Category: Music Center

Debbie Allen aims high with 'Hot Chocolate Nutcracker'

December 6, 2011 |  9:00 am

Hot Chocolate Nutcracker
When Debbie Allen took her son to see his first "Nutcracker," he wanted to know one thing.

"In the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, he shouted out: 'Mom! When is the rat coming?' That never left me. I said, 'One day I'll do ['The Nutcracker'] in a fun way," recalled the award-winning actress, director, writer, choreographer, teacher and owner of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City.

That day came in December 2010, when she debuted "Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” at UCLA's Royce Hall. Not surprisingly, it features three wisecracking rat-narrators, one of whom is played by Allen.

The ballet's overall structure is similar to the beloved ballet classic. A precocious adolescent heroine -- Kara instead of Clara -- receives a nutcracker doll (filled with hot chocolate). He later turns into a prince and takes Kara on a magical journey. 

As with most “Nutcrackers,” the cast is full of children. The students are from Allen's studio as well as a smattering of professionals and children from schools throughout the city. It’s in the details, however, where she has turned “Nutcracker” conventions upside down.

Tchaikovsky has been replaced with original music from performers such as Arturo Sandoval, Mariah Carey and Allen’s now-grown child, Norman E. Nixon Jr., a.k.a. Thump. The toy soldiers wage battle with flamenco-stamping cockroaches, because the rats have gone on strike.  

Allen's influential friends help her out: Actress Raven-Symoné appears as Cousin Rae Rae. Quincy Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Denzel Washington are among her supporters and underwriters.

This year's two public performances are already sold out, but tickets are still available for the gala fundraiser on Thursday.

Allen said that her mentor, the late theater director Gil Cates, had encouraged her to create a holiday show. She acknowledged “The Nutcracker’s” omnipresence but said she felt there was still room to create a new “classic.” 

“It’s always been one of my favorites. I think things that are that entrenched into our society and culture deserve another look and maybe have fresh air breathed into it."


A full list of holiday dance and theater productions for 2011

Joffrey 'Nutcracker' keeps workers on their toes

Yvonne Mounsey's yearly dance with 'The Nutcracker'

-- Laura Bleiberg

"Debbie Allen's Hot Chocolate Nutcracker," UCLA's Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, 7 p.m. Thursday, $125, (310) 202-1711 or

Photo: "Debbie Allen's Hot Chocolate Nutcracker." Credit: Lee Tonks


Ahmanson lands Broadway's 'Follies' to fill gap in its season

December 6, 2011 |  9:00 am

Follies Broadway production Joan Marcus photo

“Follies,” the 1971 musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman, will play at the Ahmanson Theatre May 9-June 9 (with previews starting May 3), filling a gap in the season created when a planned revival of “Funny Girl” fell through.

Center Theatre Group announced Tuesday that it would import the production now on Broadway that originated in May at Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Michael Ritchie, CTG’s artistic director, said “we are currently in discussions” to lure members of the Broadway cast led by Bernadette Peters, Elaine Page, Jan Maxwell, Jayne Houdyshell and Danny Burstein. “Follies” is scheduled to close on Broadway Jan. 22 after a four-month run.

The Ahmanson staging will be a special, one-off engagement, rather than part of a tour. It’s a big production, featuring a 40-member ensemble that performs flashbacks to vaudeville-era Broadway. Reviews have been mostly positive.

“It is a coup for CTG to get it and a gift for Los Angeles audiences to receive it,” said Ritchie, whose nonprofit company was at risk of taking an economic punch had it been unable to fill an empty slot at the Ahmanson, where the generally more commercial fare is expected to help subsidize the generally edgier shows at the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre.

With “Follies,” Ritchie segues neatly, if perhaps improvisationally, from presenting a show that tells the story of one of the signature stars of the famed Ziegfeld Follies -- "Funny Girl" heroine Fanny Brice -- to one that focuses on former members of a Ziegfeld-like stage extravaganza who reunite inside their dilapidated old theatrical haunt on the night before its demolition.

Sondheim and Goldman’s musical about the youthful pasts and haunted presents of veterans of the fictitious Weissman Follies won seven Tony Awards  in 1972 for its initial Broadway staging, directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett. The current revival is directed by Eric Schaeffer, a Sondheim expert who is artistic director of the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va.

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Dance review: Joffrey 'Nutcracker' at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

December 2, 2011 |  1:30 pm

Robert Joffrey got just about everything marvelously right in his 1987 “Nutcracker,” the last ballet he directed before his death. 

And the Joffrey Ballet did just about perfectly as well on Thursday, when the company returned with this sparkling production to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (through Sunday).

This distinguished group of 42 dancers, now headquartered in Chicago and directed by alumnus Ashley Wheater, gave Los Angeles an assured and elegant classicism, a maturation first seen three years ago here in a production of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella.”

With original scenes by co-founder Gerald Arpino and based on the 1940 Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production, Joffrey's "Nutcracker" is innocent and sweet without leaving the audience feeling sticky. It hues more closely than most to Tchaikovsky’s unerring musical story-telling. Set designer Oliver Smith imagines a picture book-charming Victorian America that never overwhelms the stage.

