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Dance review: Los Angeles Ballet's 'New Wave LA' program

May 17, 2010 |  1:55 pm
LAB

Everything isn’t always beautiful at the ballet. Sometimes there’s loneliness, rough sex and violence, as there was at Los Angeles Ballet’s "New Wave LA" program, presented Saturday at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.

Yes, life can be a downer; even that peasant girl Giselle had a rotten, no-good day. But more disheartening than the oppressive subject matter of "New Wave LA," was the shallow choreographic skill and exhibitionist athleticism throughout much – though not all – of the works premiered this weekend (continuing the next two weekends in Glendale and Santa Monica). 

With the exception of former ballerina Josie Walsh, the choreographers represented on "New Wave LA" come from the commercial rather than the classical side of dance; three have worked on the popular TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

If you’re an optimist, this match looks like an idea with some promise. We live in the entertainment capital of the world, and co-artistic directors Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen are trying to build a unique and distinctive repertory – not to mention grow an audience. Boundaries that once separated modern dance from ballet have evaporated, so couldn’t the gulf between the concert and the sound stages be bridged as well? 

Choreographer Travis Wall provided inspiration, despite the swinging fists in his “Reflect. Affect. Carry On … .”  Using cover recordings of songs by Queen, U2 and Sigur Rós, Wall put a new spin on the party from hell, displaying complexity and subtlety in his narrative. Couples slouched on sofas, or slow danced about the room, stealing one another’s partners.

LAB2 Wall’s universe was dreamy, surrealistic. The eight dancers meandered about the stage space on differing planes, coming together in an unexpected trio and a handsome group section for the men. The yearning in Wall's lyrical vocabulary was palpable, but his characters expressed isolation more than desire.

In “Wink,” Mandy Moore also concerned herself with singles looking for love, and she created a mood considerably more upbeat than the others (thanks also to musical excepts from Cirque Eloize’s “Rain” and designer Keyra Gonzalez’s white, flowing costumes).

To suggest their openness to one another, the six women and four men held their hands ahead like sleepwalkers, and their hips thrust forward in an off-center pose.

Eventually, Chelsea Paige Johnston and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp found a rough-hewed happiness. The men endured below-the-belt pummeling from the women, and all the dancers dropped their arms to signal a pause in their search.

Both Josie Walsh in her “Transmutation” and Sonya Tayeh in “the back and forth” turned up the energy with pieces that were raw, athletic and disturbing for their depictions of abuse to women.  Walsh gave the dancers an astonishing workout, to a thumping score by Paul Rivera Jr.  This was a mean streets kind of ballet – the women in toe shoes – with steps shoehorned into the rhythm. Walsh had her trios facing front, performing huge leaps, large kicks, gymnastic explosions all in unison, which gave it a drill team feel.

Tayeh, using a mixed score of rock 'n’roll and tango, gave us the male-female relationship as bull fight; literally, with the men head-butting the women. The ladies ended up impaled on the raised leg of their partners, flailing about. One ballerina was pulled offstage by her legs; another dragged across by her face, her leg in arabesque. Drew Grant, who does an impressive snarl, sneered as he pushed Grace Mcloughlin. The audience enjoyed the workout, but it left this viewer cold.

The best part of "New Wave LA" was watching how the dancers tore up the stage. Tall and elegant Zheng Hua Li transformed himself into a rat. Tyler Burkett whipped through rhythmically perfect pirouettes; Johnston mugged at the audience and unfurled her leg in sweeping extensions. The dancers’ commitment never wavered, and that was saying a whole lot.

-- Laura Bleiberg

Los Angeles Ballet’s "New Wave LA." 7:30 p.m. May 22, Alex Theatre, Glendale; 7:30 p.m. May 29, 2 p.m. May 30, the Broad Stage, Santa Monica. $15-$95. (310) 998-7782 or www.losangelesballet.org

Related:

Los Angeles Ballet tries the untraditional

Top photo: Craig Hall, from left, Chelsea Paige Johnston, Katrina Gould, Alexander Forck, Nancy Richer, Zheng Hua Li, Monica Pelfrey, Tyler Burkett in "Reflect. Affect. Carry On….” 

Bottom: Grace Mcloughlin, Drew Grant in “the back and forth."

Credit: Reed Hutchinson/Los Angeles Ballet

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