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Dance review: Los Angeles Ballet's Balanchine program

February 22, 2010 |  2:15 pm

Los Angeles Ballet entered a new phase this weekend, its dancers showing increasing mastery with a repertory that, while familiar, is unforgiving.           

The company opened its fourth season at Freud Playhouse by adding pieces of 20th century master George Balanchine -- LAB's choreographic foundation – by debuting his “Kammermusik No. 2” and “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.”

A new season meant greeting new faces (Carrie Lee Riggins, formerly with New York City Ballet) and missing those who have left (notably soloist Corina Gill). There’s no mistaking that this young ensemble is growing progressively more cohesive. “Serenade” (1935), which L.A. Ballet performed in its inaugural season, sparkled particularly with elegance and poignancy.

“Kammermusik No. 2” (1978) is Balanchine of another dimension. Its two lead couples and eight male corps members need the rhythmic instincts of jazz musicians to amply express Paul Hindemith’s jagged score for piano and orchestra. It has syncopated timing and a whirligig vocabulary of jogging, helicopter arms, and flexed feet. “Inhuman, desperate, slightly repellent,” Lincoln Kirstein, New York City Ballet co-founder, called it – perhaps anticipating how dancers might feel tackling it.

The faces of Sunday’s cast betrayed no such negative thoughts, though their bodies were tentative. The work has yet to jell. Only Grace McLoughlin beamed delightedly, undaunted, bounding in her solo of gawky knees-up hops and gangly kicks. Drew Grant matched her enthusiasm but not her stamina. Melissa Barak, who bloomed as the Waltz Girl in “Serenade,” withdrew into small movements. Paired with Andrew Brader, flashes of tenderness suggested an enticing duet will come from them eventually.

“Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2” is the 1973 revision of Balanchine’s “Ballet Imperial” (1941), which celebrated the classical tradition of Tchaikovsky, Petipa and 19th century St. Petersburg. The later version is less elaborate, but still a ballet of gorgeous filigrees.

Lead ballerina Monica Pelfrey twinkled like her tiara. Her solos impressed with breathless balances and a melodic flow that suggested an orchestra was following her. (All the music was recorded.) With lifted torso and chin, she dared us to take our eyes off of her. Her cavalier Zheng Hua Li had a complementary romantic demeanor, and beautiful beats.

The company unearthed reserves of energy for the glorious final movement.

This weekend’s program, which will be repeated in Glendale and Redondo Beach, suggested a season of promise.

-- Laura Bleiberg

“Balanchine – ‘See the Music, Hear the Dance,’ ” Los Angeles Ballet, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Ave., Glendale; 7:30 p.m., March 6, Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, tickets: $15-$95, contact: or (310) 998-7782.

Photo: The L.A. Ballet company in "Serenade." Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu/For The Times.