Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles 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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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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Los Angeles Ballet: Let’s Make It Official

It is a shame that, in Los Angeles, a ballet company has yet to survive for a full decade.  Don’t the powers that be realize that little Angeleno children need to experience the spectacle that is The Nutcracker year after year?  With Los Angeles Ballet comes the glimmer of hope that indeed children lucky enough to be born in the city of angels will get to see the magical world of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker year after year.  Now kicking off their fourth season with their annual production of The Nutcracker, Los Angeles Ballet is becoming a staple of our city – finally.

While the company has seen a great many changes in the past four years – the good including their new rehearsal and office space as well as the introduction of new dancers, the bad including the loss of some truly gifted company members – all seems to be going well in their favor.  And they’re set to change a few more children’s lives this winter with Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen’s beautifully choreographed Nutcracker.  Find me one little girl or boy who sat through The Nutcracker with grandma at the tender age of 7 and didn’t beg for ballet lessons for Christmas.
We recently snuck our camera into their studios (and their opening night performance) to get a sneak peak at what’s on offer this year.  Catherine Kanner’s set design and Mikael Melbye’s costumes enhance the magic inherent in this classic ballet that ignites a holiday spirit in a way that nothing else can.  Their schedule includes four performances at Royce Hall on Dec 19 and 20 followed by three at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Dec 26 and 27.  Plenty of opportunities to remember what the holidays are all about – sugar plum fairies, harlequin dolls, fighting mice, and little toy soldiers.

Los Angeles Ballet’s The Nutcracker performs at Royce Hall on Dec 19 and 20 and at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Dec 26 and 27.  For more information, please click here.

Click here to have a listen to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite… Berliner Philharmoniker & Mstislav Rostropovich - Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite

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