Ballet

LAB Performs Best Nutcracker To Date

Arabian11-122The Los Angeles Ballet opened it’s sixth season last weekend with their annual production of “The Nutcracker. ” A favorite Christmas tradition of many since its popularity exploded in the mid-twentieth century, the ballet draws people of all ages to share in the Christmas spirit.

LA Ballet prides itself on having an original production of “The Nutcracker.” The story-line is the same and if you don’t look closely at the program, you might not even realize the Sugarplum Fairy is now referred to as “Marie” (which was the name of the Clara character in the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story) and her Cavalier is her “Prince.” The dancers in Act II are originally named for presents under the tree (Spanish Hot Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Russian Candy Cane, and Danish Marzipan), but LAB has shortened them to Spanish, Arabian, Russian, and then a reappearance of Harlequin and Columbine from Act I. And finally, the most visual change is “The Rose” amongst the daisies in what is traditionally called “The Waltz of the Flowers.”

Act I opens with party goers on their way to the Staulbaum house for Christmas Eve. The setting is Victorian and beautiful, and the costumes are exquisite. The lack of dance shoes and dance attire considerably limits the amount of balletic movement in Act I. Clara (Mia Katz) and her youthful friends perform adolescent pointe routines and the young boys entertain with their serious faces and synchronized marches. Peculiar Uncle Drosselmeyer (Nicolas de la Vega) enters, bearing special gifts for the children, enabling the only true dancing in the party scene, when the toys come to life. The Harlequin, Columbine, and Cossack Dolls, danced by Isabel Vondermuhll, Angel Lopez, and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, all sparkle perfectly in their dances before freezing up and becoming still toys again.

This year’s party scene was the most comedically infused to date, and very enjoyable for the audience. Casting questions arise as we meet Uncle Drosselmeyer, the role that becomes consistently younger and younger over the company’s 6 productions. We wonder perhaps if LA Ballet intends him to be an older brother returning for the holidays in extravagant clothing, rather than an enigmatic Godfather to whom Clara bears a special bond.  Considering the history of the character it is a distracting element to the theatricality of the story.

After the party, Clara goes to bed with her favorite of Drosselmeyer’s bestowments, her Nutcracker doll. Clara is awakened into a magical world where her Nutcracker (Nathaniel Solis) is fending off rats and slays the Rat King. The rats are less than beautiful to watch (although children love them), yet it cannot go without saying how incredibly hard it must be to do chaine turns in a huge rat suit.

The Nutcracker’s victory has not only turned him into a handsome prince, it also has bore entrance to the “Land of Snow” and dancing snowflakes. The Waltz of the Snowflakes is heralded as one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the entirety of the ballet; with snow falling on the dancers for the length of the dance, and flawless unity of the dancers. In the past, LAB has been guilty of the Corps de Ballet of not perfecting synchronization: either the extensions were not the same height, dancers were one beat ahead of the rest, or lines were not straight. But it is breathtaking to see the body of dancers move as a unit and LAB did just that. The only lacking element is the absence of a live orchestra, which means for this piece, an absence of a choral group. It does seem excessive to hire singers for one song of a whole ballet, but there is nothing quite like hearing angelic voices singing to live music  while watching perfect dancing. Wishful thinking for future seasons.

As the curtain opens on Act II, we find ourselves in a Moroccan-esque setting known as the Palace by the Sea (traditionally known as The Land of Sweets). The presents have come to life to dance for Clara, the Prince, and Drosselmeyer. Marie and her Prince perform solos, and due to an injury of principle dancer Christopher Revels, the part of Marie’s Prince was danced by Kenta Shimizu. Shimizu is a powerful dancer from Japan, who flies to LA once a year to perform in select performances for LAB. Although Revels is an excellent dancer, it was a wonderful surprise to find out Shimizu was understudying. His stunning and powerful jumps seem effortless as he soars right through the first piece. The well known “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” makes audience members sit up straighter in their seat, as soon as they recognize the music, and LAB Sugarplum veteran Allyssa Bross is well equipped for the famous dance. The ballet picks up speed as we move through the dances from around the world. “Russian” (Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, Christopher McDaniel, & Tian Tan) is momentous, but because this is usually the crowd jaw dropper, it did seem to want more acrobatics and dance stunts to wow the audience.

“Arabian” (Julia Cinquemani & Alexander Castillo) was wonderful and impressive; there was nothing lacking here but the marriage of choreography to music. The music rightly suggests that each movement be languid until it hits its full extension. One should feel as if the dancers are moving through molasses while dancing, which makes the dance even more impressive because the muscles cannot rely on momentum to reach the height of their flexibility. Instead the choreography found all the final spots without the liquidity of getting there. The Pas de Deux was beautiful, a little shaky on some of the shoulder jumps but the foite turns by Bross were clean and impressive.

