Los Angeles Ballet in NewWaveLA
The Alex Theatre
reviewed by Steven Woodruff
Los Angeles Ballet brought its most recent repertory evening titled NewWaveLA to the Alex Theatre this past Saturday and while the program was a significant departure from its usual programs of classical and neo classical dance, the four premieres on view didn't rock the boat much. Many adventuresome choreographers and their companies already on the LA scene are presenting more daring work than we saw on this evening of dance, but for now, NewWaveLA represents an appealing experiment in the company's programming. The four choreographers represented, Mandy Moore, Josie Walsh, Travis Wall and Sonya Tayeh, all come with mostly media driven exposure . Moore, Wall and Tayeh have worked regularly on So You Think You Can Dance which also recently broadcast a segment from LA BALLET in Who Cares (Balanchine).Walsh's company,MYOKYO, has appeared on Celebrate Dance at The Alex Theatre in 2009 and 2010.
Ballet has a way of overwhelming attempts to push it into new orbits and such was the case with these four ballets which gave us new contexts but not much in the way of new movement , style or substance. Least successful on this program were pieces by Moore and Wall. Moore's WINK riffed heavily on A Chorus Line for its voice over introduction of the characters but gave us no real resolution or story though she hints at one in her program notes. And while she wants us to see her characters as hip internet daters they seem mostly bland and without personality. The very beautiful costumes (Keyra Gonzalez) made the dancers look great but these folks were more Armani garden party in the Hamptons than cyber cafe types. Lightweight music from Cirque Eloise's Rain provided an unvarying background.
Wall's REFLECT.AFFECT.CARRY ON also surveys relationships and though he assigns his characters monikers (the friend, the greedy, the heartbreaker etc. ) it is difficult to sort them out on stage. Wall offers no stand alone sections but gives us the dancers in ensemble throughout. This choreography might look better cut and edited for video but seems formless as concert dance. We see quite literally the one who carries on at the conclusion as she walks away into a harsh light. The movement draws on standard lyrical and contemporary styles without much new to tell it's inconsequential story. Music for the sound score included Queen,U2 and Sigur Ros.
Walsh's TRANSMUTATION brings a more blistering kind of movement which, although not reimagining ballet, at least makes it seem hipper and edgy. The music , by Paul Rivera Jr., gave us a sound score of propulsion , and sonic invention which suited Walsh's style. The multi-section piece aims to distill and finally integrate male and female energies, but mostly the men danced like men and the women,women, though both did it with ferocity. Katrina Gould, Grace Mcloughlin, and Lucy Van Cleef danced en pointe with precision in the physically demanding piece . Overly busy lighting(Ben Pilat) proved more distracting than effective except in the terrific final section where receding bars of light push the dancers into a murky oblivion. The costuming in red and black gave the six dancers an athletic image well suited to Walsh's fierce and muscular movement. It was the best of the four as a stand alone concert dance work.
Tayeh's piece, the back and forth, though edgy looking, felt adrift in a world of too many metaphors. In an attempt to hook up tango, flamenco and the milieu of the the toreador we got underwhelming versions of each. The lighting (Pilat) tended to fall back on the usual Latin cliches of darkness ,profile, silhouette ,and a hefty dose of the ubiquitous red to create mostly standard effects. And while I looked hard for Tayeh's self-described combat jazz to buoy this struggling piece of choreography, it was nowhere to be found. The men , Andrew Brader , Drew Grant and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp delivered lots of physicality and attitude throughout. Next time around, combat ballet,please. Weak music with poor transitions hampered the sound design which included the overused Libertango (Piazzolla) with other selections from Bjork and the Paris Gotan Trio.
The real heroes of the evening were the dancers themselves who pressed on through a complex program loaded with dancing. They were the evening's consistent bright spot. Particular credit goes to the men who brought real personality to their roles and danced tirelessly, grabbing lots of air time and partnering skillfully. Standouts were Zheng Hua Li and Tyler Burkett . Keyra Gonzalez delivered imaginative and striking costuming for all four pieces. The program will be repeated this Saturday May 29 and Sunday May 30 at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica. Go and see for yourself what the NEW WAVE LA looks like.