Behind the Scenes


Aszure Barton's Awa¦üa - photo by Don Lee 3

Dancers in Aszure Barton’s “Awáa,” photo by Don Lee

The Music Center kicks off a new initiative this summer, called The Music Center on Location. The downtown performing arts center is moving off campus, presenting two smaller dance companies and music artists at the Ford Theatres: Aszure Barton Dance in “Awáa” on Aug. 18 and Jacob Jonas The Company on Aug. 19, in shared program with Tim Hecker and Kara-Lis Coverdale. In October, the Music Center will present British choreographer Akram Khan’s “Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata” at Culver Studios on West Washington Boulevard in Culver City. These are all big steps for this institution, and via email I asked President and CEO Rachel Moore to talk a little about this decision to begin presenting events away from the center’s traditional downtown venues. Below is an edited version of our email conversation.

Laura: How and why did you decide on the Ford as a venue for this initiative?

Rachel: The upcoming music and dance engagement at the Ford Theatres is part of…our commitment to taking the artistic vision of the Music Center beyond our downtown campus to venues across L.A. County and providing even more opportunities for audiences to engage with the arts. It is critical to us, not only as a county venue, but as L.A.’s performing arts center, to serve all of Los Angeles County and to be relevant and accessible to audiences of all interests. Working with the Ford Theatres creates a natural partnership as the newly renovated amphitheater is located in close proximity to the Westside of Los Angeles along with the West Valley and offers an intimate setting for many different artistic genres.

Ana Barros (@anasbarros)

Photo of Jacob Jonas The Company by Ana Barros

Laura: And tell me a little about how you chose to present Aszure’s and Jacob’s companies?

Rachel: The Music Center is presenting highly talented artists, both based in L.A., as well as some pieces that have never been performed here. We are always focused on presenting world-class talent and providing a platform for L.A.-based artists. Aszure Barton is now an Angeleno after recently relocating to Los Angeles. She is a prolific choreographer with strong emotionality. Her piece “Awàa” celebrates sexuality and humanity through movement and will be performed for the first time in Los Angeles. Jacob Jonas is a young choreographer and dancer raised in Los Angeles who combines contemporary ballet with breakdance and acrobatics. His company will perform a new piece commissioned by The Music Center On Location called “On Me,” where the company will explore the idiom “to carry the weight of the world on one’s shoulders.” We are excited to include Jacob’s unique blend of athleticism and dance in our program.

Laura: It is a complicated time for all of the arts. Big performing arts institutions like the Music Center have for at least a decade been trying new ways to reach audiences and to be integral to a broader swath of society. How will the Music Center on Location help and are you worried that by going to smaller venues in other parts of the city, you are stepping on the toes of other Los Angeles theaters, such as the Wallis and the Broad Stage?

Rachel: Much as we would like everyone to be able to visit us in Downtown L.A., we know that just may not be possible! That’s why we created The Music Center On Location. We’re in the early days of this program, but, ultimately, we hope to provide more programming in all five county districts and work with local artists, community groups and other important stakeholders to build relationships throughout the region with the goal of providing even more access to the arts.
What’s more, The Music Center On Location is about creating and building partnerships with arts organizations throughout the region. For example, we may present a future
engagement at the Wallis or the Broad Stage. Our intention is to collectively work together with our colleagues and, in doing so, raise the awareness for the arts across Los Angeles and Southern California.

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StillLife

“Still Life,” photo courtesy Raiford Rogers

Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet’s last local concert was two years ago, when the company presented the debut of “Still Life,” a stirring, three-movement work Rogers choreographed to an orchestral score by Zbynek Mateju. The Czech composer had proposed a collaboration with Rogers via email, and the two worked for more than a year without having a verbal conversation. Mateju sent Rogers excerpts and piano reductions of his symphony as he composed it, and Rogers began conceiving his choreographic ideas based on the music, sketching them out on paper, as he always does. The two finally met when Mateju came to California for the premiere at the Luckman Theater at Cal State LA, and in the fall of 2015, the ballet, which features a backdrop of Ed Evans’ photographs, was performed again in Czechoslovakia. (Here is the Los Angeles Times story I wrote about their collaboration.)

Now the two have made a second piece, “Joshua Tree,” which will have its world premiere on Aug. 12 at the Luckman. The Jacaranda Chamber Orchestra will accompany the dancers for “Joshua Tree” and a reprisal of “Still Life,” and the musicians, on their own, will  perform Stravinsky’s Concerto in D.

Keeping with the theme of conversing via email, I sent Rogers some questions to bring us up to date since the company’s last show in July 2015. Here are his replies.

