September 2012

Photo courtesy Grand Park

Downtown Los Angeles’ new and revitalized 12-acre green space, Grand Park, has announced a day of free activities on Saturday Oct. 6 to celebrate the official Grand opening. These are the  dance-related events:

  • At 11 a.m., free social dance lessons on the Music Center Plaza (which is across the street from Grand Park);
  • At 4:30 p.m., dancers will reprise a performance of “A Fanfare for Grand Park,” choreographed by Diavolo’s artistic director Jacques Heim at the Grand Park Fountain Plaza. The piece includes music by composer David O and was first performed in July (photo above) at the park’s civic dedication;
  • At 7:45 p.m., a performance by the Bay Area aerial troupe, Bandaloop, which will use the vertical walls of LA City Hall as its dance “floor.” That’s one I’d like to see. Bandaloop put on impressive shows on the outdoor walls of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. This will be its first LA show.

Arts events will continue throughout the year. The Oakland-based AXIS Dance Company, which commissions new pieces for its dancers — some of whom have disabilities — will perform on Oct. 27 at noon and 2 p.m. For a detailed map of the park and  more information about the opening day events, click here for the  Grand Park’s website.

Russian firebrand Ivan Vasiliev has joined American Ballet Theatre as principal dancer, the company announced earlier this week. He is scheduled to perform during ABT’s spring 2013 season at the Metropolitan Opera House and on its national and international tours, according to a press statement. Here’s hoping that means he will be joining ABT at the Music Center July 11-14, 2013. Vasiliev, who is also a principal dancer with Mikhailovsky Ballet, brought sparks to the Segerstrom Center stage last October as a member of the Kings of the Dance program. His girlfriend-fiance Natalia Osipova is already on ABT’s roster as a principal dancer.

And, finally, news out of New York City that the Joyce Theater Foundation has purchased the building that houses the 472-seat, former movie theater at 175 Eighth Avenue. (Click on the link above to get to the full press release.)The Joyce, of course, is one of this country’s premiere dance theaters  This is great news for the Joyce, which opened in 1982, and for choreographer and director (Ballet Tech) Eliot Feld, who co-founded the Joyce with Cora Cahan. The Ballet Tech Foundation officially owned the building and had a long-term, $1-year lease with the Joyce to operate the theater. That lease was due to expire in 2016. The Joyce Theater Foundation is working now to raise money for a 1,000-seat theater to be constructed at the World Trade Center site. I mention this news because, first, you should go see a performance at the Joyce the next time you are in NYC, and two, because the Joyce is often cited as an example of the kind of dance theater that would be a great benefit to the dance companies in Southern California. What both foundations have built in 30 years, and the good it has brought, is a model worth emulating.


For the past three weeks, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, now led by Glenn Edgerton, have been in rehearsal in the dance studios at UCI. King is making a new piece for both companies. This is an unprecedented, and to my mind, potentially very exciting collaboration. King’s still-untitled ballet will have its premiere in Berkeley in February and the two companies will perform it, plus their own singular repertory, June 21-23, 2013 at the LA Music Center.  (Read my previous post about the Music Center’s 2012-2013 dance series.)

Before returning to their homes in San Francisco and the Windy City, respectively, they gave an informal showing of this work-in-progress at UCI’s Claire Trevor Theatre Friday and Saturday (tonight, Sept. 15). Afterward, King and Edgerton came out onstage and took questions from the audience, moderated by Jodie Gates, who is an associate professor of dance at UCI. Gates was a colleague-dancer with Edgerton at the Joffrey Ballet 20 years ago and she is also the artistic director of the Laguna Dance Festival, so she presented them at the just-concluded festival. (My LA Times review is here.) Their connections with King go back a long way; King came to the Joffrey in the mid-80s to create a piece that featured Gates.

I went to Friday’s informal showing. I can’t talk about the new piece because it’s unfinished and is not ready to be reviewed, or even discussed. But I do want to pass along some of the comments King and Edgerton made afterward because they were quite interesting. The back story for the collaboration goes like this: Edgerton was at the LINES studio overseeing an audition for the Hubbard Street summer intensive (not sure when this was). He wandered into the sudio next door where King was working with his dancers. King was “pulling on the dancers to go further,” Edgerton said. The working experience was so unique, so special, that Edgerton “wanted my dancers to experience that.

