balanchine and répétiteur) and Thordal Christensen (erstwhile artistic director of Royal Danish Ballet)—Angelenos can take pride in this homegrown organization.

And while story ballets are an easier sell than a mixed rep bill (LAB’s recent production of its own “Sleeping Beauty” made a greater impact on this reviewer than the gaudy world premiere presented by ABT in Orange County in March), this program showed the diversity, range and reach of the 37-member company.

Opening with Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2,” the 1973 revision of the choreographer’s 1941 “Ballet Imperial” and his first foray into the Petipa style (LAB premiered the opus in 2010), the dancers had a chance to show their dreamy side, albeit one fueled by technique, grit and, well, smiles.

Plotless, this is, nevertheless, a huge, majestic affair, with Allynne Noelle, Christopher Revels and Julia Cinquemani leading the charge—in this case a bevy of dancers clad in cream-colored attire (designed and executed by Marianne Parker), the women’s neo-Romantic tutus topped with sparkling bodices.

The rich melodic score (alas, heard on tape—won’t some angel please donate a few million dollars to give this troupe an orchestra?), leaves no room for stillness. Teeming with numerous corps members offering constantly shifting patterns, including traversing the stage in diagonals, the work also features dancers’ angled arms held aloft, fingers and feet precisely positioned.

Then there are the soloists: Noelle, who leaves the company after its final performances (Glendale’s Alex Theatre, May 30; U.C.L.A.’s Royce Hall, June 6), but who will guest in future, displayed a wonderful mix of feminine swagger, musicality and assured footwork, both graceful and muscular. Revels partnered Noelle with brio, his cabrioles and beating feet taking him to new heights. Cinquemani, who, at 23, also has her own dancewear line, accentuated the angst in Tchaikovsky’s music, her gorgeously fierce attacks a study in exactitude.

Also noteworthy: Laura Chachich, Kate Highstrete, Zachary Guthier and Dustin True added to the work that is a testament to stamina and the power of art.

Los Angeles Ballet
Julia Cinquemani, Kate Highstrete and Laura Chachich in “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2” choreography by George Balanchine. Photograph by Reed Hutchinson

José Limón first performed “The Moor’s Pavane—Variations on the theme of Othello” in 1949 at the American Dance Festival. Directed and reconstructed by Alice Condodina, a former Limón dancer under the master, himself, this 20-minute distillation of themes from Shakespeare’s play is a timeless tale of envy, intrigue and violence.

Set within the formalism of a Baroque dance to Henry Purcell’s music, “Moor” is the apotheosis of concise storytelling, its four characters inspired by Othello, Iago, Desdemona and Emilia, though not named. Zheng Hua Li’s Moor has dug deep to seize the moment, his acting keen, his every move imbued with meaning: Outstretched arms at the work’s beginning define his nobility, only to later signify his rising jealousy and fury; and finally, his utter despair.

Erik Thordal-Christensen (the directors’ son), at 20, does not yet have the maturity for a reptilian Iago, although his striking presence (he’s 6’4” and very blonde, decidedly the stuff of princes), is not to be ignored. In time, no doubt, one can see him investing the moves with more villainous rigor. Stepping in for an injured Bianca Bulle, Elizabeth Claire Walker gave her Desdemona the expected air of tragic innocence, her undoing a tableau of fragile prey.

The splendid Allyssa Bross handled her dramatic duties with aplomb, occasionally acting as if these goings-on were games, realizing, too late, that they were, in fact, fatal. Such is the gestural language of the dance, where a handkerchief, untrustworthy friends and paranoia, spell doom.

Neary and Christensen danced “Moor” in the 1980s, when they were with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and it is from that troupe that they borrowed the costumes (designed by Pauline Lawrence). A paean to the Renaissance, when heads were offed and suspicions ran rampant, these heavy gowns, billowing sleeves and tights, proved great concealers. “Moor,” also the tragedy of Everyman, rings true in today’s harrowing times, when we, too, might find ourselves occasionally cloaked in fear and agitation.

We’re grateful for dance, then, to transport us to a higher level, which Kylián’s “Sechs Tänze” does by feeding the soul with unbridled joy. A Los Angeles Ballet premiere, staged by Fiona Lummis and Glen Eddy, the work is divided into six comical acts danced by four couples, with a supporting quintet upping the humor ante.

A cheeky romp through the intrigues of Baroque court life, including men in powdery wigs and women sporting garish make-up, the prevailing octet cavorts about in flirty, absurd fun through a series of dangerous liaisons—hello fencing foils and mime! Throughout the six acts, dancers revel in nonsense, both individually and with each other.

Faces are slapped, powder is suspended in air; evening gown facades are periodically paraded across the stage reminiscent of an I Love Lucy sight gag. Among the purveyors of silly: the always outstanding Christopher McDaniel (he leaves the troupe after five seasons, boo hoo), Britta Lazenga, Chelsea Paige Johnston, Chloé Sherman, Javier Moya Romero, Cinquemani, Guthier and True.

Mozart would have loved it! Oh, yes: Those buckets of bubbles—champagne, anyone?—that rained down at the work’s end was not only a glorious finale to the Kylián, but to a beautifully rendered program by Los Angeles Ballet. We’ll drink to that!

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

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