Category: Dance review

Dance review: Ballet Geneve debuts Benjamin Millepied works

April 15, 2012 | 10:15 am

"Le Spectre de la Rose"

Touring with contemporary, soft-slippered ballets, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève made its West Coast debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday with a trio of eye-catching works set to canonical ballet music choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, now known widely for his work in “Black Swan.” 

Heretofore unseen in the U.S., “Amoveo,” “La Spectre de la Rose,” and “Les Sylphides” gave weekend concertgoers a taste of the bright designs, group dynamics and knotty, weighted movement lexicon that stand to be a fixed point in Los Angeles' dance future. (Millepied has plans for a new “L.A Dance Project” arts collective in alliance with the Music Center next season.) Stimulated by humor, sexuality and surprise, these dances never sagged. But they had some off-flavors. 

In “Amoveo” (2006), set to four excerpts from Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach,” relationships moved from delineation to unreadability in seconds, while Paul Cox’s Op Art scrim filled with two slow-moving lines of color that multiplied into a dizzying crosshatch. Tangled, exhaustive partnerings echoed the ceasless looping organ. Finishes were casual, even ugly.

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Dance review: Misty Copeland and new dancers in ABT's 'Firebird'

April 1, 2012 |  1:01 pm

Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo Photo by Gene Schiavone _DSC4312 (2)
Igor Stravinsky’s sensational “Firebird” ballet demands a vivid design, and Simon Pastukh’s scorched, metallic forest (ignited by Wendell Harrington’s projections), along with Galina Solovyeva’s haute-goth costumes, deliver a strong pop vision to Alexei Ratmansky’s new ballet for American Ballet Theatre. But on opening weekend at the Segerstrom Center, a number of ABT’s world-class dancers mixed poorly with the costumes and struggled with their mechanics. Performances varied a lot, and backstage tinkerings (the princesses' wigs came and went) were ongoing.

In the first and third cast, neither Firebird transformed beyond human form, though the previously reviewed Natalia Osipova and Isabella Boylston both danced bravely. But Boylston --  struggling for the right balance of attack -- came off like a curious, Gaga-esque guest. As the Prince with Boylston, Alexandre Hammoudi was regal and somewhat stiff.

Ratmansky’s revised storyline and forward-backward movement idiom finally emerged clearly with  second cast leads Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo, a hypnotizing pair. Cornejo masterfully sustained tension and contained his energy, thus giving even more force to Copeland’s abandoned, creaturely performance. With them, the audience’s standing ovation was absolutely spontaneous. Too bad Ratmansky wasn’t onstage that night, for he deserved it too.

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Dance review: American Ballet Theatre premieres 'Firebird' in O.C.

March 30, 2012 |  1:06 pm

With his characteristic blend of sensitive classicism and impish humanity, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has updated the iconic “Firebird” into an extravagant and fanciful adventure for American Ballet Theatre. 

The one-act ballet had its world premiere Thursday at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on an abundant triple bill that also featured the local premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Thirteen Diversions” (2011) and “Duets” (1980) by the late Merce Cunningham.

PHOTOS: 'Firebird' at the American Ballet Theatre

It was “Firebird,” however, that was most anticipated, both for its theatrical significance and for Ratmansky’s past successes in re-envisioning the Russian repertory. Choreographer Michel Fokine’s 1910 original –- sometimes called an anti-classical ballet for its then-unorthodox steps and costumes, and for Igor Stravinsky’s masterful score -– was one of the glory productions of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. 

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Dance review: Ronald K. Brown's Evidence at the Ahmanson Theatre

March 11, 2012 |  1:48 pm

Choreographer Ronald K. Brown flashed a startling, broad smile while performing Friday night with  Evidence, a Dance Company. His Brooklyn-based contemporary dance troupe enjoyed its second-only Music Center appearance this weekend, courtesy of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.

Pacing through his latest work, “On Earth Together,” to the music of Stevie Wonder, Brown's glowing expression caused us to consider what a grim business most contemporary dance has become. Beauty radiated from the Ahmanson stage, as Evidence, a wonderful troupe of 10, boogied through three of Brown’s sensual, sweet-natured works.