“It happened very naively, very simply.”

Both directors acknowledged that their dancers, though similarly trained, are different types and have different movement styles. The LINES dancers are like “Giacometti sculptures and mine are very earthy,” Edgerton summarized. Still, King was eager to go forward with this artistic experiment. They ended up at UCI, because it seemed like a good idea to work on “neutral ground” and a university setting was the perfect solution. Edgerton called Gates and she enthusiastically jumped on it. (As an aside, this has been a win-win situation for all three organizations, so much so that it would seem to be something that university dance departments should cultivate. The students have had the opportunity to work with the professionals, the companies had first-rate facilities and, perhaps most important, the works-in-progress performance gave the artistic directors the chance to see the piece onstage, a most precious and rare opportunity among dance companies, which do not have their own theaters.)

King did not talk about his inspiration for this particular work, but he is an enjoyable, easy-going speaker. He spews forth little pearls of wisdom. An unassuming man with a jovial manner and twinkling eyes, King said he sees his role as dance-maker this way: “We’re here to create something beautiful because that’s what we do. [We make dances] to give something to humanity.”

The creative impetus comes from many places he said — music, nature, metaphors, movement. “I could have millions of ideas in my head, but without them [the dancers] there would be no fruition.”

Gates asked him what it was like to work with the men and women of Hubbard Street, since he didn’t know them as well as his own dancers.

“I think that I don’t know anybody well at all. But when you’re in a room and you’re vulnerable I know you…. We hold onto training, identification. So when those things drop, I can see you.”

He wants his works to be clear, and precise “construction” is key. But King works a lot with metaphor and the dancers’ belief in those metaphors and their interpretation of the movement is key to the pieces not becoming muddied:

“If the idea is about water, let’s say, and there’s millions of metaphors of water, if the dancer leaves that idea and starts thinking of a solid, they’ve lost track of the dance. You’re definitely working with their [the dancers] minds and hearts.”

When asked what advice he would give to emerging choreographers, he suggested observing the construction of anything and everything — nature, buildings, even individual lives. Notice what works and what doesn’t and ask why that is. “Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’  If you have something to say” in a dance, you need to know who you are and what makes you unique. Then you will make your own unique work, and not copy anyone else’s work, he said.

So what’s next? The original plan called for only two more joint rehearsals before the premiere on Feb. 1, 2013 at Cal Performances. Both men shook their heads at that challenge.

“Now that we see how integrated [the dancers are in the piece], we go back to the drawing board and see what we can do,” Edgerton said.

And how does King know when a new piece is done, he was asked.

“You stick in a thermometer,” he said, smiling sweetly.

Paul White in “The Oracle,” photo by Regis Lansac

The details:

  • Akram Khan Company,  Oct. 10
  • Stephen Petronio Company, Nov. 14
  • Solo artist Paul White, Feb. 26, 2013
  • Spellbound Dance Company, April 2, 2013
  • Ballet BC, May 11, 2013

The lowdown:

The Barclay’s season focuses on contemporary modern dance and ballet, and tends to showcase work that’s kinetically exciting and theatrically polished, which is a characterization, not a criticism. (Full disclosure, I worked at the Barclay from 2010-2011, during a three-year career shift into fundraising and arts administration.)  The companies tend to appeal to the  intellect without ignoring the value of entertaining.

Akram Khan Company will be doing “Vertical Road,” the same popular piece the group is doing at UCLA Oct. 5-6, so you have a second opportunity to see it here (see previous post). Stephen Petronio Company is based in New York City and I have been a fan of his for some time, based on the handful of pieces that have made it out here. Petronio started dance training late, in college, but he had a successful performing career and was the first man in the Trisha Brown Company. He has been a continually interesting movement innovator and his dancers have strong technical training. His group will perform “Underland” (2011) with music by post-punk musician Nick Cave, and Petronio’s latest piece, “Architecture of Loss” (2012), a co-production with The Nordic House, an important arts and cultural center of the Faroe Islands (in the Gulf Stream, halfway between Norway and Iceland). The music for “Architecture” is by Icelandic composer, producer and record engineer Valgeir Sigurosson, who has worked with Bjork and director Lars Von Trier (“Dancers in the Dark.”) Additional music is by Nico Muhly, whose name you might remember as the frequent collaborator of Benjamin Millepied.

