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Jazz Age

Talk about your OG—or, in this case, Original Gatsby! Indeed, Los Angeles-based American Contemporary Ballet (ACB) has set the bar(re) oh-so-high, with its Original Gatsby concept/concert, “Jazz,” that even F. Scott Fitzgerald would have dug it. And since traveling to Gatz’s West Egg compound is impossible (it was fictional, after all), the underground space at the Bank of America Plaza more than sufficed to drink in this deliriously sensuous offering during a Saturday evening of the troupe’s penultimate weekend of performances.

Performance

American Contemporary Ballet: “Jazz,” choreography by Lincoln Jones

Place

Bank of America Plaza, Los Angeles, California, March 1 – 22, 2024

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Elise Kruger and David Prottas in “Echoes of Harlem” from “Jazz” by Lincoln Jones. Photograph by Anastasia Petukhova

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Directed and choreographed by the resourceful Lincoln Jones, a Balanchine devotee who founded the troupe in 2011 and has staged a number of the master’s works, the event not only featured 11 glorious flappers—on pointe, of course—and two dashing gents, but also a nine-piece band that rocked the hell out of the joint. And what other small ballet company does a run of 10 concerts, performs only to live music, has a comedian kick-start the proceedings, and serves potent whisky sours—delivered to your seat, no less—at an appropriate break in the elevated proceedings? 

None that this reviewer can think of.

Okay, so after comic Matt Donaher began his monologue with jokes about tantric sex, personal hygiene (TMI) and drugs, all dished out in a slew of non-sequiturs (bringing to mind, but only slightly, Steven Wright), and who also tossed off a few cringy lines twice more during the evening—Elise Kruger came bounding onto the stage to open “The Charlestons,” from 2023. 

The first of five segments, each featuring a solo ballerina clad in Yasamin Sarabipour’s sexy, corset-inspired costumes and all accompanied by Morgan “Daddy Butterbeans” Jones (ACB’s music director) and his Hot Nine, the opening saw the long-legged Kruger deploying a number of divine quarter turns, doing balletic justice to Johnny Dodds’ “Bull Fiddle Blues.” 

Brittany Yevoli then darted out like a comet, cutting loose to a Duke Ellington/Bubber Miley tune, before Hannah Barr pirouetted to beat the band. The strutting of heavenly stuff continued with Annette Cherkasov looking gazelle-ish, her superb back-bending positively sybaritic, while Madeline Houk’s jetés brought the number to a sublime end, those maraschino-adorned whisky sours then served ringside, if you will.

Hannah Barr with Claire Bednarek, Taylor Berwick, Victoria Manning and Quincey Smith in “Billy Goat Stomp” from “Jazz” by Lincoln Jones. Photograph by Anastasia Petukhova

Here was flapperdom on toe, a kind of terpsichorean frippery of non-stop moves across the Marleyed floor. As the space, which only seats 100 and was darkened to give a speakeasy vibe, (lighting by Payton Jane), this was ballet up close and personal, with none of the gals even seeming to break a sweat. And why should they, as one by one and oozing a kind of Hollywood glamour—their ballet buns tightly secured in place—each dancer showed a mastery of technique while appearing effortless in the process.

Okay, so how clever is Lincoln Jones? Let me count the ways, beginning with his canny pacing. In “Four by Ellington,” the testosterone element emerged, as two different couples graced the area in a quartet of different bits: Sarah Bukowski and David Prottas, a Bradley Cooper lookalike, proved decidedly frisky in Fred and Ginger mode, their lifts graceful and airy. Barr, offering a series of unfettered bourrées and near gasp-worthy extensions, was beautifully partnered by Maté Szentes, who has been with ACB for more than a decade, making their number, “Blue Reverie,” akin to a study of, well, sex on pointe.

Individual bandmembers shone here, as well, with Chloe Feoranzo’s clarinet trilling and Bryan Lipps’ trumpeting the perfect counterpoint. The Duke’s “Echoes of Harlem” brought Kruger and Prottas into marvelous focus, their pairing akin to “danse noir,” so to speak, with Kruger tossing off bended-knee arabesques, occasionally anchored by Prottas, and reminiscent of a Rolls Royce hood ornament. 

Annette Cherkasov and Maté Szentes in “Blues for Jimmy” from “Jazz” by Lincoln Jones. Photograph by Anastasia Petukhova

Houk and Szentes then brought this segment to a close, with “Pyramid,” a number that could have been dubbed, “Variations on a Theme of Slink.” And in another wonderful pas de deux, Khristin Steckmann and Prottas provided requisite oomph in “Cross Hands Boogie,” with music by Derek New.

And what nitery would be complete without a vamping singer? Jones called upon the talents of Angelina Brower, who, in a smoky rendition, crooned, “He Likes It Slow,” composed by William Benton Overstreet. Followed by Kid Ory’s “Blues for Jimmy,” Cherkasov and Szentes danced with a breezy aplomb, their ardor still readily apparent, and Szentes’ attentiveness nonpareil. Bandleader Jones, tickling the ivories throughout, added a nice touch on celesta. 

With the parade of loveliness continuing, Steckmann and Kruger joined Prottas in “Basin St. Blues,” after which a quintet of dancers, including Claire Bednarek, Taylor Berwick, Victoria Manning and Quincey Smith joined Barr in Jelly Roll Morton’s “Billy Goat Stomp.” A can-can-esque scenario, with the gals sporting fish net stockings, and the wailing trombonist, Kristian Foreman proving his musical mettle, this bawdy dance was pure pleasure.

A rousing grand finale topped the proceedings, which could have been dubbed, “Ladies of the Night”—and a few good, no make that great, men—did their balletic stuff, with a good time had by all. Shout-outs, as well, to the other Hot Niners: Ben Flocks on tenor sax; Ben Thomas on guitar and banjo; standup bassist Scott Worthington; tubaist Kyle Richter; and drummer Marcelo Bucater.

As Mr. Fitzgerald, in his brilliant close of Gatsby wrote, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” so was ACB’s “Jazz” a trip into what seems like a long-forgotten era. Thanks, then, ACB, for gifting us with a modern take on that bygone time.

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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