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Music Center garage gets automated, now takes credit cards

December 1, 2011 |  9:00 am

Music Center
The above sign has been greeting patrons who park in the Music Center’s garage, but don’t be alarmed: the new automated parking system debuting Thursday at the downtown venue will apply only to weekday daytime users. Parking for performances, like the shows themselves, will still involve the human factor. Contrary to what the sign says, attendants will be on duty.

The main change for performing arts patrons who use the eight-level, county-owned garage beneath the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum is that they'll now have the option of paying the $9 fee with a credit or debit card.

For concert-goers using the garage beneath Walt Disney Concert Hall, parking remains cash only.

Nick Chico, Los Angeles County’s manager of parking services, said Wednesday that the 1,400-car garage under 135 N. Grand Ave. is the first in a series of county-owned parking facilities that will be automated; the Disney Hall garage probably won’t be re-equipped for some years to come.

The biggest advantage, he said, is an expected end to revenue “leakage” –- a euphemism for when the human factor introduces a degree of larceny. Based on industry-wide experience, Chico said, the county’s initial $1 million investment in equipment, software and changes to garage structures and electronics promises to yield a 6% to 15% increase in parking receipts. The county keeps 81.78% of parking proceeds, with the rest going to Classic Parking, the company contracted to run the garage.

Until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, garage users -– primarily people with business in the nearby courthouses and County Hall of Administration -– will no longer pay as they enter. They’ll zip right in and park. But when it’s time to leave, before getting back into their cars they’ll use one of four newly installed machines to pay what they owe. The machine will spit out a receipt to present at the exit gate, enabling a bar to rise and sending each vehicle on its way.

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Review: Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trey McIntyre Project

November 23, 2011 |  1:22 pm

Preservaton Hall Jazz Band
Vibrant New Orleans-style jazz and brilliant contemporary ballet collided in ways at once unpredictable, satisfying and often wondrous when the musicians of Preservation Hall and the dancers of Trey McIntyre met at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday.

With “Band's in Town,” the eight members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band immediately established their stylistic authority and consummate skill as soloists, playing from a tiny platform at the far end of the hall. The prevailing acoustics masked the amplified vocals but kept Freddie Lonzo's trombone and Ben Jaffe's tuba nearly seismic, even in the fabulous massed jams.

If the band upheld a noble American tradition on Tuesday, the choreography extended it by finding exciting movement equivalents for some of the bedrock principles of jazz -- intricacy, for starters, plus individual expression and a sense of unbridled syncopation. In the 9-month-old “The Sweeter End,” the 10 members of the Trey McIntyre Project performed with devastating sharpness a breathless, engulfing, high-speed amalgam of ballet steps, gymnastic feats, ballroom fragments and eruptions of snake-hips undulation. And it always flowed, always swung.

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Benjamin Millepied and Music Center announce L.A. Dance Project

November 21, 2011 |  3:59 pm

Benjamin Millepied
The Music Center is giving birth to a splashy, blue-chip contemporary ballet company devoted to artistic experimentation, with a Hollywood pedigree, to boot.

L.A. Dance Project, founded and directed by Benjamin Millepied, is being launched with a commission, expected to last two years, from Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center. Millepied, 34, is a highly sought-after choreographer with ties to major ballet troupes worldwide. He retired less than a month ago from his position as principal dancer with New York City Ballet.

Millepied leapt into the celebrity stratosphere when he started dating actress Natalie Portman, whom he met while working on the Darren Aronofsky movie “Black Swan.” The couple are engaged and have a 5-month-old son, Aleph. With Millepied's recent move out here, both now live in Los Angeles.

L.A. Dance Project will begin with just six dancers -– seven if Millepied performs -– and will have its premiere Sept. 22 and 23, 2012, at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Music Center officials are announcing on  Monday. 

Millepied is not creating a traditional company but rather an “art collective,” bringing together some of his longtime friends and associates, including composer Nico Muhly and producer Charles Fabius. The goal is to collaborate with writers, artists and arts institutions in Los Angeles. One idea is to create a site-specific work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Millepied has begun talks with museum officials.

“To do a dance project today, and build a kind of vision, it’s so difficult that you cannot just take the old method,” Millepied said during an interview at a Silver Lake restaurant.

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An open house at Los Angeles Opera

November 6, 2011 |  7:21 pm


More than 6,000 visitors turned out Saturday for a Los Angeles Opera open house at the Music Center, taking part in activities that included listening to the company's general director, Placido Domingo, getting a closer look at opera sets and props, and dressing up for a repast at a pretend Café Momus from "La Boheme."

Domingo performed with Jdanai Brugger, a young soprano from the Domingo-Thornton Young Artists program, with James Conlon conducting the LA Opera orchestra in a program of selections from "The Marriage of Figaro," "Cosi fan Tutte," "Madama Butterfly" and "Romeo et Juliette." Younger opera fans nestled on floor cushions in the Eva and Mark Stern Grand Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the children’s opera "The Prospector."

