Arts In LA
Ballet review

Ballet Visionaries

Los Angeles Ballet

Reviewed by Dany Margolies


The Los Angeles Ballet in Untouched
Photo © Reed Hutchinson and the Los Angeles Ballet 2016

Two iconoclastic expatriate Russians, a 19th-century Dane who dug the Italian beat, and a Canadian bending dance in new directions inspired the mixed bill Los Angeles Ballet has titled “Ballet Visionaries,” on local stages this month. But American bravery and willpower made this opening night a thrill to remember.
   The evening started not with the traditional precurtain welcome from the company’s co–artistic director Colleen Neary but with a succinct announcement: The roles scheduled to be danced by Allyssa Bross, one of the company’s two principal ballerinas, were being taken on by two other dancers. (Bross reportedly bruised her ribs crashing into a fixture as she came offstage during dress rehearsal the night before opening.)
   So, with one day to prepare, two women with technique, intelligence, and courage stepped in. And then, up went the curtain. No excuses, no apologies. None needed. The mixed bill begins with choreography by George Balanchine (1904–1983) to the violin concerto composed by his dear friend Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971). Both men had left their native Russia to nest in New York, changing the course of their art forms. Balanchine choreographed Stravinsky Violin Concerto the year after the composer’s death, reportedly inserting in-jokes he thought Stravinsky would have enjoyed.
   He first introduces the ensemble and two lead couples, clad in leotards and tights—considered rehearsal clothes until Balanchine put them onstage. The second movement, danced here by Elizabeth Claire Walker (for Bross) and Dustin True, features a pas de deux of detachment, of ways two dancers could be wary of, escape from and reject each other.
   The third movement, with Julia Cinquemani and Kenta Shimizu, shows a more solicitous couple. Still, the man imprisons and manipulates the woman, pinning her knees together, bending her torso, then taking her forehead back until she cannot see her path. Granted, Walker and True were underrehearsed, but Cinquemani and Shimizu evidenced more thoughtfulness, more purpose, even in this abstract ballet. The finale toys with fundamentals of Russian folk dance but also gives the corps a chance to display its joyful precision.

Next, the company performed the 2010 choreography of Canadian Aszure Barton. Titled Untouched, it is even more abstract than the Balanchine. Still, Untouched is endlessly enthralling, moody, and quite beautiful, and probably even more fiendishly difficult than Violin Concerto.
   To music by Njo Kong Kie, Curtis Macdonald and Lev Zhurbin, the piece begins with a striking solo by Abby Callahan, puts Shimizu in quirky struts and stage-spanning slides, and displays a flawless foursome—of Bianca Bulle and Tigran Sargsyan, Chelsea Paige Johnston and True—that brings the work to a finale in which all the shimmies, tummy rubs and torqueing walks come to a fascinating conclusion.

To vibrantly end the evening, company co–artistic director Thordal Christensen, trained with the Royal Danish Ballet, stages the quintessentially Danish Pas de Six and Tarantella from Napoli, choreographed by August Bournonville (1805–79) to music by Edvard Helsted and Holger Paulli.


Dustin True, Tigran Sargsyan, Julia Cinquemani, Kate Highstrete, Madeline Houk, Ashley Millar in Napoli
Photo © Reed Hutchinson and the Los Angeles Ballet 2016

The dancers weren’t the only brave ones here. Neary and Christensen didn’t choose a program designed solely to bring in the masses. These ballets are not famous, they’re not “accessible.” But they need to be seen and kept alive. Plotless and abstract, each piece seems to be about independence and yet collegiality. Each in its own way has an internal beauty. In this celebration of internationality, dancers and directors, whether born here or not, summoned all-American stamina and bravery for an inspirational night of ballet.

Bournonville style consists of perpetual motion—mostly small jumps (called petit allegro in ballet) seasoned with a few big jumps just when one imagines the dancers ought to be collapsing. But in addition to stamina, the dancers here show the refinement the style calls for. Arms are held low or occasionally at shoulder height, offering little help in jumping. Hands are politely relaxed, legs are rarely raised above 45 degrees, ballet is at its most gracious in an era when acrobatics seems to be valued over elegance and effortlessness.
   Shimizu again shows his versatility, also creating a character—this one the jealous bridegroom—opposite the dainty Bulle. Madeline Houk, replacing Bross, not only managed the style but also dealt with a long scarf that required coordinating with her daring partner, True.

So, the show went on, thanks to the women who stepped into a breach. They were hoisted by men who had spent weeks rehearsing with Bross’s proportions and momentum. In time to the music, the replacements swiftly clasped hands with and leapt perilously near other dancers. And no one gave off the slightest hint of the impending dangers of a missed connection or a collision. This is professionalism. This is bravery.
   The dancers weren’t the only brave ones here. Neary and Christensen didn’t choose a program designed solely to bring in the masses. These ballets are not famous, they’re not “accessible.” But they need to be seen and kept alive. Plotless and abstract, each piece seems to be about independence and yet collegiality. Each in its own way has an internal beauty. In this celebration of internationality, dancers and directors, whether born here or not, summoned all-American stamina and bravery for an inspirational night of ballet.
October 10, 2016


Middle photo: Kenta Shimizu and Julia Cinquemani in Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Photo © Reed Hutchinson and the Los Angeles Ballet 2016
 
Oct 22, 7:30pm. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., Redondo Beach. Free parking adjacent to the theater.

Oct. 29, 7:30pm. Royce Hall, UCLA Campus.

$29.50–104. Running time 2 hours, including 2 intermissions. (310) 998-7782.

Tickets
 

 
Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan

www.LisaPelikan.com


 
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