And we revisited Harlequin and Columbine from Act I which was short and sweet, but jarring to see Lopez’s toes not pointed. The standout of the evening was Allynne Noelle, “The Rose” in the Waltz of the Flowers number. Noelle, backed by the Corps de Ballet dressed as daisies, was the most engaging and in control dancer on the stage. As soon as she entered, eyes were glued to her and as soon as she exited, you wanted her back on the stage. Noelle is in her second season with LAB, and they will be lucky to hold on to her.

The Corps was also flawless and in synch once again. And when the final dances have been danced and Clara bids adieu and returns home, her parents find her asleep on the floor and carry her to bed. The curtain closes after Clara sits up realizing it may not have been a dream, as The Nutcracker and Uncle Drosselmeyer are lit upstage.

LA Ballet performs their best Nutcracker to date, proving they continue to grow and improve into what is sure to be a most promising resident dance company. Later this season they will dance Swan Lake and NextWaveLA, new dances with famed choreographers such as “So You Think You Can Dance” Sonya Tayeh.

The Nutcracker runs December 17th and 18th at UCLA’s Royce Hall and December 22nd-24th at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. For tickets, visit www.losangelesballet.org

- By Deidre Moore

 

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Giselle! Giselle!

616255281On Friday, May 27th, I attended the final weekend for LA Ballet’s performance of Giselle at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The ballet Giselle is near and dear to my heart because it was the first ballet that I performed a leading part in, dancing the role of Myrtha. Also, this marks the third time I have seen Giselle performed professionally. The first was The Royal Ballet in London and the second was ABT at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Both were wonderful, although my nosebleed seats for the Royal Ballet definitely left much to be desired.

What one notices first about the LA Ballet as the lights go down, is that there is no orchestra. You hear murmurs around you whispering, “Is this a recording?” There is something magical about hearing the musicians tune and warm up before the show starts, it sets the tone that something big is about to happen. When LAB has more of a foundation, I very much hope that they put funding into an orchestra, at least for their full length ballets.

When the curtain rose, we found ourselves in the Rhineland of the Middle Ages during the grape harvest. The set consisted of two tudor style houses, one that housed Giselle and her mother, and the other was in possession of the Duke Albrecht, who disguised himself as a peasant in order to sow some wild oats before his marriage to a noblewoman. Giselle and the disguised Duke meet, and of course fall in love, much to the dismay of Hilarion—a gamekeeper who is also in love with Giselle. Giselle’s mother worries for her weak heart as Giselle and others dance for the noblewoman (Albrecht’s betrothed) and her father who have come upon the scene. Hilarion reveals the truth about Albrecht, sending Giselle into a mad fit that her heart cannot handle, and she dies in Albrecht’s arms at the end of the first act.

Like many two or four act ballets, the first half is dedicated more to story set up, and the second half is dedicated more to dancing. I usually can not wait until the second half for the juicy pas de deuxs and sad climaxes that my favorite ballets have in abundance. That being said, I very much enjoyed the entire first act. Allyssa Bross danced the title role to perfection. Bross is a first season dancer at LAB but a huge standout. She also danced the Sugarplum Fairy in 2010′s Nutcracker. What made it so enjoyable to watch, because of the route many first halves have to contain too much set up, was her complete embodiment of Giselle. Bross was so sweet, excited, and in love the way teenagers are. Shy and overreactive in very charming ways. The audience would laugh at her facial expressions because they were so endearing. Opposite Bross was Christopher Revels, also a first season standout. A Tommy Kirk doppelganger, Revels is strong and promising. He did take a fall during a group dance, and you could see him lose momentum on his face after that. There was nothing behind that smile but disappointment, understandably, until enough time has passed to shake it off. Hilarion, danced by Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, was not given much to do in the first act but look discouraged. Unfortunately, Wespi-Tschopp is less of an actor dancer, and his actions did not fill the space, which drew attention to it being a “play,” simply because he did not commit enough.

