Posts Tagged ‘Sonya Tayeh’

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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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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