Laura: So after the “Still Life” premiere, the ballet was performed in Europe. Can you tell me a little about that and any subsequent performances.

Raiford: In September 2015 “Still Life” opened the Golden Prague Festival at the National Theatre. The Gala concert marked the 70th Anniversary of the Prague Dance Conservatory. The ballet was performed by the Bohemia Ballet, which is a company consisting mostly of graduates of the conservatory.  I was asked to set “Still Life” by director Jaroslav Slavicky.  He was familiar with the music of Zbynek Mateju and was intrigued by our collaboration.  After watching a video of the L.A. performance, he invited me to Prague.

Laura: How did the collaboration for “Joshua Tree” come about, and what was your working method this time?

Raiford: Zbynek and I have stayed in contact ever since “Still Life.”  I am inspired, and challenged, by his music. We both share similar ideas in our approach to collaborative pieces. Last year, Zbynek proposed another, longer, collaborative piece.  After visiting Joshua Tree in his first visit to California, he suggested Joshua Tree Symphony.  Last year  Zbynek first started sending me small piano drafts of the piece. He finally sent the finished recording of the symphony around three months ago. 

Laura: Tell me a little about the new ballet. What’s the scenic design for this piece?

Raiford: Mateju’s new symphony (33 minutes) is complex and abstract. My goal as a choreographer in “Joshua Tree” is to uncover the inner narrative of the piece.

The dynamics, tempo, and mood of the music constantly shift. We are using 12 dancers. The set design is a projection of paintings by artist Michael Nava. (We’re using) a projected animation consisting of over 20 different consecutive stages of a painting created by Michael. The artwork slowly evolves over the course of the symphony. The costumes are simple blood red leotards by Yumiko.

There is no story or theme. The mood is reflective and mysterious. The purpose of the ballet is to explore the idea that dance itself can embody sound without the dogma of subjective interpretation. The intent of Joshua Tree is to visualize the imaginative idea of the score without superimposing an artificial narrative.

Click here for more information about the concert and to purchase tickets.

Photo by Denise Leitner

Photo of Multiplex Dance by Denise Leitner

A pilot program with exciting potential to promote local dance by giving companies more performing opportunities–which is what Los Angeles dancers say need and want–debuts in February.

It is called Home Grown @ Bootleg and the first weekend of concerts will feature Antics, which under the direction of Amy “Catfox” Campion combines street dance with spoken word, and Multiplex Dance, which does “techno-industrial modern dance,” in the words of its artistic director Chad Michael Hall. They will share three evenings, Feb. 19 through 21. There will also be a free discussion/group-participation event with the artists at 1 p.m. on Feb. 21. All shows are at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

It is rare for local companies to be able to afford to present themselves for even one concert, let alone three. The idea behind Home Grown is to have the companies shoulder some of the cost of the performances, but to make it affordable enough so they can put on multiple shows. The companies auditioned for the chance to participate.

Home Grown was developed by Pentacle director Felicia Rosenfeld, working in partnership with Bootleg Theater, which is a venue that presents quality theater, music and dance. Pentacle is a nonprofit management support organization, an under-the-radar group as far as the public is concerned. But it has become an important player in Los Angeles by providing services that most small companies can’t pay for themselves. For Home Grown, Pentacle pays for a production coordinator, acts as liaison between the dancers and the theater, and is helping companies with marketing and publicity. But Rosenfeld makes a distinction that she says is important: Pentacle is not producing these concerts. Each company is required to pay $4,000 to participate. Rosenfeld wanted the groups have to have a financial stake.

“Most L.A. companies, unless they perform in a festival (usually as part of a showcase), self-produce performances in the Los Angeles area,” Rosenfeld said in a written statement. “This is an expensive endeavor that typically leads to one performance with mostly friends and family in the audience. Through Home Grown @ Bootleg, Pentacle will serve as aggregator of self-produced Los Angeles dance, providing a pathway for audiences to be able to see L.A.-based dance companies’ and artists’ work for more than one night and not in a showcase format….There is no real home for dance in the city. Pentacle and Bootleg want to start to create audience identification with Bootleg Theater as a trusted venue for local dance.”

Most in the audience don’t understand the financial underpinnings of what we see onstage. When a theater “presents” a dance company (or music, or theater), it means the theater is taking most of the financial risk. Local dance companies have a hard time getting that deal—they end up presenting themselves, which means they have to rent a theater, do all the publicity, and so on. And even if they sell out, they won’t be able to recoup their investment, in most instances. Only the very top tier of local companies, such as Diavolo or Bodytraffic, are invited to appear on the series at theaters such as the Broad Stage or at UCLA. Home Grown @ Bootleg is a mid-way step and could prove to be crucial in helping dancers pull themselves up in terms of getting known in their own hometown and getting more stage time, which helps improve artistic quality. It’s worth checking out.