The high point for me in the first act was the Peasant pas de deux, danced by Allynne Noelle (also a first season dancer) and Kenta Shimizu (Guest Artist from K-Ballet and Miami City Ballet). Noelle had excellent side extensions and was in full control of her body. A series of pirouettes with a preparation from Noelle on one knee were especially impressive. Both Noelle and Shimizu had strong and impressive solos, and the audience was eager to erupt into applause after everything they did. The reason for the solos and pas de deux by the peasants is very much lacking. Giselle leads them forward to dance, and they do, and then we never see them again. But when the dancing is so impressive, who cares why they are doing it? If it were a modern ballet, it would be easier to criticize the choreographer’s plot intentions. But Giselle was first done in 1841, and although the choreography has changed a bit, most of what we see in modern versions is still from the stagings in 1884 and 1903. So even the newest version is over one hundred years old.

The second act takes us to the woods where Giselle has been buried. Giselle is summoned from her grave by the Wilis, the spirits of women who have died before their wedding day and roam the night seeking revenge upon any man they meet, by dancing him to death. Hilarion searches for Giselle but meets his end with the Wilis. Albrecht also searches and finds her, Giselle still loves him and forgives him, and unlike Hilarion who is found by the Wilis and thrown in a lake, Albrecht is protected from them by Giselle. When day breaks, Giselle’s soul is freed because she did not succumb to vengeance and hatred of the Wilis.

I have to hand it to LAB; I have never seen the Wilis portrayed in a more unearthly way. I used to watch a VHS of Natalia Makarova’s Giselle with the Kirov Ballet, and even then it did not come close. The Queen of the Wilis-Myrtha (danced by Kate Highstrete) begins the second act with three solos. She did have a little trouble with her ponches, but she made up for it. Her moves were robotic but yet still enchanting. Her looks to the audience were jerky and blank, not fluid and soft which we are so used to knowing as beautiful ballet. I could not take my eyes off her, she was other worldly which is fascinating to see danced. The Corps de Ballet of her Wilis had their own ethereal qualities. They kept their eyes down to the ground and looked very sad. It was haunting. When the Wilis kill Hilarion they come alive and we the audience finally see why Wespi-Tschopp was cast as the unrequited lover. His dancing in the second act is more visceral and exciting than anything else in the entire ballet. Bross and Revels dance the lovers pas de deux and feature some gorgeous lifts to Adolphe Adam’s score. When beautiful dancing meets beautiful music, I cannot think of anything more exquisite.

Giselle marked my sixth LAB production and it was by far the best that I have attended. The company has nailed down some very talented dancers. One can only hope that we get to keep them here in Los Angeles and not lose them to other cities with older and more well known ballet companies. I may be old fashioned but I very much look forward to more full length ballets in the upcoming seasons. The ballets under consideration are Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Onegin, Coppelia, and Romeo and Juliet. LAB is finished for the season, but will open their sixth season in the fall with the tradition of The Nutcracker.

- By Diedre Moore

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A Celebration Indeed: Review of Los Angeles Ballet’s Latest

coverI attended LA Ballet’s second weekend of their new ballet Celebration in Redondo Beach last Saturday. This is my sixth LAB performance, though half of them have been The Nutcracker, so it’s extra exciting to see something brand new. I read it would be a combination of George Balanchine and Sonya Tayeh choreography, but that is the extent of my knowledge of what the evening would bring. The program was divided into three pieces, Balanchine bookending Tayeh’s world premiere of My Greatest Fear.

The first piece was entitled Raymonda Variations. Raymonda is a ballet originally staged in Russia at the turn of the century. Balanchine revived the full length ballet in the 1940′s, and extracts of the ballet in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. LAB’s extracts consisted of nine of Balanchine’s staged variations. First, an opening piece with corps de ballet (but some are singled out for solos later) in medium flowing tutus, and introduction to the lead ballerina (Monica Pelfrey) in a blue pancake tutu. LAB has very talented dancers. But what I always notice, if my seats are good enough, is how young they are. It’s wonderful to see such fresh faces on the stage, but it comes at a price. The main weakness that I notice at every show is when there are two or three dancers doing a combination across the stage, it is rarely ever completely synchronized. One dancer is a beat behind, one has her arm too high, or one is noticeably better (which reminds me of recitals with standouts, not professional ballet). That being said, the piece was beautifully staged and many of the dances were wonderfully danced.

Pelfrey performed a pas de deux with Christopher Revels that was beautiful. Balanchine’s choreography is so interesting because you could easily mistake the piece for a classical one staged one hundred years earlier. But the lifts and the holds are unique and modern. Instead of Revels’s hands on Pelfrey’s hips to dip her in an arabesque, he does it one-armed, with his right arm across her waist to reach her right side—and the result is stunning. When dancing a pas de deux, most of the thankless work falls on the male dancer. He is there to make his ballerina look good. So he must be solid in all his holds and catches when she balances, or does turns, so she looks clean and controlled. This couple did look a bit shaky, and when Pelfrey performed solos, she was solid and spot on. So again, I think that Revels is a very young dancer, still learning his footing.

