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.

Symphony9

American Ballet Theatre has a lot to offer these days, and its one big, thrilling, ace in the hole is Alexei Ratmansky, its artist in residence. The choreographer—Russian-born and schooled, his skills expanded and fine-tuned in Denmark and Canada—treats the classical art form in an expansive way. He has a complete grounding in technique, of course, an appreciation of the theatrical toolbox, and the kind of curiosity an artist needs to break new ground. He does not reduce the classical palate in the name of self-serving innovation—he uses it all, thereby expanding it. Ratmansky does narrative, does abstraction, and philosophically and musically thematic works. He might be too classical for some. For me, he makes ballet vital and absolutely proves that it is a living art form, even for the 21st century.

The other thing he has done, and one of the reasons he has been such a boon for ABT, is he breathes life into a company that has always had dancer-talent to spare, but hasn’t effectively used them all. Because ABT is his home, Ratmansky knows these dancers and what they’re capable of. He casts them against type, so we see them  anew, too. Perhaps he even changes their own sense of self. In any event, the dancers onstage are always engaged, in the moment, and the ballets crackle with immediacy and the surprise of everyone pushing into the risky territory of truly live—rather than the safety net of the rote—performance.

This was the case Friday evening when the company danced an all-Ratmansky program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion ( the closing show of the ’15-’16 season for Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center).  In “Symphony #9,” to Dmitri Shostakovich, it’s Stella Abrera who shows us something else, something other than her adagio side, with saucy allegro phrases, little beats and jumps on point (there’s an ingenious pairing with Herman Cornejo, who is executing a remarkable string of etrechat six). Abrera and Craig Salstein are the lead couple of the first movement, a jaunty section of clever spatial devices, the dancers split by gender into interacting but separates “troupes.” “Symphony #9” (music from 1945) is one third of a Shostakovich trilogy, in which Ratmansky explores his own relationship, and the composer’s, to their shared homeland.

The slow second movement is led by Russian ballerina Veronika Part and soloist Alexandre Hammoudi. Here, there is sadness and love, each dancer representing and giving physicality to the “voices” of the opening clarinet and other woodwind instruments. Humans always need one another in Ratmansky’s ballets. At the section’s end, the couple lies down in jerky spurts, achieving a prone position that suggests perhaps they’ve died, making me think of the circumstances of the symphony, completed after the end of  World War II’s devastation.

Those connections are suggested in the final section (three musical movements played without pause) as the ballet now has a beige backdrop by George Tsypin with archaic drawings, including uniformed men with banners and dirigibles. The dancing is once again bright, upward, and Cornejo takes the lead here, Ratmansky using his lead’s unique buoyancy. Conductor David LaMarche led the musicians in their own stellar performance. Keso Dekker’s darkly hued halter dresses for the women and sleeveless tops and slacks for the guys were simple yet elegant. (Photo above by Rosalie O’Connor, with a different cast.)

symposium1

“Serenade After Plato’s Symposium” is named after Leonard Bernstein’s five-part concerto (1954) used here as a score. This is a balletic discussion about among seven men (photo by Rosalie O’Connor) that will find additional resonance, I suppose, if you are well-versed in the source material—Plato’s “Symposium”—but which isn’t necessary to know for appreciation. Dancers Jeffrey Cirio, Marcelo Gomes, Blaine Hoven, Calvin Royal III, Gabe Stone Shayer, Daniil Simkin, and James Whiteside “banter” through gestures and steps, solos and groupings that telescope a broad range of feelings, from intimacy and companionship to painful solitude. Devon Teuscher materializes through a dramatically revealed opening in the backdrop and represents Diotima, a priestess who taught Socrates about the philosophy of love. Teuscher and Gomes embark on a duet of intense longing, and then she leaves. But the ballet ends with the men in a group, pointing urgently at Tuescher, who returns to the stage. She is Platonic ideal, or that which one aspires to.

Symposium2

Slower and more cerebral than “Symphony #9,” “Serenade” makes stunning soloists out of dancers more often relegated to the uniformity of group numbers. Tall and gracious, Royal (pictured above, photo by Rosalie O’Connor) has a luxurious smoothness and pliant body. Jeffrey Cirio showed off fleet timing and soaring leaps. Shayer entertains with an infectious wit (and smile) and  bubbly personality. There aren’t enough solo parts for all of ABT’s high-caliber dancers Ratmansky puts them on the playing field, even if he can’t single-handedly level it. Brad Fields has created an understated but brilliant lighting design, helped by Jerome Kaplan’s white square scrim, positioned overhead. Kaplan’s costumes are problematic, though, with loose fabric scraps that interfere with the dancers’ steps, dangerously so.

Boylson2Rosalie O'Connor

The evening closed with Ratmansky’s “Firebird,” a magical, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately triumphant version of the Stravinsky ballet from 1910. Because I’m running long here, I’ll link here to my Los Angeles Times review of its premiere in Orange County in 2012. We saw a different cast on Friday. Among the leads, Cassandra Trenary was new to me, a standout soloist with big acting chops. She played up all the hilarious notes Ratmansky has given to the ragtag enchanted Maidens. Roman Zhurbin reprised the part of Kaschei and he continues to amaze with his reptilian version of evil. Isabella Boylston (above, O’Connor photo) was the night’s Firebird, and she brought strength and mystery to a part that feels stunted, never gathering enough steam; there are too many stops and starts, and ungainly positions. Perhaps someone will master it, but Ratmansky will tinker further.

In the meantime, bask in the unearthly imagery created by Wendall Harrington’s projections, Simon Pastukh’s unearthly trees and other scenery, and Galina Solovyeva’s fairy-tale costumes (glad the women’s wigs are back). It is an eye-popping sight.

The program repeats tonight (July 9) at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow (July 10) at 2 p.m. Click here for more information.