Born in the fabled Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood 46 years ago, Brown belongs to a generation of black choreographers who toggle easily between the contemporary urban vernacular, its African roots and dance post-modernism. He’s got Alvin Ailey’s distinct sense of place and Katherine Dunham’s Afro-Cuban earthiness; in his zeal for steady-state locomotion, he evokes the minimalist Laura Dean.  Most recently,  he choreographed the new Broadway revival of "Porgy and Bess."

In the first piece, “Ebony Magazine: To a Village” (1996), company members -- mostly African American, one West African, and the superb Arcell Cabuag, born in the Bay Area of Filipino descent -- gave the simple dance walk luxuriant reading. They sank into their hips and chugged their arms alongside, sometimes tossing a hand in the air. Dressed by costumer Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya (a great look, the men’s flowing white pajamas neatly clamped by dark vests), they primped and vogued.

Their soft parade, padded and lush, led them to the stage apron for some top-notch action. Up and down, then in and out, they undulated their spines, in waves, frissons, sometimes a body hiccup. To rap music, the dance enacted a village’s communal rites (Brown has spent considerable time in Africa). Hands clasped in prayer position, church bells chimed, the ocean and its seagulls sounded. Three women, heads bent solemnly, circled a white-frocked dead body.

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Dance review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Segerstrom

March 7, 2012 | 11:52 am

Alvin Ailey
This post has been corrected. See note below.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, touring for the first time under new artistic director Robert Battle, delivered a heady, reverberating concoction of pieces -- including the company premiere of Paul Taylor’s Baroque pure-dance classic “Arden Court” (1981) and the California premiere of hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris’ “Home” (2011) -- on the first of three distinct repertory programs playing through Sunday at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

A variety of movement techniques and thematic echoes made for a rare, unflagging mixed bill -- one of the first in recent memory that didn’t ask Ailey’s masterpiece closer, “Revelations,” to rouse the audience from programming that hammers with just too much energy, nobility and muscle and not enough subtle challenge. 

PHOTOS: Alvin Ailey on camera

Stylistic range has always been a tenet of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; even when founding choreographer Alvin Ailey was alive he commissioned work from other artists. But nothing of late has put these dancers to the test like the simple lyricism of “Arden Court,” one of the great confections by Taylor, the 20th century’s most slyly crafty pioneering choreographers, set to William Boyce symphonic movements. Under a massive pink rose, a wave of six bare-chested men flood the space with lunging Martha Graham-like runs (heads darting, arms rising and blossoming overhead), giving way to grand allegro spinning jumps and tumbles, all unfolding in unexpected patterns that ebb and circle and collapse elegantly in on themselves.  

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Dance review: Los Angeles Ballet opening weekend of 'Swan Lake'

March 4, 2012 |  2:05 pm

Swan Corps de Ballet in Los Angeles Ballet's Swan Lake_Photo by Reed Hutchinson (3)
Bird-watchers flocked to UCLA’s Royce Hall over the weekend as Los Angeles Ballet, now in its sixth season, continued to prove its pointe shoe prowess with the premiere of “Swan Lake.”  And while everything was not always picture-perfect Saturday, husband-and-wife directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, who choreographed the four-act work after Petipa and Ivanov, continue to confound balletic naysayers with their little company that could.

A classic bipolar drama of joy and tragedy set to Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score (heard here, alas, on tape), “Swan Lake” lives and dies -– literally –- by its Odette/Odile, the sweetly vulnerable white swan/cunningly malevolent black swan. (Additional performances with cast changes are on tap in four other venues).

A sturdy, stylish corps is also a must.  And though Allynne Noelle’s Odette captivated with fragile, fluttering arms and superb footwork (Allyssa Bross alternates in the role), the dancer’s Odile was more smiles than seduction, her Act III fouettés less a study in surety than traveling –- or was it fatigue?  One hopes, over time, that Noelle will come to fully embody both avians.

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Dance review: 'Cleopatra, CEO' by Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre

February 12, 2012 | 10:40 am


Johanna Sapakie as Cleopatra

The 51st floor penthouse suite at 515 S. Flower St., the site of Heidi Duckler’s latest dance-theater piece, “Cleopatra, CEO,” is a scenic design come true for the Los Angeles choreographer.


At “Cleopatra’s” premiere over the weekend, audiences were guided through dance-theater scenes spread across 30,000 square feet of marble, burnished wood, beige carpeting, exquisite cabinetry and executive boardrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and one with a fireplace.

