October 2012

LA Dance Project makes its East Coast debut at Montclair State University in N.J. next week (Oct. 25-28). The New York Times ran a feature story online today about Benjamin Millepied and his fledgling company. The story’s tone — no surprise — is the usual condescending, “Gee, they’ve got culture out there.”  But I was happy because the story quotes from my review of LA Dance Project for the LA Weekly, and links directly to it. Cool.


Hundreds of people filled Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles yesterday (Oct. 14) to pay tribute to Yvonne Mounsey, who passed away Sept. 29. It was a beautiful service with music, photos and a video that had been made for Yvonne’s 93 birthday, three years ago.

Her daughter Allegra Clegg (whom we, her older ballet classmates, called “Legs,” because like her mother, Allegra’s legs went on forever) spoke with poise and warmth about Yvonne, both the the public figure and private woman. Allegra pointed out several of the philosophical cornerstones that her mother believed in most strongly and I wanted to pass a few of them along here. I tried to write them exactly, but they might be paraphrases:

“A bad attitude is like a bad cough. You cover it up.”

“No matter what you do, do it the best.”

“Try hard in school and have nice manners.”

Photo by Reed Hutchinson

The lowdown:

Los Angeles Ballet begins its seventh season with “The Nutcracker” in December, and then it is devoting its two repertory programs to the works of George Balanchine – throwing a Balanchine Festival, in fact. Seven ballets will be presented over two programs, and the company is planning other events as well, not yet specified on its website. It’s a welcome return to this repertory of masterworks; last season’s programs included no Balanchine ballets. The company got sidetracked, in my opinion, by presenting full-length story ballets. LAB had too few dancers and was too inexperienced to do justice to “Swan Lake,” for example. Plus, LAB co-director Colleen Neary,  a former  soloist with New York City Ballet, is an official repetiteur of The George Balanchine Trust, so with her experience, it only makes sense for LAB to focus on some of the greatest ballets ever made. That’s the theory, anyway. Selling repertory programs, unfortunately, is still harder than even mediocre productions of story ballets.

Four of these ballets have been presented in past seasons, but that doesn’t matter. The company performs at various theaters around the southland. Here are…

The details:

Dec. 1-30 (various theaters, click here for details), “The Nutcracker”

March 9-31, 2013 (various theaters, click here for details), Balanchine Gold: “La Sonnambula,” “Concerto Barocco,” “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” “The Four Temperaments”

May 11-June 9, 2013 (various theaters, click here for details), Balanchine Red: “La Valse,” “Agon,” “Rubies”

The Luckman, at Cal State Los Angeles, is a great for dance, with excellent sight lines. Curtains in the auditorium can close off seats, making it feel comfortable whether it’s a sold-out house of 1,152 or a comfy group of 500. After an early, active period of regular dance offerings (the theater opened in 1994), the theater dropped off the dance map in recent years. This season, the Luckman is presenting two companies.

The details:

  • Rubberbandance, March 9, 2013
  • Northwest Dance Project, April 20, 2013

The lowdown:

Rubberbandance, 10 years old this year, was founded by Victor Quijada, graduate of the LA County High School for the Arts where he was a student and protege of Rudy Perez. Quijada was profoundly influenced by hip-hop culture and it is an integral part of his choreography. Launched in L.A., Rubberbandance is now based in Montreal.

Northwest Dance Project was co-founded in Portland, Ore., in 2004 by Sarah Slipper, a former member of Royal Winnepeg Ballet, and by Scott Lewis, as executive director. What distinguishes this small contemporary company is that it performs only original dance works, meaning (if I’m understanding correctly) that its entire repertory is composed of commissioned ballets. The company’s rep for this season includes ballets by Slipper, Didy Veldman, Luca Veggetti and others. The Luckman program has not yet been announced.

A quick nod to the Cerritos Center, which has had to cut way back on a once-adventurous dance series.

The details:

  • Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez, Nov. 3
  • National Dance Company of Ireland, Feb. 8-9, 2013
  • Savion Glover, March 22, 2013

The lowdown:

Ballet Folklorico will be at Cerritos the day after performing in Northridge at the Valley Performing Arts Center (click here). The National Dance Company of Ireland will present a program of step dance, singing and traditional Irish folk music called “Rhythm of the Dance.”

My how time flies. Savion Glover turns 39 next month and when you visit his website, the first thing you hear is the voice of a baby, or perhaps a young child. Savion, who has devoted his life to  tap and, now, to educating the next generation of hoofers, has always been notoriously press shy. No notes on his latest show, but if he happens to be in the moment, it should be remarkable concert.

On the campus of Cal State Northridge, the Valley Performing Arts Center has devised a dance season of the smorgasbord variety, with something to please differing tastes.

