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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: www.losangelesballet.org or (310) 998-7782.

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


Comments () | Archives (4)

lovely photograph. was disappointed to realize that all the music is pre-recorded.

I was privileged to see LAB's performance at the Freud Theatre last Sunday. Laura Bleiberg's observation "increasing mastery" is right on the money. How often does a dance lover (like me) get the opportunity to see Balanchine performed so well? Kammermusik is so challenging its rarely staged, and this is a chance to see one of Balanchine's most abstract ballets. It holds up, and surpasses most of the contemporary works around today. That LAB is thriving in these difficult times is a testament to its leadership. It deserves an appreciative audience.

LAB is a jewel. LA is fortunate. Go and see a show.

I am appalled by the poor critique and lack of appreciation of Laura Bleiberg for the outstanding performance delivered by Los Angeles Ballet. It would be nice if this critique was actually conducted by an expert in ballet or somebody who actually saw the entire performance without interruptions and makes justice to this amazing show, dancers, and directors.
The show was mesmerizing and breathtaking, raising the bar of Los Angeles Ballet to a world-first class. Astonishment and awe was the public’s response. The three parts of the evening, Serenade, Kammersmusik No. 2, and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 were interpreted by the ballet core and lead dancers in a seamless motion of rhythm, perfection, and grace mastering the pieces and raising the bar to an upper level. In Serenade, the lead dancers Melissa Barak, Monica Pelfrey, Nancy Richer, Andrew Brader, and Peter Snow delivered an unforgettable music interpretation with an incredible command of movement and rhythm only seen in ballet masters. Kammermusik No. 2, showed the genius and creativity of Balanchine, it is a futuristic interpretation of music by ballet, only paralleled by modern dance. Melissa Barak, Grace McLoughlin, Andrew Brader, and Drew Grant, leaders in this special creation delivered a relentless master performance with power, grace, and pose backed up by an outstanding all male core dancers.
The evening was gold-sealed with the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. The world-class talent of the principal dancers, Monica Pelfrey and Zheng Hua Li, led the inside atmosphere to a standing still by their mesmerizing performance in Pas de Deux and Solos. They impressed the audience with breathless balances and a melodic flow in the interpretation of the music and the story. The whole act three was adorned with grace and pose by lead dancer Nancy Richer who delivered a solid performance backed up by the core dancers, impeccable in technique and movement.
My congratulations to Colleen Neary for staging this master piece and Thordal Christiansen for working countless hours with the dancers.

Monica Pelfrey was beautiful, what a stunning dancer. :)


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