Pointe of View

pointeWhat to say and how to say it? Such is the artist’s eternal question.

How to present a coherent point of view is the challenge facing the Los Angeles Ballet, according to cofounder Thordal Christensen. “We need to bring different people to this endeavor who can help define [our point of view],” says the former dancer and Denmark native. “And what better place to do that than Los Angeles, where there is so much talent.”

And yet Christensen recognizes the need for unity among his troupe of terpsichores. “Our dancers are coming from different places,” he says, “and you have to make it look like we’re all coming from the same point of view.” This contradiction is clear, and results from the company’s fledgling status. Christensen knows he needs a point of view, he just doesn’t know what it is yet.

And for now his concerns are more pressing: “Producing great shows and building an audience — those are the two most important things.”

Los Angeles Ballet’s summer season commenced this weekend with three works by Balanchine. There were plenty of vacant seats at the Alex Theater show, and the program included a donation envelope, but the LA Times review was favorable and the performance splendid.

FineArtsLA recently spoke with Christensen, who founded the company with wife Colleen Neary, about their ambition to establish a ballet company in a city where others have failed.

FALA: Who is the audience for ballet in Los Angeles?

TC: A lot of women and families. But when women make their men go, the men enjoy it. And why shouldn’t they? — beautiful women and great pieces of art.

FALA: And the reason it’s mostly women is because they took ballet classes when they were younger?

TC: Yes, traditionally little girls take ballet and develop an interest that way. But whenever I talk to guys who come, they say they love it.

FALA: Your partner is also your wife.

TC: We’ve been married for 20 years and always worked together. She was an instructor and I was a dancer, then I was a director and she did various things. She’s been my boss and I’ve been hers. When you do what we do for so long, you find out what each other is good at and you support each other’s different strengths. We have a lot of staging and organizational experience, and I hope a point of view.

FALA: What is that point of view?

TC: Colleen grew up with Balanchine, while my background was more rooted in classics. That’s our history, and that’s what we’re bringing to Los Angeles Ballet. We want very much here in the beginning to show some real masterworks and show these dancers off, because they’re very good. And there are no better ballets than Balanchine ballets.

Long term we’d like to be more creative with new works and choreographers, plus other artists, whether lighting, costume or music. We need to bring different people to this endeavor who can help define it. And what better place to do that than Los Angeles, where there is so much talent.

But we need to establish a company first. Our dancers are coming from different places, and you have to make it look like we’re all coming from the same point of view. That’s something that takes time. thordal-photo-3.jpg

FALA: What do you mean by everyone having the same point of view?

TC: We did auditions in Los Angeles and New York, and of course you get different dancers with different backgrounds. When you’ve had a company for a long time you only bring in a few dancers a year. We brought in 20 dancers to create this company. There has to be a uniformity, a point of view, and that comes back to classes in the morning, what you do and how you execute steps — it’s back to basics.

FALA: And what are those basics?

TC: The most important things are musicality and ability. And then the question is how do you execute your dancing. Both Colleen and I are very colored from where we come from, which means we are very bold in the legwork and very soft, lyrical and expressive in movements.

FALA: Did the spring season meet your expectations?

TC: Yes. If you have great ballets and great dancers, something great will come out of it. In terms of attendance, we were exactly where we thought. But of course we’re going to have to build.

FALA: And how do you do that?

TC: Awareness, word of mouth. People have to hear about us, read about us, see us, and then you make a believer.

FALA: When will you get an orchestra?

TC: That’s a good question. We want live music, but at the same time we’re a young organization. You want everything, but you can’t have everything at once.

FALA: What’s the order of importance of the things you want? A live orchestra may be number five or 10.

TC: Yes, I’d say so. At the top of my list is that we’re able to produce great shows. And build an audience. Those are the two most important things. We also need to build our board and infrastructure, and just grow and grow.

FALA: What about a home venue?

TC: Our idea is very much to go out into the community. That’s what’s great about LA: different venues all spread out.

FALA: Does ballet suffer from a highbrow image, even more so than opera?

TC: I think it does, because what is more classic than “Swan Lake.” But dance is more than just high art. There’s such a stepping over into more modern expressions, but with a strong historical background, and I think that’s what works. We can afford to be a lot more creative than, say, the opera. The dance world has always been very innovative.

Pointe image by Rick Lord at Art.com

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