Balanchine Act

Colleen Neary knew she faced an enormous challenge in choosing three daunting George Balanchine works for the Los Angeles Ballet’s Spring 2008 program.

Well into the company’s second season, Neary and her husband, co-artistic director Thordal Christensen, are putting finishing touches on Balanchine’s famously difficult “Four Temperaments,” the virtuoso “Tarantella,” and Balanchine’s tribute to Broadway, “Who Cares?” for performances at UCLA’s Freud Theater on February 22 and 23, Glendale’s Alex Theatre on March 1, and Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on March 15.

Balanchine holds a central place in the LAB repertory. After his death 25 years ago, Neary became one of a small group of Balanchine Trust repetiteurs, former colleagues of the legendary choreographer who preserve the dances for the future. In that role, Neary has staged Balanchine ballets for companies around the world. Teaching his uniquely American ballet style and staging the dances is “a big honor for me,” she says. “There’s a whole new generation of dancers who didn’t know him. I try to give them a sense of what he was like, to bring him alive for them.”

It is with this sense of mission that Neary undertook to teach her young company the monumental “Four Temperaments,” created by Balanchine almost 70 years ago. “Musically, it is very challenging,” she explains. “The Hindemith score was so ahead of its time. It is very demanding, but our dancers proved themselves in other, very difficult repertory last year.”

The program will also include “Who Cares?” featuring big Broadway-style chorus numbers and a Gershwin score that includes pop standards such as “The Man I Love,” “Embraceable You,” “S’Wonderful,” “Lady Be Good,” and “I Got Rhythm.” In 1937, Broadway songwriter George Gershwin asked Balanchine to come to Hollywood to work with him on the score of the Goldwyn Follies. During the production, Gershwin collapsed and died of a brain tumor. Thirty-three years later, Balanchine choreographed “Who Cares?” to 16 of his favorite Gershwin songs, arranged and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. A teenaged Neary danced in the original New York City Ballet cast.

A composer in his own right, Hershy Kay also reconstructed Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Grande Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra for Balanchine’s dazzling stand-alone pas de deux, “Tarantella,” also on the current LAB program.

In addition to preserving the Balanchine legacy, Neary and Christensen’s far-reaching vision for LAB includes commissioning and mounting new ballets by Los Angeles choreographers and designers. Audiences for Spring Repertoire 2008 get the first look at “Lost in Transition,” a world premiere by award-winning choreographer and Los Angeles native Melissa Barak. “’Lost in Transition’ is very edgy and different,” Neary says. “And it’s big. It fits right in with this huge Balanchine program.”

Look for a Forty Unders ticket giveaway for the ballet next week. — Penny Orloff

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