Classical Music

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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Extra! Extra! Win Tickets to See Yefim Bronfman Perform!

barbican-vpo-gergiev2According to the Independent and the Jewish Week, he is also the son of two Jewish musicians, one a Polish pianist and one a Russian violinist, both of whom were forced to flee their homes at the start of World War II. His father was captured by the Nazis as a POW, but, during a march between camps, managed to escape into a nearby ditch, where he proceeded to spend the entire night. A month-long trek to Moscow, a brush with starvation, and a brief prison stint later, Yefim’s father met and settled down with Yefim’s mother in Tashkent, where their young son was “accepted” into the Soviet conservatory as a portion of the two-percent maximum quota for Jews.

This kind of anti-semitism led Yefim and his family to eventually emigrate to Israel. There, Bronfman enrolled at the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv, where he quickly excelled and won a scholarship—the same scholarship that Itzhak Perlman once won—to be able to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadephia under the great Leon Fleisher.

I only mention all this past, because somehow when you see Bronfman play, even on YoutTube, he seems to be exorcising his roots. It’s no wonder he became so well-known for his renditions of Russian composers; within them, he must have found the way to tell his own beginnings of his own story.

And today, he continues telling that story, one which has become all the more complex and varied as he has grown, become a US citizen, and renowned all over the world. On Wednesday, March 9th at 8:00 PM, he returns to Los Angeles at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with a “kaleidoscopic program pairing the world premiere of Salonen’s Humoreske with Schumann’s Humoreske, plus works by Haydn and Chopin.” To win two tickets to see Bronfman’s powerful presence in person, simply enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below. If you do so, you will also automatically be entered into
the running for our next three FineArtsLA ticket giveaways as well.

As the writer Phillip Roth once wrote about Bronfman:”With a jaunty wave, he is suddenly gone, and though he takes all his fire off with him like no less a force than Prometheus, our own lives now seem inextinguishable. Nobody is dying, nobody – not if Bronfman has anything to say about it.”

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Extra! Extra! Tickets to See Master and Conqueror Pianist Simon Trpceski Live!

trpceski_415x150How old do you have to be to conquer the world?

Well, by the time he was he was 16, Alexander the Great had successfully demolished a rebellion and founded his first city—which he cleverly dubbed Alexandropolis. At the age of 20, following the sketchy assassination of his father, he was proclaimed king of Macdeonia. And by his 30th birthday, Alexander was in control of the majority of the known world, from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, and with far greater plans to conquer even more before his death.

Pianist Simon Trpceski is also from Macedonia, he’s 32, and some might say he’s given his national forefather a run for his shekels. He’s performed in over 8 different countries and  won prizes for his performances in the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Czech Republic. He was invited to do a  solo recital at the close of the 62nd session of the U.N. General Assembly by none other than the session’s President himself, H.E. Srgjan Kerim. He has toured extensively and played with such well-known conductors as Zinman, Andrew Davis, Maazel, Jurowski, Tortelier, and Pappano. And this month, he comes to Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, February 22nd at 8 PM in the Walt Disney Music Hall, Trpceski will perform sonatas from Hadyn and Prokofiev, along with two pieces from Chopin, and finally, the California premiere of Sahov’s “Songs and Whispers – Suite for Piano.” To see this conquering performance free of charge, simply enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below and you will automatically be entered into the running to win two free tickets, as well as be considered for the next three FineArtsLA ticket giveaways.

By the way, to answer my first question: some say Alexander’s mother knew he would conquer the world before he was even born. He still had to see it through though.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Mishappen Pearl: Win Tickets to See L’Arpeggiata Live!

Baroque is one of those words that seems to have somehow morphed into a false and flavorless definition over the years. These days, when I hear something described as ‘baroque,’ I instinctively think of haunted archways and Gothic ornamentation, but more than that, I think….old, dead, of the past. My old music teacher in middle school used to have a chart that mapped out, with cartoonish illustrations, the major periods of Classical music, and I distinctly remember the baroque portion of the chart appearing creepy and cold.

But despite my probably colored memory and purely individual reaction to the term, I still feel our societal understanding of baroque, in general, has come a long way from the original adaptation of the Italian word barocco, meaning mishappen pearl—a singularly beautiful phrase. And one listen to the French early music ensemble, L’Arpeggiata, a collection of some of today’s most pre-eminent soloists who will be performing “Baroque Variations” at the Walt Disney Music Hall on Wednesday, January 19th at 8 PM, will illuminate that beauty within the word.