What more could a site-specific artist want than these rambling hallways and power chambers — once the opulent headquarters for oil corporation Atlantic Richfield — as settings for seduction, legislative mischief, war and suicide? 

PHOTOS: "Cleopatra, CEO"

For the most part, Duckler unleashed her imagination for a poetic riff on events from Cleopatra's life and mythology. Johanna Sapakie, a charismatic Cleopatra, climbed atop the furniture and upon the shoulders of her servants while yards and yards of fabric unfurled across the chamber. Greek attendants, with clipboards attached to their paddles, “rowed” their stationary boats (two stone secretary cubicles). The battle between Greeks and Romans for control of the ancient world was a mad dash through a hallway, while viewers pressed against the walls.

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Dance review: Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo's 'Cinderella' in O.C.

February 10, 2012 | 12:28 pm

Anja Behrend is the barefoot Cinderella in the Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo productionJean-Christophe Maillot’s three-act “Cinderella” for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, seen Thursday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, just might be the only ballet of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale with a barefoot heroine. 

Who needs a glass slipper when you’ve got lovely high arches that sparkle like gold, as did the evening’s gracious and warm Cinderella, Anja Behrend? Maillot has no use for a fireplace or ashes, either (though he makes fun of all that in a ballet-within-the-ballet). While other “Cinderellas” exist as an excuse to open the trapdoor and rev up the theatrical machinery, Maillot focuses on underlying allegories. Take notice of the Sisters’ rotted black toes. 

This is not a children’s ballet, though the little princesses seated near me grinned contentedly. Maillot crafts steps with cold precision, using a contemporary dance language of whip-fast classicism, scooped torsos, oversized gestures and exaggerated pantomime. He saves the flowing, exultant pas de deux for Behrend and her quite charming Prince, Asier Uriagereka, for the ball, in the night’s most rewarding apotheosis. 

PHOTOS: "Cinderella" in O.C.

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Dance review: Diavolo's 'Fearful Symmetries' at the Valley Arts Center

February 3, 2012 | 11:49 am

DiavoloAfter its alfresco launch with live orchestration in 2010 at the Hollywood Bowl, Diavolo Dance Theater’s “Fearful Symmetries” was surely going to take a hit when it moved indoors. Yet it's hard to imagine a kinder transition for Jacques Heim’s exalted explorations of manhandling-architecture than to alight within the glowing glass-paneled grandeur of the year-old Valley Performing Arts Center’s Great Hall. 

Kara Hill’s ceremonious multi-story lobby -- with a soaring staircase that bisects the levels, creating framed containers for the moving pedestrians -- coolly ushered in Heim’s feverish explorations of bodies and art in motion Thursday evening, part of Diavolo's national tour, which will return to Southern California in March. 

PHOTOS: Diavolo Dance Theater at Hollywood Bowl

A full-tilt bill of ensemble fare, the tour (with recorded music) pairs the ever-shifting right-angled industrial landscape of “Fearful Symmetries” (2010) with the plunging, keeling galleon from “Trajectoire” (1999/2001), the troupe’s daredevil signature work set to Nathan Wang’s score. Shauna Martinez plays the heraldic figure in both works, which -- when paired -- make for a journey from the subtle (relative subtlety, of course; Heim is all about whipping energy into a frenzy) to the sublime.

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Movie review: 'Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance'

January 31, 2012 | 10:00 am

Ballet has become so culturally irrelevant that people need to be reminded that a century ago it was cutting-edge contemporary art, enlisting the titans of the age in choreography, music and design. Robert Joffrey loved the groundbreaking works of that era and not only revived and reconstructed them for his own company (founded in the late 1950s), but embraced and updated their guiding aesthetic.

His story and that of his partner Gerald Arpino is retold in the 82-minute documentary “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance” through the reminiscences of former Joffrey Ballet dancers and associates. There’s a lot of valuable information here, but for all the archival footage on view, dance is rarely allowed to make its effect. It's nearly always shackled to voice-over commentary or dismembered by nervous editing. If “Ballets Russes” and the recent “Pina” made you understand the speakers’ enthusiasm, this film makes you take an awful lot of gush on faith.

Directed by Bob Hercules, the film will have its Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School downtown. A VOD/DVD/digital release is planned for June.

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