Category: Victoria Looseleaf

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: New World Flamenco Festival presents 'Semana Flamenka' at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

September 25, 2011 |  3:00 pm


How much sizzle is too much sizzle?  That was the question Friday night, when too many soloists spoiled the flamencan broth at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.  Cooked up by Yaelisa, co-founder and artistic director of the New World Flamenco Festival, this ninth edition, “Semana Flamenka,” offered three slightly different programs over the weekend, with performances by 14 local, national and international dancers and musicians ranging from simmering to scorching. 

Sure, there was plenty to savor in an evening of mini-volcanic eruptions, but at 2 1/2 hours, the show lacked balance (four female dancers; two males), pacing (solo upon solo upon solo), and, well, a bit of flamenco fashion cred.  Suits and ties for men are not uncommon, but Manuel de la Cruz, sporting a white button-down shirt and ill-fitting gray jacket and pants, looked weirdly Vegassy, accentuated by turquoise shoes and matching skinny tie. His whipping turns, angled jumps and blazing footwork, however, made up for the sartorial misstep.

Injecting high drama into a sublimely sculpted solo, Yaelisa, clad in a black satin gown (think gothic Gypsy), hasn’t lost any of her back-bending, wrist-flicking firepower. Responding to Jesús Montoya’s and José Cortés’ heart-wrenching vocals, Yaelisa created a kind of footwork fugue, her quicksilver rhythms overlapping their plaintive croonings in something Bach would have admired.

 Maria Bermudez also shredded the stage with her scherzo skitterings, quirky kicks and dipping turns, adding exotica with filigreed fingers and spidery arms. Enhanced by Kina Mendez’s and Antonio de Jerez’s raspy-throated singing, Bermudez exuded unadulterated joy in movement as she seized the space.

A much-needed testosterone quotient was amped up by Oscar Valero, who in full-throttle attack mode executed dazzling jumps one moment, Petrouchka-like hip-swiveling the next, throwing in a dollop of body quaking before making a spectacular machine gun heel-toe exit. In an extended solo that had more false endings than a Beethoven symphony, Leilah Broukhim appeared possessed, her wildly swinging arms and bobbing head akin to a pinball machine in full tilt. It would have been fascinating to see Valero and Broukhim face off; indeed, any duet would have been welcomed.

Completing the concert:  Nelida Tirado danced a bullish solo; and guitarists Jason McGuire, Pedro Cortés, Ricardo Marlow and Chuscales provided stellar accompaniment throughout.  And while there was no dearth of passion on the program, it was found, alas, only in spurts. In other words: duende (soul) interruptus.

— Victoria Looseleaf

"Semana Flamenka" repeats at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine, 6 p.m. Sunday. $35-$100.

Photo: Maria Bermudez, left, Oscar Valero and Yaelisa in the Fin de Fiesta Semana Flamenka / New World Flamenco Festival. Credit: Jack Hartin.


Dispatch From Montpellier: Hits and misses at contemporary dance festival

June 27, 2011 | 12:30 pm

Centaure-et-animal-c-Nabil- While Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman will always have Paris, dance aficionados will eternally be in thrall to Montpellier, France, for its contemporary dance festival.  Now in its 31st year, the festival (running through July 7), has been directed since 1983 by Algerian-born Jean-Paul Montanari, whose passion for underdogs and the outré parallels his support of the brilliant and the bombastic.  

Montanari has put this charming town of 250,000 on the terpsichorean map, with this year’s offerings including eight world premieres and numerous works new to France, as well as an emphasis on Israeli choreographers.  And as I trot through Europe in search of culture -– literally on a horse in Zürich -- I continued my equine exploration at Wednesday's festival opener, “The Centaur and the Animal.”

Conceived and directed by Bartabas, whose famed horse troupe Theatre Zingaro conquered Southern California in 2002 with its dressage/dance spectacle set to Stravinsky’s  “The Rite of Spring,” this opus proved a misguided and pretentious collaboration between Bartabas and butoh artist Ko Murobushi.  With a voiceover of extracts from French poems by Lautreámont and set to Jean Schwarz’s ambient sound collage, the surreal work was painfully uneventful (Murobushi slowly banged on a piano -- with his feet), and failed to connect the riveting grotesquerie of butoh with the mystery of the horse (four steeds, all darkly lighted). 