The details:

  • Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez, Nov. 2
  • Russian National Ballet Theatre, Feb. 10, 2013
  • Black Grace Dance Company, March 23, 2013
  • Mark Morris Dance Group, April 27, 2013

The lowdown: 

Ballet Folklorico has continued along as strong as ever, since the death of its founder, Amalia Hernandez, 12 years ago. No one has surpassed it in its ability to deliver the spectacle and polish of dozens of  dancers and musicians representing the Mexican folkloric tradition. The repertory has varied little over the years. You could expect colorful costumes and stage adaptations of dances from throughout the country.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre is a recent creation, founded in Moscow as the Soviet Union was coming apart at the seams in the late 1980s. Unlike the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky ballets, this company was open to professionals and students who had graduated from different academies around the nation. It is currently being led by retired Bolshoi principal dancer Elena Radchenko with a repertory devoted mostly to full-length classics. The company is scheduled to perform “Cinderella” in Northridge, and the Valley Performing Arts Center website notes the choreography is from a 1945 Bolshoi production. If correct, that would be choreography by Rotislav Zakharov set to the brilliant, haunting score by Sergei Prokofiev.

The Black Grace Dance Company is the leading contemporary dance troupe of New Zealand, based in Auckland on the North Island. Founded by artistic director and choreographer Neil Ieremia in 1995, it incorporates indigenous dances from Maori and Pacific Island peoples, blending them with modern and street dance.  The company made its U.S. debut in 2004.

Mark Morris Dance Group makes a very welcome return to L.A. for one performance only. The scheduled program includes: “Festival Dance,” from 2011, created to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary and set to a piano trio by 18th century Austrian composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the early (1982) “Canonic 3/4 Studies,” to short piano pieces by Harriet Cavalli, who arranged her own work and was the soloist for Morris when he debuted this piece during a summer workshop at Seattle’s On the Boards; and “Grand Duo,” 1993, set to Lou Harrison’s “Grand Duo for Violin and Piano.”

One more interesting Mark Morris note: The famously musical choreographer and conductor will be the music director for the 2013 Ojai Music Festival, June 6-9. He will focus on American composers  including the late Harrison (who was a personal friend), John Cage, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives and John Luther Adams. As a bonus, Mark Morris Dance Group will perform at one concert. More specific details are promised in November.

Aspen Santa Fe dancers in “Over Glow.” Photo by Sharen Bradford

Okay, maybe you think you’d never drive to Long Beach to see a show. On the other hand, which theater just organized a reunion of those four champions of free speech, with two performances and a panel discussion: Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, John Fleck and Karen Finley? That’s right, the Carpenter Performing Arts Center (on the CSULB campus,) named after Karen and Richard Carpenter. So pay attention here.

The lowdown:

  • Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Oct. 13
  • Backhausdance, Feb. 2, 2013
  • Companhia Urbana de Danca, March 30, 2013

The details:

Aspen Santa-Fe Ballet is the only American ballet company I’m aware of that has really been able to have two “homes” and make it work splendidly. Artistic director Tom Mossbrucker has selected a repertory of contemporary and classic modern ballets, not so dissimilar from the Joffrey Ballet, where he was a leading soloist. Choreographers represented include Trey McIntyre, Martha Clarke, George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Sherry Zunker-Dow and many others; Mossbrucker has commissioned 24 new ballets in the past 16 years. Here, they will present Jorma  Elo’s “Over Glow,” Jiri Kylian’s “Stamping Ground” and Alejandra Cerrudo’s “Last.”

Jennifer Backhaus showed her choreographic talents early on, winning national honors while getting her bachelor’s degree from Chapman University. She performed with Donna Sternberg and Dancers after graduation, and then gathered together some fellow college alumni and friends to form this eponymous modern dance company, Backhausdance, in January 2003. Her best work is lively, whimsical, and shows clarity of vision. It’s a big break to be presented on the Carpenter Center’s dance series and she will premiere a new piece for the occasion, “The Elasticity of the Almost,” about “structure and chaos and investigates our ability to exist in multiple states simultaneously,” she said in an email. The group will also perform two repertory favorites, “Sitting on January” and “Duet(s).”

Two years ago, an all-male, contemporary hip-hop dance company from Brazil called Grupo de Rua made its So. Cal debut (at the Irvine Barclay Theatre) and impressed a lot of people with its deconstruction of street dance. Now another Brazilian hip-hop company with a very similar-sounding profile is coming to make its West Coast debut, Companhia Urbana de Danca. Actually, Companhia Urbana is not new to U.S. audiences — it knocked the socks off folks at City Center’s 2010 Fall for Dance Festival. Under the direction of Sonia Destri, this all-male group mixes hip-hop with other dance styles. How different or similar the two are, we’ll have to wait to decide.

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