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.

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.

Here are a few more details about Trey McIntyre Project’s new, not-yet-titled ballet, which is being co-commissioned by the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and will be performed on the outdoor Plaza, Nov. 23-25.  In a prepared statement, McIntyre said the piece “will further examine the performer/audience relationship and seek to turn inside-out some of that traditional relationship.”

Does that mean the audience will be a part of this piece? We don’t know.

But what we do know is the new work will have photographic and video elements, the latter created by Andrea Lauer, and costumes by Peregrine Honig. TMP‘s 10 dancers will be joined by three from the Korean National Contemporary Dance Company: An Lee Chang, Tae Hee Kim and So Jin Lee. This cultural exchange began over the summer when TMP toured four Asian countries on a U.S. State Department cultural initiative. The Americans visited different contemporary troupes in each country, and McIntyre eventually selected the two-year-old Korean company, South Korea’s first contemporary dance troupe, as his partner for this unusual collaboration. TMP will appear Nov. 14 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival (which is producing the exchange program), before coming to Costa Mesa. Single tickets for the Segerstrom Center performances go on sale Oct. 21.