Australian Paul White will be performing “The Oracle,” described as an intense dance-theater collaboration made with Meryl Tankard, set to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” It was originally commissioned by the Sydney Opera House. Tankard  began her career at the Australian Ballet, but then switched gears as a leading performer with Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. White was with the contemporary Australian Dance Theatre, but he has dedicated himself recently to solo work, immersing himself in innovative projects with cutting-edge choreographers. The Barclay brochure notes that this piece contains adult themes and nudity, and is perhaps a more challenging work.

Spellbound Dance Company is based in Rome and was started in 1994 by Mauro Astolfi. It’s not surprising to know, given the company’s English name, that Astolfi lived and trained in the U.S. for eight years at the studios of  Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. The program features two of his pieces: “Lost for Words” and “Downshifting.” This is the company’s first U.S. tour, thanks to a grant from the highly competitive New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project.

Finally, Ballet BC (the BC stands for British Columbia, in case you were wondering). This Vancouver-based company with 16 dancers is now under the direction of Emily Molnar. A former dancer with National Ballet of Canada and Ballet BC, Molnar has shifted Ballet BC’s direction and repertory, changes that are all for the better, according to a close friend of mine who is a Vancouver dance writer. The group will bring two ballets to the Barclay, both by European choreographers new to me: “Petite Ceremonie” by Medhi Walerski (formerly with Nederlands Dans Theater) and A.U.R.A. (Anarchist Unit Related to Art) by Jacopo Gondani, an Italian choreographer who has received commissions from NDT, Royal Danish Ballet and others.

LINES Ballet, photo by Marty Sohl

The Laguna Dance Festival begins Thursday night. Here are the major events:

  • ** A “sampler” of dance; choreography from Jennifer Lott, Jessie Ryan and Saleemah E. Knight; Sept. 6, 6:30 p.m. Laguna Art Museum. Free
  • ** Backhausdance, Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m., Laguna Playhouse
  • ** LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 9, 2 p.m. Laguna Playhouse

The lowdown:

Jodie Gates, formerly a leading dancer with Joffrey Ballet and Frankfurt Ballet, moved to Laguna Beach when she ended her performing career. She had this ambitious idea that the beachside city would make the perfect place to start a dance festival. She figured it was the kind of destination town — like Vail or Ojai — that could attract tourists as well as locals for a major arts festival. The first performances were in 2006 and because of her connections, Gates was immediately able to attract big-name companies and dancers to town, like Complexions and New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and Joaquin DeLuz, or groups that hadn’t been here yet, such as BalletX. She has held free performances on the beach, organizes master classes for local students and has the artistic directors give pre-performance talks (as they will do for this festival). All of that has gone a long way to building audiences and local loyalty.

Nonetheless, this hasn’t made it an easy sell. Gates is now an associate  professor of dance at UCI and she travels frequently, setting Forsythe ballets and her own works on other companies. On top of that, the theaters in Laguna Beach are small; the festival began in the Laguna Beach High School theater. The Laguna Playhouse is a big step up, but it has only 420 seats.

One of the admirable steps Gates has taken is to put Los Angeles and Orange County dance companies into her programs from the festival’s beginning. By aligning local dance with touring companies, she has helped to raise the profile of dance groups here that struggle to sell tickets when there are better-known and better-funded companies from outside coming into town.

Backhausdance is one of those local companies. Jenny Backhaus‘ modern dance group is celebrating its 10th season. Their program includes early favorites, such as “Sitting on January,” as well as excerpts from more recent pieces, including “The Margin.”

LINES and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago recently finished a summer residency at UCI,  in rehearsal together with LINES founder Alonzo King for a rare collaborative work.  (Local audiences will be able to see that new piece at the Music Center, June 21-23, 2013.) The companies will be doing separate pieces in Laguna: LINES has scheduled King’s “Dust and Light” and Hubbard Street has scheduled “Three to the Max,” a collage of pieces by Ohad Naharin.