August 2012

From Sarah Elgart’s “FlyAway Home.” Photo by Iris Schneider

Surprised that there’s a dance season at the Van Nuys FlyAway (7610 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys)? An airport bus terminal is not the first place that pops into your head when you think about a venue for concert dance. The L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs has curated a site-specific dance series at the FlyAway featuring several of the city’s leading contemporary dance choreographers.

The first of these shows is coming up right after Labor Day, so I wanted to get this up now. They are FREE! Here are the details:

  • Heidi Duckler Dance Theater, “Kiss n’Ride,” Sept. 7-8, 8:30 p.m.
  • String Theory Productions, “Compositions of Sound + Space,” Sept. 22-23, 6 p.m.
  • Sarah Elgart, “FlyAway Home,” Oct. 13, 8 p.m. and Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

The lowdown:

All three pieces were created to be performed at  the FlyAway bus terminal. Heidi’s and String Theory’s dances are premieres. “FlyAway Home” had its debut last year, as a try-out of sorts for this new program. The piece attracted a good-size audience, and Cultural Affairs officials asked Sarah to reprise the piece for this full-fledged season. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) curates public art at the city’s airport facilities; generally these are visual arts exhibits. Felicia Filer, director of the public art division at DCA, told me this is the first time the public art budget for the airport venues is being used to present dance.


Trey McIntyre Project. Photo by (c) Lois Greenfield

Next up, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ International Dance Series:

  • Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra, “Swan Lake,” Oct. 2-7
  • Trey McIntyre Project, Nov. 23-25
  • Hamburg Ballet, “The Little Mermaid,” Feb. 8-10, 2013
  • Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, “Rodin,” May 3-5, 2013

The lowdown:

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the Center has decreased the number of performances of each dance company this season, except for the Mariinsky, which is presenting that audience favorite, “Swan Lake.” The Center is also bringing in fewer companies than in recent years, though there have been other seasons with four companies only. It’s clear, however, that the poor economy  is having an impact on the dance season at the Segerstrom Center, which has been a leader in dance in Southern California.

The Mariinsky presented “Swan Lake” at the Center once before, in October 2006. This time, they will be fielding four different principal casts. Of note are Victoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Schklyarov (Oct. 2 & 5) and Ekaterina Kondaurova and Danila Korsuntsev (Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.); Oxana Skorik (Oct. 4 & 7) has been getting good press and is mentioned as a rising star.

The Center has commissioned a new outdoor work from Trey McIntyre Project (TMP), which will be performed on the Plaza. (TMP dancers Travis Walker, Ashley Werhun and John Michael Schert, in the photo above.) Earlier this year, TMP participated in a U.S. State Department oversees tour called DanceMotion USA (sm). TMP performed in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, and worked with local dancers in each of those countries. McIntyre then selected the Korean National Contemporary Dance to come to the US to perform with his group. The Center is expected to make an announcement with more details soon.

Hamburg Ballet will be making its third visit to the Center, presenting its adult version of the Hans Christian Andersen fable, “The Little Mermaid.” Executive Vice President Judy Morr is a huge fan of the ballets of John Neumeier, the company’s American-born artistic director and chief choreographer. San Francisco Ballet performed Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid” in 2010; it was such a hit with SFB audiences that they reprised it in 2011, at which time it was also recorded for broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances’ Dance in America.” The ballet was originally made for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2005 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Andersen’s birth; the Hamburg version was created in 2007. Parents should know this ballet does NOT follow the Disney story line! Go back and read the Andersen tale, which I need to do, too. But I know this much — it’s not a happy ending.

And, finally, Eifman Ballet returns to the Center because, I was told, he has a devoted and loyal following. I have admired his ballet “Red Giselle,” but I am certainly not an Eifman acolyte. Enough said.

Photo of, and by, Benjamin Millepied

Did you see him? Benjamin Millepied was a judge tonight on “So You Think You Can Dance” and the six dancers of L.A. Dance Project were on, too, performing an oh-so-brief excerpt from Millepied’s new work, “Moving Parts,” which premieres at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sept. 22-23. 

Contemporary ballet on Fox TV — a top-rated national show in prime time! Pigs must be flying.

