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LA Ballet: Balanchine program 2010

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The LA Ballet's Balanchine program at UCLA this weekend was quite wonderful: Serenade, Kammermusik No. 2, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. I'm disappointed that the LA Times did not publish a review (although they reviewed a performance by the Trockaderos in Long Beach...). I also can't find any reviews in the UCLA student newspaper or the Orange County Register. (This is a sad commentary on the state of dance criticism in this country, but I'll leave that for another day.)

Co-Artistic Director Colleen Neary started the program with remarks before the curtain about her experiences performing with NYCB in these works, and she staged them here on behalf of the Balanchine Trust. The program this weekend was at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA, a great theater for dance with 586 seats, all with great sightlines. I'd estimate that about 80% of the house was full.

If you're in the area, it's a program worth seeing in Glendale next Saturday, 2/27 or in Redondo, Saturday, 3/6. They use recorded music, and there were a few shaky moments in some of the partnering, but any serious Balanchine lover will relish these performances, especially in a region of the country where opportunities to see anything by Balanchine are few and far between.

The company's website: http://www.losangelesballet.org/

I'd love to hear from other Ballet Talkers who saw the UCLA performances.

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. . . Kudos to LA Ballet for doing Kammermusik No. 2, which as far as I can tell is rarely performed. It's certainly a palate cleanser between the two Tchaikovskys!

Neary, in her remarks before the performance, said this was the first principal role that Balanchine created on her. (Von Aroldingen was the other lead.) She said they first worked out the opening duet for the two women in unison. Then Balanchine kept speeding it up and finally said, okay, now the second woman (Neary) will do this a half beat after the first. It makes for a dizzying -- and dazzling -- fugue-like display. The calibre of the principal dancing was just first-rate at UCLA. Enormous credit has to go to Neary for making this work, both in recruiting dancers and coaching them in these demanding roles.

I couldn't remember ever seeing this ballet, but it's worth seeing again, if you have the opportunity. The 8-man all-male corps is one oddity -- no female corps at all. The male choreography is filled with what I call -- respectfully -- "goofball" every day movements that Balanchine could incorporate so masterfully. Some reminded me of the "goofball" patterns for the corps in the last movement of Stravinsky Violin Concerto (some of which are out-of-frame on the video in the Dance in America series).

Here's the info on the NYCB site: http://www.nycballet.com/company/rep.html?rep=107

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The print edition of the LA Times gave very prominent placement to this review today (Tuesday, 2/23): a beautiful, color photo of Serenade on the top half of the front page of the entertainment section, with the full review at the top left of p. 3 in that section.

No review (that I can find) in the UCLA Daily Bruin nor the Long Beach Press-Telegram nor the OC Register, but perhaps that's more forgiveable.

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Yes, thank you, California. I'm struck by the similarities between Los Angeles Ballet and what Miami City Ballet was not all that long ago. Both dance in several venues in a spread-out urban area that lacks a strong ballet tradition. Both are headed by dancers who worked closely with Balanchine at NYCB and trained at School of American Ballet. Both are committed to a high level of rep. Both have vision but face challenges in building audience and donor support.

It CAN work, and this set of performances suggests that Neary and her company are on the right track.

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It CAN work, and this set of performances suggests that Neary and her company are on the right track.

This all sounds good to me, as I have been pulling for LABallet to succeed. I enjoyed their 'Nutcracker' in 2007, with that lovely new girl Lilit Hogtanian. But I think they will indeed succeed, even if only because Los Angeles has been increasing culturally (meaning the High Arts, they've long had the pop domain sewn up, even if they import B'way shows just like everybody else, and I've found those no better here) over the last 3 decades, with great new museums of world-class calibre, a superb opera company run by Domingo (I've seen two very fine performances there), theater (I saw a fine 'School for Scandal' at the Mark Taper in 2004) and concerts at the Disney Hall and continuing fine performances at the Music Center. Even without a strong ballet tradition, Los Angeles wants to be a major culture city, and in fact, already is. All they really did lack was a fine ballet company, and it sounds as though it's going to be just that. The Nutcracker was not on the level of NYCB's, of course, but it was charming and often very clever and well-danced all the same. Was glad to see Carrie Lee Riggins is with them, as I thought her charming in 'Scotch Symphony', even though I'm not so fond of the work as some are.

By now, the creative atmosphere in Los Angeles is so charged and lively, without some of the ossification you can find in the older cities, that it really would be likely impossible that ballet won't become fully rooted in the slippery soil of Los Angeles. I'm thinking of not going at Xmas anymore, and trying to aim my vacation for one of the seasons like this one--definitely my 'second home'.

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Thanks, Jayne, for that link. Permutter imagines a rivalry between LA Ballet and Kings of Dance. (I guess LA is so deeply immersed in awards competitions around this time that this makes a kind of sense. :) )

The good news: LA Ballet wins.

The winner, first. LA Ballet, a newly-minted troupe now in its fourth season (and not to be confused with John Clifford's plucky enterprise of several decades ago), comes with impeccable credentials: Colleen Neary, bred at New York City Ballet and a muse to the master himself, together with the Royal Danish Ballet's Thordal Christensen, co-directs the company. And so far, each outing has brought the artistic level to a higher plane. Angelenos may get an enduring dance resident yet -- one befitting the alleged entertainment capital of the world.
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