Variation V, danced by Julia Cinquemani, was the standout for me. She was perfect. Also wonderful were Grace McLoughlnin and Isabel Vondermuhll—the first with a hop arabesque finale across the stage that I have never seen before, and the second with an extremely difficult turn combination she pulled off brilliantly. If nothing else, Balanchine challenged his dancers and staged many of these variations to stay on pointe during the turns and combinations, which is harder than it looks. LAB took on the challenge quite well, and while the other two pieces looked very impressive, I would wager that this classical piece was the hardest to dance.

The second piece was a world premiere by So You Think You Can Dance choreographer favorite, Sonya Tayeh. Entitled My Greatest Fear, the piece is plainly about death, which was reveled to us before the curtain was drawn. The men wore only tight black pants, and the women wore black leotards so revealing that only a dancer could pull one off. Maybe it’s my own particular taste, but I really do love modern dance in pointe shoes. Modern dance on its own has a tendency to teeter too closely to performance art at times. But when the choreography is modern dance and the dancers are ballet trained and on pointe, it can be so beautiful and emotional. Such was Tayeh’s piece. It begins with the entire cast frozen on stage before going into frantic movements. Throughout, one can feel the heaviness that seems to be carried around on all of their shoulders, which contrasted with the pairings’ lifts, which looked as light as a feather.

Even with the knowledge that the dances were about fearing death, it was hard not to see them as already dead, in a personal state of purgatory. I was blown away with how beautiful the extensions and lines were, especially with the juxtaposition on how pain and ugliness were emanating beneath the surface. The men especially stood out in this number. Tyler Burkett’s solo was exquisite and the partnering was so solid, it really spotlit just how powerful these dancers can be. Tayeh’s piece closed to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, which was beautifully fitting to the visual of all the dancers joining to slowly wave to the audience, perhaps letting their limb speak for their body as a surrender flag.

To close the evening was Western Symphony, another Balanchine choreographed ballet. Although I knew it was ballet, I definitely felt like I was watching an extremely well danced version of Oklahoma! and the dancers might break into song with The Farmer and the Cowboy Should be Friends at any moment. A cheesy backdrop of an Old West town was the perfect setting for the saloon girls and cowboys to dance in front of, as they sported all the colors of the rainbow. All but one dancer had black tights and dyed black pointe shoes, giving their costumes the absolute musical theater look. Extremely upbeat numbers were fun to watch and you could not help but to smile at the theatricality of it all. It could be because we live in Los Angeles, where everyone is “also an actor,” but I was delightfully impressed with how much character and sass each dancer put into the numbers. Without it, the dances would have fell flat, even if danced perfectly. Which, for the most part, they were. The company seemed confident, as if they were having just as much fun as we were. That is, after you give in to the extreme goofiness of it all, while still realizing you are at the ballet and not watching the barn raising from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I found it to be the parts of a musical I enjoy the most, the dancing. It was a happy way to end the evening, but did not stay with me the next day, like Tayeh’s piece.

- By Deidre Moore

For more information on the Los Angeles Ballet, please visit www.losangelesballet.org. Next in their Season 5 lineup will be Giselle in May.

 

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Los Angeles Ballet Soars into Fifth Season with Sparkling “Nutcracker”

Photo-1-700x554It is all but impossible to conceive of an American holiday season devoid of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. The ubiquitous melodies – blaring in various versions from mall loudspeakers, underscoring TV commercials, accompanying passengers in random office-building elevators throughout the country – are as well-known and popular as “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” at this time of year. Yet the ballet was virtually unknown in America until George Balanchine mounted an original production of The Nutcracker for New York City Ballet back in 1954, in an effort to entice a new audience for dance.

Los Angeles Ballet debuted to critical acclaim and audience delight in 2006, with an original staging of The Nutcracker by Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary. Considering that the US financial collapse and recession have felled other worthy arts organizations during the years since, the ascendance of a classical ballet company in dance-ingenuous LA is nothing short of miraculous. The LAB audience numbers have increased year after year, with the attendant growth in ticket sales income. Against all odds, this month Los Angeles Ballet offered their sumptuous holiday treat of a Nutcracker to open a landmark fifth season.