The second Home Grown program will feature Invertigo Dance Theatre and Danza Floricanto/USA, April 23 to 25. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For reservations: 213.289.3856  or  www.bootlegtheater.org  

“It feels that things are simmering, if not percolating” in the L.A. dance community.–Choreographer David Rousseve, artistic director of REALITY

That was just one of the interesting comments made during the morning session of the L.A. Dance Summit, which took place today (June 8) at downtown Los Angeles’ Japan America Theatre. I think David is right, and the conference was one bit of that simmering.

It was spearheaded by Bonnie Oda Homsey, former Graham dancer and co-founder of American Repertory Dance Company, and Cora Mirikitani, president and CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation, with help from the city and county arts councils/commissions. It was put together with good intentions–to gather the entire community of dancers, choreographers, teachers, administrators, and so on, for discussions, and to provide concrete advice and assistance for making it in L.A. as a dance artist. Still, the summit was announced not so long ago and there was not quite enough advance notice to do a huge publicity campaign. I thought it was a significant event and wrote a story for the L.A. Times. Still, it was unclear how big a crowd would turn out, particularly given it’s the same weekend as the Ojai Music Festival, directed this year by Mark Morris.

I saw Bonnie when I arrived and she said there were more than 200 registrants; she was very pleased about that. I’ll name drop just some of the people I saw: Don Hewitt (former Kaleidoscope director who has moved back to L.A.), Gary Bates, Barak Marshall, Jenny Backhaus, Dale Merrill, Lorin Johnson, Melissa Barak, Tamica Washington-Miller, Melanie Rios Glaser, Michael Alexander, Matt Wells, Jane Jelenko (Music Center Dance Arts), and Fred Strickler. The afternoon was devoted to practical workshop sessions, and I did not stay for those. Following the summit, Bonnie and Cora hope to come up with a working paper that will outline the community’s greatest needs and suggest ways to move forward. I will blog about that later. Below are some outtakes on what struck me the most.

Renae Williams Niles, now vice president of programming at the Music Center, gave a brief opening speech that was titled “The Legacy of L.A. Dance.” Her comments were not, unfortunately, quite that sweeping or comprehensive. She said that up until a decade ago, the only times the community gathered, it was in reaction to some crisis. She labeled this gathering pro-active, and as such, it was a positive development. The vastness of Los Angeles is its greatest challenge, she noted, a central theme that was repeated by others. (Other familiar themes: not enough funding for artists, not enough administrative infrastructure, not enough rehearsal space, and a lack of performance venues.)

Laura Zucker, executive director of the county Arts Commission, moderated the plenary panel. She opened with some revealing statistics from a report to be released in a few weeks: Forty local dance companies, with budgets between $1million and $25,000, had combined revenues of $8.7 million; they gave 550 annual performances here and on tour, reaching more than 300,000 attendees. Yet, revealingly, these companies are able to employ only 18 full-time, and 62 part-time staff members. In addition, 84 percent of their revenue comes from earned income, meaning they’re trying to live off ticket sales alone, which is nearly impossible to do.

Margaret Jenkins, artistic director of her SF-based eponymous company, spoke about her Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange program that has benefitted 30 L.A. artists since she brought it here in 2008. The program fosters, she said, a “rigorous dialogue” among emerging and veteran choreographers, who are paired together; provides compensation to them; helps alleviate the isolation of working alone; and gives choreographers sustained feedback.

Olga Garay-English, executive director of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, urged dancers and dance-makers to be creative and collaborative off-stage as well as on. She noted that during the recent economic collapse her department stepped up its fundraising and was able to get funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to start a technical assistance program. Seven local companies and individuals were selected to take part in it. She also added that NEA officials recently complained to her that they don’t get enough grant applications from L.A. companies, suggesting that there are funding opportunities out there for local companies to grab.

In his remarks, David Rousseve spoke about a peculiarly L.A. dichotomy: The possibilities to make art here can seem more limitless than in other places, yet it’s also logistically harder to achieve. David brought up places to which dancers can turn for help and inspiration: residencies offered by CAP UCLA; spacefinderla.org to locate rehearsal space; alternative dance presenting organizations Show Box LA and Pieter. But he noted there is a “profound lack of infrastructure,” which handicaps L.A. artists.