So how did this happen? Here’s the equation — Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of “So You Think You Can Dance” + Nigel Lythgoe, member of LA Music Center board of directors = Millepied and L.A. Dance Project on “So You Think You Can Dance.” (Remember, L.A. Dance Project’s inaugural season is being commissioned by the Music Center.)

For years — decades — the LA concert dance community has been begging for support like this from Hollywood. This just might be the first step in a long overdue coming together of these two communities, and not just a boost for L.A. Dance Project. Let’s hope so.

As far as Benjamin as a judge, well, don’t quit your day job. You’re no Mary “Hot Tamale Train” Murphy. But that’s okay — I’m sure you don’t want to be. By the way, I would have voted to keep both Audrey and George on the show.

What did everyone else think?

We all know that it’s a fool’s errand to predict the future. But as the new arts’ seasons approach, critics inevitably are asked for recommendations about which upcoming performances will be worth attending. A little bit of prognostication. I understand; no one wants to miss a truly memorable show — even if it’s impossible to foresee which one that will be.

Knowledge is power, though, so, in that spirit, I thought that it would be helpful to go through the major dance series in L.A. and Orange County, and share with you what I know about each one. Whether the choreography and dancers live up to expectations is another matter. That will be up to each of us to decide once we’re sitting in the theater. So for the next few weeks, I’ll list the different dance offerings and give you some insider background.

First up —  Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center because they’ve put together a big and splashy season:

  • L.A. Dance Project, Sept. 22-23
  • National Ballet of Canada, Oct. 19-21
  • Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Feb. 1-3, 2013
  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, April 17-21, 2013
  • 7 Fingers (Traces), April 26-28, 2013
  • Hubbard Street with LINES Ballet, June 21-23, 2013
  • American Ballet Theatre, July 11-14, 2013

The lowdown:

The big news, of course, is L.A. Dance Project, the arts collective started with funding from the Music Center and run by choreographer and retired New York City Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Millepied. His partners in the project are not well-known here: producer Charles Fabius, dancer-choreographer Dimitri Chamblas, art consultant Matthieu Humery,  and composer Nico Muhly. Six dancers are currently listed on the Project website and Millepied is expected to dance as well. Millpied is creating a new piece with a score by Muhly for the first program, which will be performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The two other works on this inaugural program are from master choreographers — “Winterbranch” by Merce Cunningham and “Quintett” by William Forsythe. How these two pieces will play together is the question, however, because both pieces are known for having difficult scores that test their audiences. In David Vaughan’s book “Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years,” Vaughan says that La Monte Young’s electronic piece, “2 sounds,” is “excruciating.” It consists of two sound elements “amplified up to or perhaps beyond the limit of human endurance.” Cunningham was interested in exploring the “fact of falling” in “Winterbranch.” Artist Robert Rauschenberg did the lighting and costumes for the original 1964 production. “Quintett” was created in 1993 as a tribute to Forsythe’s wife, the dancer Tracy-Kai Maier, who was dying from cancer. Forsythe set the piece to experimental composer Gavin Bryar’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which  loops incessantly, maddeningly. Putting together an appealing program is an art in itself. Will  these pieces be a problem together? We’ll have to see.

The rest of the season has other appealing offerings, and you will notice certain themes and names running through the season. National Ballet of Canada will be dancing Christopher Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a 2011 full-length ballet co-commissioned with the Royal Ballet. According to their arrangement, National Ballet of Canada has the exclusive rights initially to perform “Alice” in the United States. The piece has received mixed reviews and I know one theater producer who passed on the production because this person wanted the Royal Ballet only. But Renae Williams Niles, the Music Center’s director of programming, told me she saw the company at home in Toronto and she thought the dancers were glorious.

Both Wheeldon’s and Forsythe’s works will appear again on the Joffrey Ballet’s two mixed repertory programs, as will the company’s reproduction of Nijinsky-Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” One or two other pieces have yet to be announced. The Ailey programs will be announced later, too. But Niles said she is a fan of choreographer Kyle Abraham, who is making a new piece for Ailey, and that “Minus 16,” by Ohad Naharin and now in the Ailey repertory, is one of her favorite pieces.