This year as always, LAB presented the production in three different locations around LA County: Glendale’s Alex Theatre, UCLA’s Royce Hall, and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Because of the crushing schedule of 9 shows in two weeks, nearly all principal and featured roles were double- and triple-cast. I attended performances in all three venues, which meant I was able to witness the excellent contributions of all solo artists. I must say that, for all the glamour and virtuosity of these soloists, the LAB ensemble dancing is where much of the real magic resides.

Over the past few years, I’ve worn out my thesaurus with attempting to adequately praise the extraordinary LAB women’s corps de ballet. Their gorgeous Dance of the Snowflakes at the end of Act I is about as good as it gets, anywhere. The 12 dancers fill the stage with such synchronous perfection that time absolutely seems to stand still. It’s spectacular and moves me to tears. PS – I wasn’t the only spectator surreptitiously dabbing at my eyes at intermission.

The opulence of the costumes by designer Mikael Melbye got the audience’s attention from the get-go. Murmurs of appreciation greeted the 1912-era formal velvets, furs, magnificent hats and coats adorning onstage guests at the Christmas Eve shebang. The seamlessly high caliber of the dancing to come was presaged in a scintillating “Upstairs, Downstairs” tidbit, featuring two amorous maids with two tipsy butlers. Suddenly, the wizardly Drosselmeyer, played by the charismatic Jonathan Sharp, magically appeared with a trunk full of life-sized mechanical dolls. As these dolls began to move, I found myself hyperventilating with hyperbole.

Returning guest artist Sergey Kheylik remains a crowd favorite year after year, his leaps defying gravity in his role of the Russian doll. Katrina Gould radiated charm in a reprise as the Columbine doll, opposite a witty and stylish Tyler Burkett as Harlequin. In other performances, Columbine and Harlequin were danced by newcomers Isabel Vondermuhll, and Aaron Bahadursingh.

Radiant thirteen-year-old Helena Thordal-Christensen danced Clara with purity of line and professional poise, having first come to the role in last year’s production. Already an accomplished actress, she has added depth and nuance to her characterization of a young girl in the first flush of infatuation. New to the role, Mia Katz showed off clean technique, and a fresh and spunky personality. The Nutcracker/Prince was capably danced by Jordan Veit of Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division.

Most of the children I interviewed after the show cited the Mouse Battle as the most memorable part of the show. Standouts as the Mouse King were Craig Hall and Christopher Revels, both of whom admirably negotiated the comic elements of the role along with the fierce leaps.

The sublime Monica Pelfrey returned as Marie (Sugarplum Fairy) in the Act II Grand Pas de Deux. Her partner was Zheng Hua Li, imported from China a couple of seasons ago. Li is that most rare of male dancers – the perfect danseur noble. He is tall and elegant, handsome, wonderfully expressive. His dancing displays great beauty of line, musicality and phrasing; his heroic leaps and turns take my breath away. His sheer physical strength and stamina in the lifts and attentive partnering drew cheers from the balletomanes in attendance.

Alternating with Pelfrey as Marie was LAB debut artist Allyssa Bross. Her sparkling personality ingratiated her with the audience no less than her proficiency in the rigors of the choreography. Partnering her, Christopher Revels tears up the stage in a circuit of jumps and turns in which his academic clarity and fullness become charged with a sense of reckless rapture. Christopher revels, indeed. His perfect execution of multiple double cabrioles is seared into my mind’s eye.

Among other highlights was the Waltz of the Flowers by the aforementioned women’s corps de ballet, featuring a shimmering and delicate Grace McLoughlin in her first performances as the Rose. A break-out artist last season in Balanchine’s Kammermusik and in New Wave LA, McLoughlin continues to develop under the inspired guidance of Neary and Christensen. Also dancing the Rose is newcomer Molly Flippen. Both women exhibit lovely extensions and ports des bras, and both dazzle the crowd in a fiendish series of pirouettes and fouettees.

Sergey Kheylik returns in Act II, impossibly airborne in the Russian Trepak. Alternating as his two accomplices in this acrobatic romp were, variously, Tyler Burkett, Aaron Bahadursingh, Craig Hall, Alexandre Scupinari, and Christopher Revels.

Lovely Julia Cinquemani performed a spellbinding Arabian Dance, all liquid extensions and molten sensuality. Sidelined by an injury for a week, Korean ballerina Stephanie Kim made her company debut in the same dance, late in the run. She was magical, sinuous, electrifying throughout the extended pas de deux. Both dancers are partnered with strength and beauty by a majestic Alexander Castillo.

Throughout the production, the entertainment level doesn’t flag for a moment. It’s safe to say that Los Angeles finally is home to the world-class ballet company for which residents have waited for decades.