There were, however, moments of fleeting beauty:  Bartabas, in hooded garb (shades of Peter O’Toole’s “Lawrence of Arabia”), sat atop his majestic charges, turning, prancing or walking backward; Murobushi was occasionally showered with sand. 

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Dispatch From Zurich: celebrating opera, music, dance, drama and art

June 24, 2011 | 10:18 am

Known for its delectable chocolates and cheeses, exquisite watches –- there seems to be a Patek Phillippe on every wrist –- and private banks, this lakeside burg of fewer than 400,000 smells of money.  Or maybe that's the perfumed scent of Linden trees, which bloom only in June and create a kind of arboreal nirvana.

Yes, life is good in Switzerland, and whether you’re seeking haute cuisine, a refreshing dip in Lake Zürich or a stroll down the famed Bahnhofstrasse to ogle luxury goods, this picturesque town is the apotheosis of civilization. Oh, yes: Its cultural offerings aren’t too shabby, either.

Indeed, the Zürich Festspiele (through July 10), is a mix of opera, concerts, dance, drama and fine art, with the Kunsthaus (literally "house of art") featuring a quirky Joseph Beuys exhibition.  The festival kicked off last weekend with a party offering free horseback rides through the erstwhile stables/cum/Theaterhaus Gessnerallee and music by, among others, DeVotchKa, whose leader is theremin sensation Nick Urata.  Happily, I held my mount and lived to enjoy Sunday evening’s Zürich Ballet performance at its jewel box Opera House. 

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Dispatch from Amsterdam: Experiencing the Holland Festival

June 20, 2011 |  3:44 pm

Aside from its well-known marijuana coffee shops and red-light district, Amsterdam is something of a cultural megalopolis.  The city of less than a million is home to 51 museums, with some 200 Van Gogh and 22 Rembrandt paintings, including the latter’s famed “Night Watch.” And this canal-dotted city also lays claim to one of Europe’s great performing arts festivals.

Running June 1 to 26, the Holland Festival, directed by Pierre Audi and now in its 64th year, offers the best of opera, dance, music and theater in various venues throughout the city.  And while I didn’t get to Wolfgang Rihm’s latest opera, “Dionysos” (it premiered last year at the Salzburg Festival and has a final festival performance Wednesday in Amsterdam), I did get to hear Rihm’s maxi-textured music as part of choreographer Sasha Waltz’s “Jagden und Forman” (“Hunts and Forms”) in its Dutch premiere. 

Performed by the astonishing Frankfurt-based Ensemble Modern, the composition is one Rihm has repeatedly rewritten since the mid-'90s and has updated for Waltz’s work, originally choreographed in 2008.  Under Franck Ollu’s crack direction, the two dozen musicians, who performed barefoot or in socks, accompanied the 14 dancers of the Berlin-based Sasha Waltz & Guests. 

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Jacques d’Amboise continues to be a force of nature

May 14, 2011 |  7:00 am

Nicknamed “Daisy,” because of his sunny temperament, dancer Jacques d’Amboise was 15 when he joined New York City Ballet, the esteemed troupe co-founded by George Balanchine in 1948.  The year was 1949 and d’Amboise, who once fought off a knife-wielding attacker with jetés and kicks, would go on to be one of City Ballet’s brightest stars. As Balanchine’s dancing alter ego, d’Amboise had 24 new roles made for him during his more than three decades with the company. While partnering ballerinas including Diana Adams, Melissa Hayden and Suzanne Farrell, d’Amboise also helped popularize ballet in America.

“I kept thinking I’d do something else,” d’Amboise said on a recent visit to Los Angeles, “be a priest, an archaeologist, a forest ranger, and then I realized I didn’t want to do anything else but dance.”

And dance he did. In 1957, Balanchine cast d’Amboise in the title role of “Apollo,” the ballet he originally choreographed in 1928 for the Ballets Russes.  With a string score by Stravinsky, the work, about transformation, would also come to define d’Amboise.