Other tidbits — the Hubbard Street-LINES collaboration will include a new piece that LINES director Alonzo King is making for the dancers of both companies. Each company will have the spotlight to themselves, in addition.  (Incidentally, you can see both companies before then at the Laguna Dance Festival, September 8-9. Click here for more information.) Finally, ABT will present “Le Corsaire” and one night of mixed repertory. Niles has requested George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” which has another famous score by Igor Stravinsky, and a piece by one of my favorite choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky. Stay tuned for announcements about that as well.

Check back here Thursday for information about the Segerstrom Center’s dance series.

Ah, it’s so glorious to dance outdoors….

Taking vacation this week. Emphasis Dance returns Monday, August 20, with a series of posts about the upcoming dance season. See you then.

Mariinsky in “Swan Lake,” (c) Gene Schiavone

I heard the news from friends, who started complaining soon after they got their renewal notices to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ 2013 International Dance Series. After 27 years, the center was trimming its Tuesday-to-Sunday dance engagements to a more conservative and shorter Friday-to-Sunday schedule. Only the Mariinsky Ballet, which is bringing the recession-proof Swan Lake to the center, will still offer seven performances over six days (Oct. 2-7). The rest of the season includes Trey McIntyre Company, Hamburg Ballet and Eifman Ballet.

The Segerstrom Center had been among the last holdouts to do this. Theaters worldwide have seen their subscription audiences shrink dramatically. People no longer want to commit to buying a full series of shows. This has left theater administrators scrambling to sell more and more single tickets, leading to financial insecurity and instability. I still remember my shock at all the empty seats for a performance several years ago by Compania Nacional de Danza. The center reseated patrons from the balcony to fill in portions of the orchestra section.

At the Segerstrom Center, it used to be that ballet companies would present two programs over a week: shorter ballets Tuesday through Thursday, and then a full-evening story ballet on the weekends. The weekday crowd tended to be the more experienced and knowledgeable dance audience, and they preferred the mixed-repertory nights. Now they will have one program choice only, and for this season, that’s mostly the full-evening ballets. Several of my friends have cut back subscriptions. But overall the picture is positive, according to Todd Bentjen, the center’s vice president of marketing and communications. He said (via email): “Our season tickets holders’ satisfaction is a top priority, and we provided personal service to each patron working with them to ensure their satisfaction. I am pleased to report that we are on track to increase the total number of season ticket holders for the year.”

Judy Morr, the center’s executive vice president and the brains behind the dance series since it started in 1986, said that when possible, the center will still try to bring in companies for seven-day engagements. But the world has changed. “We decided since so many of the companies are not traveling…they come expecting to do fewer performances and that’s what many of the other presenters want,” Morr said. “What we tried to do is take a prudent look at what was available and what could work within our overall budget and still have what I think is an interesting and good season and represents four different styles and four different approaches to dance.”

And that’s my segue to…

September is fast approaching so over the next several weeks I will be taking a look at the dance offerings for the season, and giving you my thoughts. But first – vacation! So check back on Monday, August 20. And spread the word about Emphasis Dance. Thanks!

Photo courtesy Na Lei Hulu

Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu is a remarkable, San Francisco-based company and school devoted to the preservation of Hawaiian culture through its most well-known dance — the hula. But this is a two-pronged, contemporary kind of preservation. While the group presents traditional hula, founder and hula master Patrick Makuakane develops new dances, too, pairing his choreography with non-traditional music, costumes and settings. He manages this tightrope walk with respect, integrity, spirit, artistry and good taste. If you haven’t seen Na Lei Hulu, here’s your chance. The company of 40 dancers will be performing at downtown LA’s California Plaza, Water Court Stage, 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday (Aug. 11 & 12), presented by Grand Performances. It’s free.

The two-act show is scheduled to open with a welcome chant that expresses Hawaii’s connections with San Francisco, and includes works from seminal Hawaiian artists, such as Dennis Kamakahi (a multi-Grammy winner). Then there are the numbers performed to music not often associated with hula — “The Long Road” by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and John Phillips’ 1967 classic, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).”

Not the stereotypical tourist show, that’s for sure.

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