The Los Angeles Ballet is approaching its 10th year and ended this season with three master works by choreographers George Balanchine, José Limón and Jiři Kylián. The company has grown since making its Los Angeles debut, and the dancers have become stronger; a testament to Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary. This reviewer hopes that in the near future the company will be able to afford live music for its productions; especially for the more classical ballets. This, of course, speaks to the issue of the need for more local support in Los Angeles for its artists and dance companies. I would also like to see the Los Angeles Ballet produce the works of more current and, dare I say, local choreographers.
George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 is a beautiful ballet and much of the choreography is deceptively simple looking. It appears easy to accomplish, but in reality, the simplest of movement is the most difficult to execute. The dancers in this work deserve credit for their hard work in order to provide this illusion. Principal ballerina Allynne Noelle, who danced her last performance with the Los Angeles Ballet excelled in her role and charmed us all with her radiance. One hopes that this is not the end of her career and that we will get to see her dance in other venues.
At times, however, the Royce Hall stage appeared too small for the entire ensemble of this Balanchine work; a total of thirty dancers. Perhaps this is why the corps de ballet often appeared somewhat under-rehearsed and lines that were meant to be straight were not. There was one moment when the men on stage left were truly off the music; something that is a sacrilege in the realm of George Balanchine performances. People around me were quietly commenting on the squeaking noise produced by the dancers’ shoes. I later learned that this was not the company’s dance floor, but that it belonged to Royce Hall. One hopes that next time the company will spend the extra money to eliminate this problem.
The Moor’s Pavane was first performed by the José Limón Dance Company in 1949 at the Connecticut College American Dance Festival, and it has endured the test of time. It is a work that I have seen videos of, heard former Limón Company member Betty Jones relate stories about, and I listened to my mentors sing its praise since the late 1960s. This production, directed and reconstructed by Alice Condodina, a former principal dancer under the directorship of José Limón was a brave effort, but one which was flawed due to the performers. It is difficult for ballet companies to perform certain modern dance choreography and three of the four dancers fell short their goal. Zheng Hua Li, is a very strong and capable dancer, but totally miscast in the role of The Moor. He lacked the strength and authority required for this role and often focused on “the steps” rather than the man he was portraying. As the Moor’s friend, Erik Thordal-Christensen was very weak technically and he often over emoted with his acting. Bianca Bulle was far too delicate in the role of the Moor’s wife and her performance did not reach to where I was sitting in the balcony. Allyssa Bross, on the other hand, was breathtaking in her performance as the wife of the Moor’s friend. Ms. Bross understands the weight, the connection to the floor and other movement qualities necessary in performing Limón’s choreography. I was very pleased at the wonderful reception and long lasting applause that The Moor’s Pavane received from the L.A. audience, but I personally do not think that it is not a good fit for this company.
Sechs Tänze (Six Dances) is a humorous and cleverly crafted work that leaves one smiling and wishing for more. I was, at first, put off by the seemingly “slap stick” quality of the movement, but thankfully that ended almost immediately. The entire cast of Sechs Tänze deserves mention for their rapid dancing, their acting and their articulate performance of Jiři Kylián’s choreography. Timings are crucial in this work filled with props and moving floors and the dancers performed them brilliantly. I wish that I had the space to mention every single dancer, but what I can say is; go see this dance. One performer who deserves special mention is Christopher McDaniel who is also leaving the company after five years. His dancing and his acute comic timing in Sechs Tänze will be missed. I would be remiss if I did not give a special bravo to the Light Design (realization) by Joop Caboort, the Technical Adaptation by Joost Biegelaar, Costumes by Joke Visser, and crucially, the staging by Fiona Lummis and Glen Eddy whose amazing work made this dance such a triumph.
A word to the Directors of the Los Angeles Ballet: I understand and appreciate the need for fund raising at performances, but there are better methods of doing so. As a dancer, what disturbed me most was the use of several company members (in full costume and make up from Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2) were asked to stand in the lobbies during intermissions and after the performance holding baskets for donors to drop off their contribution envelopes. This was unprofessional and demeaning to your performers and bought a new meaning to the phrase “dancing for ones supper.” I suggest that next time, use volunteers dressed in black with red carnations to perform this service.
Information about Jeff Slayton available at www.jeffslayton.org.