“The role is better, I think, than any dancer,” said d’Amboise, now 76, “because you have to have youth and strength and body stature.  You can’t be a skinny, three-foot high midget doing it.  It changed my life as a dancer, and I believe what Balanchine said Apollo is –- ‘a youth, a wild untamed youth who learns nobility through the arts’ -- I was that boy, an uneducated street boy from Washington Heights.”

Indeed, the young Apollo also grew up to be quite the writer.  D’Amboise’s recently released memoir, “I Was a Dancer,” has been garnering impressive reviews.  Teeming with balletic dish and vibrant details, the autobiography provides an inside look at the coming of age of City Ballet.  Also impressive is d’Amboise’s latest accolade: On Sunday he receives the Fred and Adele Astaire Lifetime Achievement Award in New York. 

To read more about Jacques d’Amboise, click here for the Sunday's Arts & Books story.

--Victoria Looseleaf 

Photo: Jacques d’Amboise at the L.A. Ballet Center. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

Dance review: Pat Graney Company’s 'Faith' at REDCAT

April 29, 2011 | 11:25 am

01_Pat Graney Company_Faith
A still life with moving bodies. Olympians at play. Knock-kneed models in red patent leather stilettos.  These are but some of the tableaux that Pat Graney Company evokes in “Faith,” seen at REDCAT Thursday in the first of four performances. Choreographed in 1991 and inspired in part by Caravaggio, Graney’s hour-long piece is a snapshot of Everywoman -- if, that is, she were capable of holding Pietà-like poses, lurching in bound feet and rolling about a stage unabashedly naked.

The work, reconstructed in October, is seen in its Los Angeles premiere with four of its seven original dancers –- Nancy Burtenshaw, Deb Rhodes-King, Peggy Piacenza and Kathryn Stewart.  Opening with a series of lush posturings, the first section is set to a Latin Mass by mystical composer Arvo Pärt.

Clad in Frances Kenny’s stretchy velvet micro-minis, the septet moved über-slowly, occasionally in unison, creating a series of Christian images that included a neo-crucifixion.  Meg Fox’s lighting design (re-created by Ben Geffen and Amiya Brown), sumptuously highlights couples caressing and collapsing, friezes of despair and resilience.

A scene with red balls had the dancers resembling Erté sculptures one moment, cavorting and assuming muscular stances the next, recalling the glorious athletes of Leni Riefenstahl’s, “Olympia.”  And then those shoes: Rhodes-King bandaged her feet before squeezing into perilously high heels and wobbling offstage.  Soon the other similarly shod women -- a stiletto brigade -- appeared, vamping like lost Rockettes, strutting and, well, squatting -- when they weren’t dragging each other around by their ankles. 

Wiping the floor with women, by women, reflects power –- wanting it, having it, losing it. And power was evident in the work’s finale, with the dancers nude and again striking heroically sculptured poses.  Here flesh is equally amorphous and distinct, bodies sporadically piling atop bodies, a mutating landscape of desire and redemption. “Faith,” which also featured Amii LeGendre, KT Niehoff and Sara Parish (and less successful music by, among others, Amy Denio and Rachel Warwick), contains many indelible images, making it both timeless and of its time.

-- Victoria Looseleaf

Pat Graney Company’s “Faith,” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A. Fri.- Sat., 8:30 p.m. Sun., 3 p.m.  $20 and $25.  (213) 237-2800.

Photo: Pat Graney Company's "Faith" at REDCAT with, lifted, KT Niehoff; standing, from left, Amii LeGendre, Nancy Burtenshaw and Kathryn Stewart; and, on the ground, Deb Rhodes-King. Credit: Steven Gunther

Dance review: Eifman Ballet’s 'Don Quixote' at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

April 27, 2011 | 11:31 am

If the world needs another balletic “Don Quixote” -– and it does not -– it shouldn’t be set in a mental institution. Alas, that is what choreographer Boris Eifman has wrought (think “The Snake Pit” in pointe shoes) with his 1994 “Don Quixote, or Fantasies of the Madman” (revised last year).  Flailing and flopping about as if on methedrine, when Thorazine is needed, Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg presented the first of five performances of "Don Quixote" Tuesday at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The 19th century Russian staple originally choreographed by Petipa has never been the most cohesive story, its filigreed dancemaking aside.  And set to the music of Ludwig Minkus (the Salieri of dance composers), the work creaks. But Eifman’s take –- a screwy saga of a dreamer, er, patient, in a straitjacket who conjures tales of brave deeds and besotted love -- gives new meaning to the word lunacy. 