Their mission as a group is “to revive an almost unknown repertoire and to focus especially on works from the beginning of the 17th century,” and that they do. When you watch the video above, or listen to one of their recordings, they don’t sound or look old, dead, or cold, they don’t even appear to be in strenuous revival-mode. They simply seem like they’re a group of extremely talented, modern musicians, having fun on stage. Which, I believe, is what the original baroque practitioners were doing as well.

To win tickets to see L’Arpeggiata perform “Baroque Variations” at the Walt Disney Music Hall on Wednesday, January 19th at 8 PM, simply enter your first, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will automatically be entered into the running to win not only those tickets, but the tickets for our next three giveaways as well. Talk about a pearl.

- By Joshua Morrison

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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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Engage the Engager! Win Tickets to see Pierre-Laurent Aimard!

image001“I wouldn’t say I’m a pianist – I’m a musician, and the piano happens to be my instrument.” This is a quote from world-famous and widely applauded musician (who specialized in piano) Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and it evinces, in a simple way, one of my main fascinations with those artists who deal in vibrations. They inherently grasp the underlying structure and tools of their craft, and even when they’re just hitting keys on a piano or bowing strings on a cello, they are simultaneously attuning and reacting to a world of sounds. Even anyone who’s ever participated in an amateur garage band before (me) can tell you it’s very hard to play the guitar to a song without knowing the drum beat in your fingers.

And the piano seems to be the epitome of multi-instrumental instruments, as it holds within its audible reach both percussive and stringed qualities, and can, unlike many other species of the orchestra, harmonize with itself at the extreme ends of pitch. It’s no surprise to me that Aimard describes himself as a musician before a pianist, because the more I think about it, the more I realize the piano (or for that matter, any instrument) may just be the musician’s personalized stepping stone to engage with his/her art.

I suppose, then, that leaves us, the listener. How do we engage with these über-talented engagers? Emotionally? Do we feel the music? Intellectually? Do we think about the music? Physically? Do we tap our feet? Or is listening, too, a multi-faceted craft?

If so, we here at Fine Arts LA have your last-minute stepping stone. Once again, two free tickets to see none other than legendary Pierre-Laurent Aimard this Wednesday, December 1st, 8:00 PM, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown. Aimard, known for both his classic and contemporary performances and recordings, will be performing pieces by Messiaen, Chopin, and Ravel. For your chance to engage (an a strictly non-monetary level), all you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be automatically entered into the running. And, as is customary, every person who enters can also win any one of our next three ticket giveaways (it’s happened before). So don’t just be a blog reader, be a blog engager.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Extra! Extra! A Very Midori Thanksgiving! Ticket Giveaway!

midori-299x300Thanksgiving. The word itself seems like an oxy-moron, especially in LA. Here we are used to saying thanks for getting, and any gift we give should rightfully come with its proper reward in return. And this is all well and good for a city that was built on pure opportunism, but when does this type of self-centered thinking—as opposed to communal—hurt us creatively?

Take the ever-growing Mustaches for Kids craze, for instance: it’s a wildly creative organization whereby volunteers grow mustaches in order to raise money for children’s charities. The thing is that the institution, which is now nation-wide (I even saw filmmaker Darren Aronofsky sporting a mustache), was borne out of Los Angeles. It was started by three friends in a reality TV-show production office who all thought it would be fun to grow mustaches for a month (an act of true creativity, in my opinion). However, despite its success, Mustaches for Kids really took off when it hit New York, the city now considered to be the center of the organization. And there’s only one reason for this re-location: creative pursuits (i.e. no profit involved), whether it be growing mustaches for charity or painting pictures or playing music or putting on plays, etc. can only thrive in a community of supporters.

This is not to say that Los Angeles is completely bereft of such support. In fact, one of the most charitable, not to mention talented, violinists working today, Midori, is based out of LA, and she is performing alongside pianist Robert McDonald at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this Sunday, November 21 at 7:30 PM. Only 28-years-old,  Midori was a musical prodigy sprouting from Japan, who quickly rose to international acclaim, and is now widely recognized as one of the top violinists in the world. But it is her incredible charity work that has truly carved her reputation as an artist. Not only an established educator at USC, she personally founded four different community-centered organizations—Midori & Friends, Partners in Performance, Orchestra Residencies Program, and Music Sharing—beginning the first one when she was just 10-years-old and is still actively involved in all four.

So in the spirit of Midori, and to show our thanks for her giving, we are, in turn, giving away a pair of tickets to see her perform on Sunday night. Not only that, but we are adding in the bonus prize of a pair of tickets to see legendary bass-baritone Bryn Terfel the next night, Monday, November 22nd at 8:00 PM, same location. All you have to do is enter your first name, last name and e-mail address into th form below, and you will automatically be entered into the running to receive both pairs of tickets, and be eligible to win our next three ticket giveaways. Happy Thanksgiving, from Fine Arts LA!

