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.
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.
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.
The Baltimore Symphony began its first West Coast tour in 24 long years at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Wednesday night. The last appearance had been at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and at the time, there were two unusual things about the orchestra. It had an American music director, David Zinman, who championed living American composers. And it had a woman associate conductor, Catherine Comet.
But that was then. Don’t call me a woman conductor, Comet defensively told The Times. And Zinman did not tour American music here.
The last quarter century has not been without progress. In her fifth season as Baltimore’s music director, Marin Alsop is a woman conductor, and she has broken the highest glass ceiling in the orchestral world thus far. She is popular and brings the Baltimore Symphony deserved attention. She is a proud champion of American composers, dead and alive. She also goes to bat for women composers. And she does not pretend otherwise.
An uncommon woman, Alsop began her program Wednesday by pairing Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” with Joan Tower’s cheeky “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.” That was followed by Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto. It is, unfortunately, a commonplace concerto, but Alsop ended with a dynamic performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.
Gladys Knight, Amy Grant and Kenny G are the leading stars of the Pacific Symphony’s 2012-13 pops season in Costa Mesa, with four members of the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys” and two former witches from the “Wicked” franchise also in the mix.
The season at the Segerstrom Center’s Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, announced this week, also includes a multimedia tribute to George and Ira Gershwin, as well as a movie night (May 9-11, 2013) at which the orchestra will provide live accompaniment to Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds in a screening of “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“Wicked Divas – An Evening of Broadway Hits” (Nov. 15-17) stars the team of Alli Mauzey, who grew up in Anaheim Hills and went on to play Glinda in "Wicked" on Broadway, and Julia Murney, a former Elphaba from Broadway and touring companies of “Wicked.” They'll sing songs from hit musicals, among them both "Wicked" and “The Wizard of Oz.” Murney's credentials include surviving Broadway's critically pilloried “Lennon,” in which she was one of the nine actors who took turns playing John Lennon. Her reading of "Beautiful Boy" was one of the few moments that critics liked in the 2005 disaster.
Three of the “Jersey Boys” original Broadway cast veterans -- Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer, who played Four Seasons Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, respectively -- perform June 13-15, 2013, as will Michael Longoria, who played several parts, including a young Joe Pesci, while understudying (and eventually succeeding) the original Frankie Valli, John Lloyd Young.
The Pacific Symphony’s announcement says that the show is “not a performance of, nor affiliated with the show 'Jersey Boys.'” Instead, the foursome, billed as the Midtown Men, will sing a repertoire of harmony-driven oldies, with the Beatles, Beach Boys, Temptations and Jackson 5 on the menu along with the Four Seasons.
The circumstance was the opening at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall of the orchestra’s 11th annual American Composers Festival. This year’s focus was Persian, partly in recognition of the large Iranian American community in Orange County.
The theme was innocuous on the surface, a celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which begins the first day of spring. It’s an occasion for Iranians of all religions and ethnicities to come together. On Nowruz, people who stopped talking to each other are encouraged to try again.
We don’t, however, live in an innocuous world, and the festival’s news was the premiere of Richard Danielpour’s portentous 51-minute “Toward a Season of Peace.” It got a unanimous standing ovation. Political observers overlook classical concerts as useful litmus tests for popular sentiment toward war and peace. But given the current Iranian situation and Orange County’s reputation for championing conservative causes, this instance perhaps merits noting.
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.
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.
The dance season picks up steam with some tantalizing "firsts": Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève makes its debut appearance and introduces Los Angeles to works by Benjamin Millepied of "Black Swan" fame, who is artistic director at L.A. Dance Project. In addition, American Ballet Theatre premieres a new production of "The Firebird" by one of the world's most exciting choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky.
Here's a look ahead at these and other notable dance engagements this spring:
French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj answers to an eclectic -- some might even say fickle -- muse. Since establishing Ballet Preljocaj in 1984, he has given audiences a dystopian “Romeo and Juliet” on the one hand, and an abstract “Helikopter,” with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s noisy quartet for helicopters as a score, on the other hand. The company’s upcoming Los Angeles performances highlight a well-known story in “Snow White” (2008). But this being Preljocaj, and with costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier and a score culled from Mahler, don’t expect Disney. (For ages 12 and older.)