- By Penny Orloff

Information about upcoming 5th Season LAB productions is available at www.losangelesballet.org.

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Extra! Extra! An Angel Spreads His Wings and You Win Tickets!

Corella-GKPD-logoI once read somewhere that the job of the ballet dancer was to create the illusion of weightless-ness—an earthly angel floating and spinning above the ground, free from gravity’s shackles.

Fortunately for the Corella Ballet Castilla Y León, a young but internationally acclaimed ballet company from Spain, they have an Angel looking after them. Ángel Corella that is. A principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Corella returned to his home country in 2001 to start the kind of institution that simply did not exist when he was growing up: a classical dance school, and more importantly, an affiliated Spanish-based company for the students to aspire to. The school, called La Foundación Ángel Corella, is now almost ten-year-old and teaches everything from technique to history to lighting design. The company, however, is only about three years old, as it took Ángel (a legitimate star in the ballet world), along with his family, approximately eight years of “extremely hard work” to get it off the ground. Initial auditions were held back in 2007 before the company even had the money the support themselves.

Many were dubious of Angel’s ability to sustain a successful ballet company, especially out of Spain, and amidst a tanking global economy. But today, the Corella Ballet Castilla Y León has 45 dancers, most of them Spanish in origin, and is widely considered to be one of the most exciting troupes performing in the world. In a sense, Angel is just doing his job by providing the illusion of weightless-ness.

So to show our support, FineArtsLA is giving away two tickets to see the West Coast debut of the Corella Ballet Castilla Y León, only their second appearance in North America on Saturday, November 6th at 7:30 PM at the Ahmanson Theatre. Among the pieces to be performed are Soleá—a pas de deux choreographed by flamenco legend María Pagés, which stars Ángel and his sister Carmen—a couple of contemporary works by Christopher Wheeldon, Stanton Welch’s Clear, and the Bruch Violín Concerto Nº1 as choreographed by the award-winning Clark Tippet. All you have to do is enter your first and last name into the form below, along with your e-mail address, and you will automatically be in the running to win not only these tickets, but also our next three give-aways (not bad). Just consider us your guardian Ángels (okay, that was bad).

- By Joshua Morrison

The Corella Ballet Castilla Y León performs at the Ahmanson from November 5-7. For more information, please visit www.musiccenter.org.

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Extra! Extra! Time to Discover the Kings of the Dance

 

Glorya Kaufman’s contribution to dance in Los Angeles, and specifically at the Music Center, has already begun to impress.  They recently presented the Joffrey Ballet’s Cinderella and up next, on February 16 – 17, we Angelenos have a chance to see the critically acclaimed Kings of the Dance at the Ahmanson Theatre.

If you haven’t heard of Kings of the Dance, you’ve more than likely heard of its components (hint: some of the world’s most phenomenal male dancers) like Guillaume Cote, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, and Denis Matvienko.  Spoiled as we are in Southern California, and now by Glorya Kaufman and her welcomed and generous contribution, the performances will also include special guest appearances by Desmond Richardson, Jose Manuel Carreno, Nikolay Tsiskaridze, and Joaquin DeLuz.  These dancers have graced the stage with some of the world’s most prestigious companies like the American Ballet Theatre, Kirov Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, and New York City Ballet.

Admittedly, when you think of ballet, the first images that come to mind are of pointe shoes, beautiful ballerinas in tutus in a perfect arabesque, or dancers with their hair pulled into tight buns and wearing enviable tiaras.  Finally recognizing the beauty and strength of male dancers, Kings of the Dance celebrates these virtuosos in some of dance’s most incredible choreography by such inspiring artists as Roland Petit, Sir Frederick Ashton, Christopher Wheeldon, and Leonid Jacobson.

Because we’re so generous (and because we want to have someone to gush over the performance with), we’ve got tickets to give away!  Enter below to win a pair of tickets to the performance on February 17 at 7:30pm and then let us know what you thought after – we’ve got a good feeling your email will be filled with exclamation points and many synonyms for amazing.

Here are some Extra! Extra! details you’ll want to keep in mind here: by entering into this giveaway, you’re also entered into our next three giveaways! All we need is your first name, last name, and email address, and voila – you’re a connoisseur of dance.  Or, at the very least, you’re on your way to watching some of ballet’s most muscular (er, talented) examples at the height of their careers.

(Click here if you feel like you need to witness what’s on stage and can’t risk the whole giveaway thing.)