- By Joshua Morrison

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Reverse Discovery

44303_429030174317_267386114317_4742142_5663448_nA friend of mine and sometime contributor to this site Helen Kearns recently introduced me to the site, www.whosampled.com, a pretty amazing operation whereby you can look up an artist or title of a song, and the search engine supplies you with a catalog of other recordings that artist/song sampled and vice versa. The site is clearly still growing, and definitely doesn’t have every musician or track you can think of. But it is symbolic of an interesting trend I’m seeing more and more in contemporary music: reverse discovery.

It’s different than nostalgia in that often one reverse-discovers music they’ve never heard before, and instead of the present reminding them of the past, it’s the past reminding them of the present. What I believe this is leading to in the music industry (and entertainment industry) at large is the reissue of old recordings, not ones that were once popular Billboard hits, but ones that may have may have silently slipped through the cliched cracks of mainstream culture.

In fact, this is already happening on a small scale. One of my newest favorite albums, for instance, Air Over Water by Wall Matthews and Rusty Clark was released this year, but all the tracks featured were originally recorded from 1974 to 1986, the year Clark passed away. Chances are you probably haven’t heard of this album or these musicians, unless you reverse-discovered them through the popular British DJ, Four Tet, who illegally sampled their song “Neptune Rising” in his “She Moves She” (a fact not found on whosampled.com).

Matthew’s and Clark’s music is hardly irrelevant or untimely, however. They just happened to be performing and recording a few decades before vocal-less acoustic and “Imagistic”—to use a word from the subtitle of the album, “Imagistic Music for Guitar and Violin”—were readily available outside of coffee shops and experimental dance troupes.

To be fair, the name of the album does sound like an Enya-esque meditation soundtrack (though Enya is vastly underrated in my opinion, and has most likely enjoyed some reverse-discovery herself). But the actual music has no electronics, no singing, and with the exception of a few tracks, sticks to just two instruments. It could be dubbed minimalist if it were not for the full and entrenching landscapes these two instruments create.

The first song of the album, “The Two Snails Who Went to the Funeral of a Dead Leaf” is a brash, Indian-inflected violin solo from Rusty Clark, a call to the wild that dances between Philip Glass-like repetitions and something more raw and untamed. The level of musicianship is clearly marked high from the very beginning, and maintains the kind of virtuosic intensity you simply don’t hear that much these days outside of a symphony.

The second track, “Gypsies,” inaugurates the guitar-and-violin duets, which make up most of the album. And they are truly duets. The two instruments trade off positions of melody and landscape many times within a single song, and almost imperceptibly.  Matthews finger-picks his guitar in fast, clear, ringing tones, reminiscent of Nick Drake, but with more complexity and variety. Meanwhile, Clark leads his violin through a veritable wonderland of genres, from medieval-court-like fare to free jazz to pop to what, in “Alabama Sketches” and “The Clowns,” I can only describe as pastoral dread.

It’s tempting to call the songs on Air Over Water cinematic, because they are so visual, but then again, the music is what dominates here, and I’m not sure if would work taken into the soundtrack of a movie. What Wall and Rusty did, instead, and what feels more natural, was use it for dancers—a far more interpretive arena of expression that, like the instrumentation itself, works with (rather than on top of or below) the sounds.

“The Clowns” is a quick favorite for any new listener to Matthews and Clark. It’s ostensibly simple, with a clear, defined structure, and brings to mind a comforting type of rustic domesticity. But there’s also a creeping suspicion in it, and the repetition becomes and integral part of what ultimately makes the piece so haunting.

“The Blue Heart” introduces the first bits of piano into the mix, a welcome addition, especially with its combination of music-box simplicity and dissonant jazz. It a beautiful imbalance dancing with with innocent, would-be major key melody. It borders on the noir—a dangerous and flirtatious seduction between two ballroom waltzers.

Whereas the album began with a triumphant violin solo from Clark, the album ends with an unassuming “Little Piece” by Matthews, just him on guitar, gently leading the listener out of his world, at least for now. I began to realize, then, how the idea of reverse-discovery might be inherent in some music, how even when Wall and Rusty were recording these works back in the 70’s and 80’s, they weren’t just doing it for that specific time. They were inviting an entire future, real or imagined, to experience and discover their unique vibrations.

- By Joshua Morrison

If you wish to reverse-discover more, you should definitely check out Matthews’s Riding Horses, Heart of Winter, Zen Gardens, Color of Dusk, and Gathering the World, as well as the work of the Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble.

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