Jonas flying during "In a Room on Broad St." Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Jonas flying during “In a Room on Broad St.” Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

The Friday night debut of Jacob Jonas The Company at Wallis Annenberg Center  was a big deal for choreographer and artistic director Jonas.

The Beverly Hills High School alum is only 24 and started his concert-contemporary-street-dance group a mere two years ago. And there he was, with his 11 dancers being presented by this small but new and mighty (as in influential) theater, in his hometown.

But it was another milestone, too, in a string of them, for the dance community in the Los Angeles metro area, where theaters rarely take risks by presenting young local companies. There has been a steady and  exciting expansion, in quantity and quality, of dancing and dancers (and most of Jonas’ group are from Southern California). Jonas adds another dimension to the scene.

Jonas was a young teen when he hooked up with the Calypso Tumblers, a street performance group in Venice with whom he ended up touring worldwide. Jonas has hand-picked dancers with diverse backgrounds and dance skills, from ballet to jazz to parkour to breaking. Jonas takes all of that material and thoughtfully utilizes it to present a message, sometimes a story, a metaphor, and, if Friday night was any indication, it’s material that always has heart.

The opening piece, “In a Room on Broad St.,” gives us 10 seemingly lonely individuals, clearly cut off from one another, but who, by my interpretation, appeared to want human connection. (In the post-performance discussion, Jonas said that competition was a main theme of the piece.) Jonas and Anibal Sandoval had a remarkable duet, pushing and overpowering one another with their backs pressed together. In a solo of amazing physical feats, Lamonte “Tales” Goode twisted his body into pretzel poses, balancing one-handed.

Dancer Lamonte "Tales" Goode. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Dancer Lamonte “Tales” Goode. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

In the premiere of “fly,” Jeremy Julian Grandberry, Charissa Kroger, Brooklynn Reeves and Jill Wilson repeatedly traced a zigzag pattern from left to right across the stage. A virtuoso step or two was added during each crossing, creating variations to an ever-developing theme. As the piece progressed, the backstage curtain very slowly rose, so by the end, the audience could see the dancers running back to the left side, where they’d start their zigzaging journey again. Jonas later revealed that this linear route was inspired by a heart monitor machine and a recent death in the family. I’m not sure I would have intuited his meaning. But it didn’t matter because the moving picture Jonas has choreographed has enough complexity and suggestions of narrative possibilities that it succeeds even without Jonas’ back story.

In “Obstacles,” on the other hand, Jonas was intent on  sharing with us his inspiration and source material. “Obstacles” is about a friend, Mallory Smith, who has cystic fibrosis, which is a life-threatening disease. Audio of Smith talking about her struggles punctuate the dance. Her stories are honest; the emotion in her voice suggesting stoicism. Meanwhile, petite Marissa Labong (a powerhouse artist and veteran of the L.A. dance scene) and Jonas stand in a long diagonal spotlight. Labong attempts throughout the piece to get ahead of Jonas—climbing over him, sneaking around him, running in front.

Jonas and Marissa Labog. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Jonas and Marissa Labog. Photo by Kevin Parry for The Wallis

But each time, Jonas firmly, forcefully, picks her up and places her back at the start, upstage left, and then places himself ahead of her, his back to her, his feet dug into the ground, as he waits for her next escape attempt. He’s her obstacle; he’s her disease. She has to live with him, whether she likes it or not. We watch her pass through various emotional states until she sits down cross-legged, giving up her battle. But he comes to her and they end up walking hand-in-hand to the starting point; it’s as if he’s encouraging her to keep trying, even though there’s nothing particularly kind about it.

Smith’s narrative was well-told and well-spoken, but it was superfluous; Jonas can trust his movement…although, I recognize that telling Smith’s story was a significant part of his intention. Still, he has created a universal piece about life. And he and Labog gave physically committed, emotionally memorable portrayals.

The program’s other premiere was a dance film called “Grey,” shot at the Getty Center. Jonas and cinematographer William Adashek captured the gorgeous contrasts of light and dark, curve and straight line in the iconic buildings, and beautifully matched dance to it.

The one stumble of the night was when the Wallis staff failed to alert the audience that the pause between the first two pieces was not an intermission. Nearly half the crowd left their seats–and no announcement was made to stay seated. As a result, “fly” was nearly half over before the streams of people returning to their chairs stopped. I’d like to see that piece again in better circumstances.

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.