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Happily Ever After Means Never Having To Turn Into A Pumpkin

I headed downtown, sniffling and sneezing the whole way, determined to revel in the magic of the Joffrey Ballet’s production of Cinderella at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  With a pounding sinus headache and hot soup calling my name, I knew that if there was one reason to leave the house on Thursday evening, this performance was it.  A ballet dancer through most of my life, I had never seen Cinderella performed and more importantly, this was the Joffrey!

To say that the Joffrey’s performance is a delight would be a gross understatement.  The inexplicable energy that comes from an impenetrable technique and preparation was abound on opening night; you focused not on the choreography itself, instead you were invited to focus on the story the choreography was telling.

As Cinderella, Victoria Jaiani was convincingly transformed from poor maiden to princess – her first scene having been dressed by her fairy godmother was performed with a shopoholic level of excitement.  The new, white, sparkling tutu redefined her as a veritable, although expiring, princess in every sense of the word.  It seemed her posture even improved.  In a refreshingly aggressive move during the famous “glass slipper” scene when the prince approaches Cinderella’s stepsisters first, Victoria practically throws her partnering shoe at the Prince to prove herself – quite unlike the demure, embarrassed display of politesse in the book.

One of the more joyous characters of the ballet, and simultaneously one of the most scarily talented on the stage, was undoubtedly the Jester, played by an enormously flexible Derrick Agnoletti.  Prior to the roar of applause given to him by the audience, he moved us through each scene at the Prince’s ball with huge leaps and great comic timing.  Likewise, the two gentlemen (yes, men) playing Cinderella’s stepsisters are so entertaining and flailing, it convinces you that while their roles are significant, these dancers aren’t being used to their full potential as stepsisters.

To put it plainly, the style of ballet performed in Cinderella is a kind of anomaly, at least when it comes to ballet performed in Los Angeles of, say, the last 5 to 10 years.  It does not fall into either of the most widely performed styles of ballet: Russian and Balanchine.  (Yes, balletomanes, I am generalizing.)  Choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, who was born in Ecuador and whose Cinderella premiered with Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London in 1948, the style and movement has much more fluidity than Russian choreography, but isn’t nearly as esoteric as a George Balanchine choreographed work.  It’s accessible, comedic, and yet no less impressive.

On for two more performances (well, three if you hurry), Cinderella is a gorgeous display of how well technique, set and costume design, and wit come together on stage for such a grabbing, beautiful, and entertaining performance.  Even the little girls sitting with their parents were on the edge of their seats at the end to see the prince and his princess walk off into the gold and glittering future.  As was I, actually, which was impressive considering my sickly condition pre-performance.  My evening had ended happily, after all.

Cinderella is on for three remaining performances: Today (Saturday) at 2pm and 7:30pm and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  For more information, please call (213) 972-0711 or click here.

Click here to watch a Joffrey Ballet produced video introducing their Cinderella.

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Every Ballerina’s First Love

As a young ballet student, it’s not easy to forget the first time you see an unparalleled performance – on tape, on stage, or in the studio.  I won’t forget the first time I saw the pointed toes, spectacular leaps, and turns of one Mikhail Baryshnikov, easily classified as unparalleled in every sense of the word.  Sitting in the ballet studio all huddled around the TV in tights and ballet shoes, we watched a video of Baryshnikov in a pas de deux, lifting Gelsey Kirkland with grace, ease, and his boyish charm.  It was one of those moments where, even as young boys and girls, we realized what we were working toward. Even those who aren’t ballet fanatics will remember fondly when they saw Baryshnikov light up their screens as the elusive artist Mr. Aleksandr Petrovksy in Sex and the City.

Kicking off the Broad Stage’s second season is a performance that, like Baryshnikov himself, inspires the word  ‘unparalleled.’  Dancing with Ana Laguna, the performance will see the start of their limited engagement tour of “Three Solos and a Duet” across the US.  They’re performing new works by contemporary choreographers like Mats EkAlexei Ratmansky (formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet), and New York City Ballet’s Benjamin Millepied.  

If there was any way to otherwise convey my excitement about a performance as groundbreaking and enticing as this one, I’d take it.  Once you move past Baryshnikov’s casual good looks, confidence, impeccable technique, and spectacular artistry, you’ll be faced with the performance itself, which marks four premieres as danced by a living legend. Ana Laguna, truly not to be overlooked, will hold her own next to Mr. Baryshnikov with ease – she’s long been Mats Ek’s muse (and wife),  danced with the Cullberg Ballet, and staged a number of Ek’s works at the Opera de Paris and the Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain.  Her career has also been studded with awards from around the world.  I’ll reason with you – they’re not exactly lithe twenty-year-olds up on stage.  But remember how good Something’s Gotta Give was?  Enough said – certain things really are better with age (and the wisdom that comes with it.)  They say that youth is wasted on the young for a reason…

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna are performing their “Three Solos and a Duet” at the Broad Stage on Friday, September 4 at 8pm and on Saturday, September 5 at 7:30pm.  For more information, please call (310) 434-3200 or click here.