The open house was part of the company's celebration of its 25th anniversary. For more photos, click here.

— Kelly Scott

Above: Eleanor McInnes, 4, and mother Kristin Peace, 39, don hats and other accessories at a photo booth at the LA Opera's open house Saturday. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.

Diavolo looks at skateboarding for dance inspiration

November 5, 2011 | 11:00 am

JaquesJacques Heim doesn’t mind that his dancers call him Napoleon. “Yes, that’s my nickname,” he says with a chuckle. “But the reason I push my dancers so hard is that I believe in them more than they believe in themselves. I will push them farther than what they think their limit is.”

Heim’s intense and rigorous rehearsal methods have definitely paid off for Diavolo, the choreographer’s almost 20-year-old Los Angeles-based company that has over a dozen works in its current repertoire, travels all over the world and has earned Heim prestigious commissions, such as his choreography for the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.”

And now Los Angeles audiences will have an opportunity to view the nuts and bolts of Heim’s choreographic process during a first time artist-in-residency program starting Nov. 12 at the Music Center, where Diavolo members will inhabit the venue’s outdoor plaza to rehearse their latest work “Transit Space.” They''ll also be working along with some young skateboarders.

Read about Diavolo, skateboarding and the Music Center residency

“Some of the things I do in a rehearsal might seem random but everything I do has a meaning,” says Heim. “Sometimes this means I give my company specific guidance about a metaphor and other times, I want them to make something happen and I’ll tell them they need to fix whatever isn’t working. This has been my approach for over 17 years and I’ve seen fantastic changes in my performers.”

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Music review: Dudamel premieres Chapela electric cello concerto

October 21, 2011 |  1:15 pm

Gustavo Dudamel

This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

The Yamaha Silent Cello, which Johannes Moser played to premiere Enrico Chapela’s electric cello concerto, “Magnetar,” at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night, is an elegant contraption. It has no body, just a bridge (with an electric pickup), fingerboard and tailpiece. Only silent if you use headphones, it is meant to rock when, as here, it's plugged into an electric guitar amplifier.

Moser is known to be an elegant cellist in standard repertory playing a standard cello. But he was not refined Thursday. Chapela’s concerto, which was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, wants to be raunchy, orchestral heavy metal.

Future musicologists will no doubt attempt to date when symphony audiences lost their uptight edge, and maybe Thursday will be a marker. Young and old -- in suits or T-shirts and jeans, in high heels or sneakers -- smiled, stood and cheered. There was no indication that I could see of shock, outrage or condescension. Delight seemed to pervade a packed house.

This means that either Chapela is doing something very right or very wrong. Audiences have changed, and he has managed to please them. But metalheads can’t be happy about a rebellious subculture co-opted.

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Dance review: Kyle Abraham's 'Radio Show' at REDCAT

October 20, 2011 |  8:00 pm

Onstage at the REDCAT, New York-based choreographer Kyle Abraham is dancing a sublimely funky R&B solo with such perfect panache that it's a shock when he suddenly pauses, his head sadly nodding, one hand twitching, as if his soul train had become suddenly, irrevocably derailed.

The back of his shirt is slashed and torn, the recorded music chopped into a collage of fragments, and the sense of continuity -- social as well as personal -- fractured beyond repair. Welcome to “The Radio Show,” Abraham's nonlinear 75-minute action-painting of contemporary America that opened Wednesday for a four-performance run.

Abraham's feelings about the closure of a Pittsburgh radio station and his father's descent into Alzheimer's shaped the piece, but its sense of displacement and loss transcends specifics. One moment Elyse Morris will exult in her high-voltage virtuosity and the next her control will shatter into violent spasms or a mournful stillness. Intimacy between Rena Butler and Chalvar Monteiro looks promising but hasn't a chance. And Hsiao-Jou Tang doesn't even struggle against the changes she sees in herself. Her meditative solo-in-silence is mostly about resignation.

With few exceptions, the pervasive movement style is so bold and even fearless that you might not spot the intricacy of the choreography until the whole seven-member company dances in pluperfect unison. Indeed, matched moves make the second half of the piece an exciting company showpiece -- but often at the cost of the thematic rigor of Part 1.

There are a few intimations of Abraham's initial premise (his twitching hand just before the final fade-out, for example). But mostly you'll find a more literal approach to the selected songs along with an audience-participation segment conveying the forced jollity of a call-in radio show. It's all entertaining, one way or another, but not as remarkable as the deeply mournful vision brilliantly physicalized early on.

In addition to the dancers mentioned, the company includes Rachelle Rafailedes and Maleek Mahkail Washington. Dan Scully designed a lighting plan that subjects the dancers to moments of painful isolation as well as glaring assault. Somber music by Amber Lee Parker supplements the pop tracks dominating the evening.

-- Lewis Segal

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion: “The Radio Show,” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A. 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. $20 and $25. (213) 237-2800 or

Photo: A scene from Kyle Abraham's"The Radio Show." Credit: Steven Schreiber.


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