Finally, Kristy Edmunds, the newish (she just finished her second year) executive and artistic director of CAP UCLA, spoke about her role as presenter and curator of an organization that has been producing live performance for 75 years. She noted that a cynic could say her job is to shop for what the audience “is currently seeking.” She believes, on the other hand, that letting box office concerns dictate curatorial decisions, would mean everyone would leave the theater feeling “empty.” Edmunds noted that she has pulled out seats to improve sight lines in the beautiful but barn-like Royce Hall, and that she wants to improve on the artistic experience of seeing dance there. She said that meeting with local dance-makers is a continuous and integral part of her job, and that she is interested in artists’ work in its full “dimensionality,” not just as a single production to sell.

Clearly, the morning was devoted to focusing on whatever positive elements there are to being a dance artist in L.A. I wonder, did the artists who attended think the summit was beneficial? Do you also think things are simmering?

Choreographer Melissa Barak, a onetime company member with New York City and Los Angeles ballets, has spent the past two years planning for her own contemporary ballet company to be based in Los Angeles, her hometown. Sunday night was the “pre-launch performance” and about 300 turned out at the new Ann and Jerry Moss Theater in Santa Monica for the show. The concert was smartly planned: four pieces that represent the kinds of works supporters could expect Barak Ballet to produce, including a playful new quartet by Barak, “La Follia,” to music by Antonio Vivaldi. River North Dance Chicago’s Melanie Hortin and Michael Gross performed Frank Chaves‘ searing “Sentir em Nos” while Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s Haiyan Wu and Brian Simcoe did an expert job with “Liturgy,” by Christopher Wheeldon, who is a friend of Barak’s. The show opened with Alissa Halpin and Kelly Ann Sloan in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s striking duet, “Moments,” which knocked out the audience at last summer’s National Choreographer’s InitiativeBarak was a participant there with Moultrie.

The friendly audience gave Barak a standing ovation at the end. It was an hour of great dancing with receptions before and after the show so that viewers could talk to the choreographer and get to know her better. (She inserted a questionnaire in the program to gauge  interest in the evening and get to practical matters, such as, “how many miles would you be willing to travel to see live dance.”)

If all goes as planned — which means, if she has raised enough money — Barak has said she will hire dancers for the official company over the summer and begin performances in the fall. Stay tuned.

In my Dec. 16 article for the Los Angeles Times wrapping up the year in dance, I expressed my disappointment with how heavy-hitter philanthropist Glorya Kaufman chose to lavish millions of dollars (exact amount undisclosed) on USC to start a new school for dance. I argued that donations are most urgently needed for daily operations to support the city’s myriad small, professional companies. I didn’t even mention that if Kaufman wanted to fund a building, a centrally located complex with studios and theater would have been brilliant. The New York Times published an interview with Kaufman two days ago, and asked her to respond directly to my criticism (on the second page. The NYT article also links to mine). Her answer is certainly unsatisfactory. She mentions that there are already plans afoot for collaborations with ABT and the Music Center once the school is up and running. Not surprisingly, one can’t help but see these efforts as moves to keep a singular donor happy and in their corner.

I haven’t even aired all of the questions I have. First and foremost is why is Robert Cutietta, dean of USC’s Thornton School of Music, spearheading the plans for the dance school? Why is this not being done by an outstanding dancer or choreographer? Is Cutietta the permanent dean? If a dance professional was running the USC school of music, and making decisions about curriculum, you can bet there would be howls of protest.

Ivan Sygoda, the longtime co-director of the arts management non-profit organization called Pentacle, will be stepping back from his duties this July, the New York-based organization announced this week. Sygoda will still be involved in some of Pentacle’s projects, but he is handing off the day-to-day running of the organization to a group of in-house leaders that has also been intimately involved in Pentacle’s good work: Mara Greenberg, the current co-director (since the group’s founding in 1976), Felicia Rosenfeld, director of programming, Sophie Myrtil-McCourty, director of booking services, and Doug Post, gallery representative/operations manager. Rosenfeld is based in L.A., and directs the Help Desk/LA program, pairing artists in need of administrative advice and help, with mentors who can guide them. There’s the significance: Pentacle provides behind-the-scenes support for small and mid-size dance groups, which have few places to go to get such expertise. Marketing, fundraising, board development — all that necessary business stuff can take artists away from making art. Sygoda thought up ground-breaking ways to make critical infrastructure available to dance artists, so they could bring their dancing to us. Good luck to the new leadership consortium; ruling by committee can be a challenge.

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