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. 7:30 p.m. March 23-24, 2 p.m. March 25. $28-$110. www.musiccenter.org
The boy wonder of Broadway’s “The Tap Dance Kid” and “Black and Blue” has matured into Savion the inscrutable artist, often dancing with head bowed. His unquenchable thirst to explore tap dancing as percussive sound goes on. In “Bare Soundz,” he explores flamenco rhythms. Glover is always mindful of tap dancing’s roots and the hoofers who came before him, and he pays tribute in this show to the late Gregory Hines.
Valley Performing Arts Center, California State University, Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. 8 p.m. March 24. $25-$70. www.valleyperformingartscenter.org
The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa will offer a typically eclectic lineup for its 2012-13 season, which was announced Thursday. Among the highlights will be the Mariinsky Ballet, the Hamburg Ballet, Broadway legend Barbara Cook and touring productions of "War Horse," "Billy Elliot, the Musical" and "Anything Goes."
The season will be relatively low-key compared with the center's current 25th anniversary season. But there will be a number of local premieres.
"The Little Mermaid," an updated dance adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story choreographed and directed by John Neumeier for the Hamburg Ballet, will have its local debut. The company's last visit was in 2007 when it presented "Death in Venice."
The Trey McIntyre Project will unveil a new piece commissioned by the center. The work will be a site-specific piece that brings together American and Asian dance influences. Two Russian companies -- the Mariinsky and Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg -- round out the dance schedule.
The Eifman Ballet will present the West Coast premiere of "Rodin," choreographed by Boris Eifman, the company's artistic director.
Nine theatrical touring shows will pass through the center: "Memphis," "The Addams Family," "War Horse," "Billy Elliot, the Musical," "Wicked," "Catch Me If You Can," "Anything Goes," "Flashdance" and "Sister Act."
Cook will perform a cabaret show in celebration of her 85th birthday. As part of the show, she will also engage in a conversation about her singing and Broadway career. In addition to Cook, the season's cabaret series will feature several familiar names, including Michael Feinstein, Betty Buckley, Marin Mazzie and Lea Salonga.
Classical-music groups will include the Emerson String Quartet, Takács Quartet and Szymanowski String Quartet. The Elias Quartet will makes its center debut with pianist Jonathan Biss in a recital of music by Purcell and Schumann as well as a new piece by Timothy Andres.
Jazz offerings will include Ahmad Jamal Quartet, Ninety Miles, Charlie Haden and Quartet West, and more.
A date has not yet been announced for when tickets will go on sale.
Here's a list of dates for the upcoming season's major events:
The mighty Chicago Symphony Orchestra -– made great by Fritz Reiner and turbocharged by Georg Solti -– last visited Southern California 25 years ago this month, playing one concert in then-new Segerstrom Hall and three in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Much has happened at the CSO since. The Daniel Barenboim era came and went. More than half of the personnel has changed over and it landed the much-coveted Riccardo Muti as its new music director. And with the convenient convergence of the San Francisco Symphony’s centennial and Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ 25th anniversary, the CSO was finally lured back Friday night -– this time in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Yet our ears have changed too. I remember when the CSO blew through town and turned heads with its staggering precision and ability to get a big sound out of recalcitrant halls like the Chandler and old Segerstrom. Now, with the upgrade in technical standards here and elsewhere, the CSO no longer seems so startling. And in newer Segerstrom, the still-brawny Chicago brasses worked too hard, which they didn’t have to in this space, where the adjustable setting was much too reverberant.
There was only one concert this trip, but it was a bold one -– loaded with future-shock pieces past and present and one oldie that has dropped off the radar, Franck’s Symphony in D minor. At 70, Muti looks exactly the same and conducts with the same vigor and expressiveness as he did in his last visits with the Philadelphia in the 1980s.
Jean-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.