SoCal Dance in 2015

I wrote the essay and list of favorite performances, below, at the invitation of the Dance Resource Center of Southern California. But I left out one important development in local dance this year: Felicia Rosenfeld’s appointment as executive director of the DRC. Felicia, as head of the Los Angeles office of Pentacle from 2006-2015, started a number of important and new programs here benefitting area dancers and choreographers. This past year, she spearheaded Home Grown @ Bootleg, a performance series at the Bootleg Theater. The two organizations helped a group of companies self-produce three shows each. This is something of a breakthrough for the area, an important opportunity for companies that want to move beyond the showcase format, but are not yet able to attract presenters to put them on their schedules. With her long experience at Pentacle, Felicia brings the much-needed, expansive vision to the community.

Wishing everyone great dancing in 2016!

Living in the L.A. region, our lives are circumscribed by two constants over which we have no control: geography and traffic. The former dictates you’re going to have to drive pretty far to see a performances. The latter—the traffic—just keeps getting worse. What to do? Perhaps everyone will understand when I say that I just didn’t make it to some shows, and was unable to see as much as I wanted to.  So I have tinges of regret. That said, I traveled as far north as Northridge (for Diavolo) and as far south as Costa Mesa (for American Ballet Theatre among others) in my dance travels of 2015.

I regret missing some performances at the Music Center, Redcat, and particularly at UCLA. When I went to see Flemish choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s striking “Vortex Temporum” in November, Royce Hall was shockingly empty. It was horrible. Perhaps that night was an aberration, but I think not. I would bet the opening of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills and the Broad Stage in Santa Monica have cut deeply into UCLA’s audiences.

In addition, the Los Angeles Times, for which I write as a freelancer, has dramatically cut back its dance coverage. Other newspapers in the area have also hacked their dance and arts coverage, a sorry state of affairs for both the arts and journalism.

There—the bad news is out of the way. The good news: There was a lot that was wonderful this past year. These were my most joyous moments:

  1. BodyTraffic. The company’s February shows were a reminder of what Tina Finkelman Berkett and Lillian Barbeito have added to the Los Angeles dance scene. They commission smart and physically challenging pieces, while also looking for dance-makers who aren’t just the flavor-of-the-month. Their dancers bring individuality to the stage and they like it that way. Bravo.
  2. Diavolo. As I became a regular at Jacque Heims’ and Diavolo performances beginning in the late 1980s, I didn’t guess he’d be the L.A. choreographer to break through on a national level. But he has and the three-part, full-evening work “L’Espace du Temps” is a culmination of Heims’ belief that this daredevil gymnastic style could be, not just accessible to audiences, but also convey artistic themes and worth. I look forward to the next new piece in 2016.
  3. Barak Ballet. Finding your neo-classical ballet voice has been a forward-and-backward process for Melissa Barak (as it is for others). But she has a keen musical and kinetic intelligence. A spate of recent fellowships and commissions will contribute to her growth, and that of her young company.
  4. Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet. Rogers has been around a long time. And yet, it’s only more recently that I’ve become a big fan of his abstract classical style, all long lines, women on-half-pointe, everyone slowly rotating in promenade. His latest work, “Still Life,” with a lush orchestral score by Czech composer Zybnek Mateju, was a powerhouse piece. Thank goodness for the folks at the Luckman Theater who make sure Rogers’ company has at least one annual local performance.
  5. Alexei Ratmansky. American Ballet Theatre’s artist in residence was represented by three different pieces in 2015, “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker” and “Cinderella” (the latter for the Mariinsky). I am attracted to the musicality and the great breadth of his choreography. At a time when ballet has been reduced down to its showiest steps, Ratmansky pulls out the full-range of the classical vocabulary. Too, he is a most human choreographer, whose dances are filled with warmth and humor.
  6. Mark Morris Dance Group. “Dido and Aeneas”  is funny, poignant, earthy, raw and clever. More, please.
  7. Twyla Tharp. Her latest dances are so tricky and the men and women on this latest tour were simply elite performers.
  8. Batsheva. I love to be surprised and Batsheva’s dancers almost always do that.

See you at the theater,


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