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Dance review: Los Angeles Ballet’s 'Celebration' at the Alex Theatre

March 6, 2011 |  2:45 pm

Death did not quite become her. Sonya Tayeh, a commercial choreographic star, is no stranger to Los Angeles Ballet, having made work for the company last year.  To help commemorate the troupe’s fifth anniversary, Tayeh returned with a new work, “My Greatest Fear,” a beautifully danced but overwrought opus exploring the angst-ridden aspects of thanatophobia. 

Los-angeles-ballet Seen Saturday at the Alex Theatre as part of L.A. Ballet’s program “Celebration” (coming next to Redondo Beach and UCLA), Tayeh’s 25-minute journey was sandwiched between two George Balanchine numbers new to the troupe.  Equal parts “Night of the Living Dead” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” Tayeh’s work was set to elegiacally familiar scores by Max Richter and Arvo Pärt.  Staggered walks, fist-to-face motifs and crucifixion poses punctuated the piece, with unison cowering and upraised arms also contributing to the melodrama. 

Still, authoritative partnering made for some lovely tableaux, with Chehon Wespi-Tschopp handily spinning Grace McLoughlin overhead, creating a Ferris wheel effect then echoed by other couples.  Tyler Burkett also delivered a buoyant solo filled with leaps and arched-back anxiety, while Ben Pilat’s lighting went from graveyard grim to heavenly amber.

La ballet 2 Decidedly more upbeat:  Balanchine’s 1954 cowboy ode “Western Symphony,” set to Hershy Kay’s score based on American folk tunes.  Classical ballet technique proves irresistible when turned into boisterous neo-square dance moves, with rhinestone cowhands and dance-hall dollies making terpsichorean hay from zesty line patterns and finessed cancan kicks.

Melissa Barak in come-hither mode sashayed with Alexander Castillo, his energetic lasso arms a delight in the opening movement. Ballet parodies abound in the second section, with Monica Pelfrey, however, losing her footing with Zheng Hua Li, who proved a high-jumping prince of the prairie in his own right.  Alyssa Bross and Christopher Revels made the third segment all sass and swing, while the free-for-all ending featured the exuberant company in fine form.

The same cannot be said for Balanchine’s fiendishly difficult “Raymonda Variations” (1961).  A riff on Petipa’s ballet and set to music by Glazunov, this plotless suite of solos and ensembles, led by Pelfrey and Revels, exposed the dancers’ limitations rather than enhancing its genius choreographic architecture.  But kudos to a courageous L.A. Ballet, for helping keep the art of the pointe shoe alive and, well, aloft.

-- Victoria Looseleaf

"Celebration” Los Angeles Ballet, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach; 7:30 p.m. March 19, Freud Playhouse, MacGowan Hall-UCLA Campus, L.A., and 2 p.m. March 20. Tickets: $24-$95. (310) 998-7782 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (310) 998-7782      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or

Photos: Los Angeles Ballet's ensemble dances "My Greatest Fear," top,  Monica Pelfrey, left, dances with Christopher Revels in the piece "Raymonda Variations," center, and Christopher Revels leaps in  "Western Symphony" at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times. More photos of Los Angeles Ballet's "Celebration."