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The Sweet Nut

The press releases screamed, “Los Angeles Ballet Soars into 3rd Season with World-Class Production of ‘The Nutcracker.’” Soars. World-Class. I forgave the publicist’s hyperbole.

Having seen two LAB dance programs during the fledgling company’s 2nd season, I expected a credible, competent, well-rehearsed performance by promising young dancers, enhanced by the presence of a few Guest Artists.

Jaded and disappointed by decades of failed attempts at establishing a real ballet company in Los Angeles, nothing had prepared me for the Christmas miracle on the stage of Royce Hall Sunday night.

It’s difficult to select outstanding elements from so uniformly excellent a production. First and foremost, however, is this company’s corps de ballet. Guest artists and flashy soloists are available to any company with the shekels to hire them. What makes or breaks a ballet company is the presence or lack of the group precision and perfection on display in LAB’s Dance of the Snowflakes. Just as I was getting all teary-eyed with joy, the five-year-old on her mom’s lap behind me whispered, “Mommy, I love this!”

Even more extraordinary is the fact that ballet mistress Colleen Neary was rehearsing two new dancers into this very piece fifteen minutes before curtain. Executive Director Julie Whittaker tells me that, after the matinee, one of the corps was taken seriously ill and rushed to the hospital, while a second dancer nursed a badly swollen ankle.

Among a plethora of highlights: Prodigy ballerina Lilit Hogtanian, as Clara, whose every gesture is a poem. At sixteen, she exhibits an arresting Star Quality. One can’t begin to guess what she will be in ten years.

Melissa Barak performs the role of Marie (Sugarplum Fairy in other productions) with cool elegance and precision, marvelous balance and clarity of line. Her partner, Peter Snow, dazzles with gorgeous jetees, pirouettes, and lifts, after an off-center landing of a difficult aerial turn early in Act 2.

Guest artist Sergey Kheylik astonishes with impossible leaps and turns. Kheylik and company dancers Li Chen and Tian Tan elicit startled gasps and prolonged cheering in the Act 2 Russian Dance.

The exquisite Corinna Gill, ably partnered by new LAB soloist Drew Grant, offers a molten, sinuous Arabian Dance.  Her breathtaking extensions and lyrical ports des bras sear every phrase into memory. Soaring and world-class, indeed.

Kudos to Jonathan Sharp as Drosselmeyer, Craig Hall and Annia Hildalgo as Harlequin and Columbine Dolls, Andrew Brader as the Mouse King, and to the well-rehearsed children’s corps.

The Colleen Neary-Thordal Christensen choreography brings a theatrical freshness to the oft-told story of a little girl who dreams that her Christmas toys come alive. Their Christmas Party scene opening the ballet, for example, is the most engrossing and fun among dozens of ‘Nutcrackers’ I’ve seen during my long life.

A show curtain painted in colorful Mexican style with two angels (City of the Angels – get it?) greets the audience, rising to reveal lovely storybook sets by LA designer Catherine Kanner. Opulent costumes by Danish designer Mikael Melbye reinforce the fantasy.

My companion of the evening – a classical ballet-hater, whose sole enticement for agreeing to be dragged to this performance was the prospect of ogling exceptionally fit young women cavorting in revealing costumes – turned to me at intermission to say, “I’m beyond impressed – I’m entertained.”

LA area residents have three more chances to enjoy this magical production, at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Dec. 27 at 2 and 7:30, and Dec. 28 at 2.

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The Gold Standard

The Kirov Ballet and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre will be at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion December 17-20 with six performances of The Nutcracker.  If you were not able to see their stunning versions of Don Quixote and Giselle earlier this year at The Orange County Performing Arts Center, this is the perfect opportunity to catch this world-renowned ballet company right in downtown LA.  Evgenia Obraztsova, Irina Golub, and Ekaterina Osmolkina will dance the principal role of Masha. Vladimir Shkylarov, Alexander Sergeev, and Igor Kolb will dance the role of the Nutcracker Prince.  Performing Vasily Vainonen’s choreography from 1934, their version of The Nutcracker has been pleasing audiences for decades.

When: December 17-20

Where: The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue

Tickets: Ticketmaster or 213-365-3500, $30-$120

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