As the illustrious Don, Sergey Volobuev is an agile, leggy marvel, abetted by sidekick Sancho Panza (Alexander Melkaev), the duo not unlike Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont. Their fellow inmates, meanwhile, are loose-limbed, head-bobbing buffoons who smack of the Trockaderos’ male ballerinos (hello, “Swan Lake” cygnets).

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The New Jerseyean In Charge of Nederlands Dans Theater

March 19, 2011 |  8:30 am

Jim vAfter moving to the Hague to join the  Nederlands Dans Theater when he was 19, New Jersey-born Jim Vincent, now 52, has come full circle:  Vincent, who spent 22 years performing in Europe — 12 of them with NDT — returned to the troupe in 2009 to become its artistic director.  When the company performs at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Wednesday and Thursday as part of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, Vincent knows he is part of the cutting-edge continuum that began in 1959, when the company was founded.

“Back then people referred to the dancers as rebels,” says Vincent by phone from Holland, “but I think they were people who were driven by their passion.  They had a huge hunger and if that’s what it takes to be a rebel, OK, but they were looking to do something that could bring dance closer to society as well as having an impact on innovation, so this is what I continue to focus on.”

While Vincent came of age under Jiří Kylián, who led NDT for years, beginning in 1978 with his emotional and kinetic movement vocabulary, he says being absent from the Dutch troupe served him well.

“I think there’s some logic to my getting away from the company to be able to come back in this capacity.  It gave me a certain objectivity that I don’t think I would have had had I stayed with it all these years,” says the expatriate, who spent nearly a decade helming Hubbard Street Dance Chicago before returning to Holland.

Though Kylián’s pieces are still key to the 29-member company, the Music Center concerts will feature works by NDT’s in-house choreographers, the duo Sol León and Paul Lightfoot (“Silent Screen”) and Crystal Pite’s “The Second Person.”  Still, the troupe’s signature style — isolated body moves, lightning-swift shifts in weight and intricate couplings — will all be on view.

To read more about Nederlands Dans Theater, click here for my feature in Sunday's Arts & Books section.

— Victoria Looseleaf  

Photo Credit: Joris-Jan Bos.




Movie review: Michael Flatley’s 'Lord of the Dance 3D' in theaters nationwide

March 16, 2011 | 12:15 pm


Michael Flatley's footwork may blaze, but in his latest concert movie, “Lord of the Dance 3D,” the Irish step dance phenom is stoking the fires of an out-sized ego. Having shot to fame as a charismatic hoofer in the original show, “Riverdance,” Chicago-born Flatley made use of his machine-gun tapping and Liberace-style glitz to create the 1996 arena spectacle, “Lord of the Dance.”  Other shows soon followed, including “Feet of Flames,” with Flatley (whose legs have reportedly been insured for $40 million) amassing a personal fortune.

No doubt running on, er, Celtic tiger blood and hubris DNA, Flatley decided to jeté onto the 3-D bandwagon, with Marcus Viner directing a film of the Terpsichore’s 2010 triumphant return to Dublin.  (“Lord of the Dance” was last seen there in 1998).  Now 52, Flatley might still be a draw in person, but the film, opening on St. Patrick’s day, offers few close-ups of his flying feet, the rhythmically complex percussive sounds a welcome relief from Ronan Hardiman’s tedious New Age-y score, though it does highlight Flatley’s every stallion tear across the stage, his endless supply of spangly monogrammed leather jackets and the beads of sweat occasionally dotting his über-tanned face.

Alas, the show’s raggedy good-versus-evil narrative remains, with Flatley’s bejeweled Lord of the Dance belt yielding untold powers.  Who knew?  Rival male battalions (think stiff-torsoed Sharks and jitter-footed Jets, without Jerome Robbins’ choreography but with thundering herd-like unison), a host of hooded Druids, bourréing bikini-clad sylphs and a harlequin-esque Little Spirit (Kate Pomfret), are all part of this Irish stew. 

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