Ballet and Modern- they both exist... kind of.
I recently had the privilege of seeing two extraordinary companies perform back to back: Mark Morris at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Collaboration with the Los Angeles Opera presending Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, and Los Angeles Ballet’s production of Giselle. As most of you should know, I am biased towards ballet, especially when a friend is dancing but, in this review I am going to be objective as possible. For some reason there is always so much tension between modern dancers and ballet dancers. Even growing up training, I remember this extreme rift of segregation and this was mostly because of our teachers. Teachers, myself included, will put the emphasis on one of two things in dance- either technicality through musicality or movement in space and relationships that follow. I think this is where the seeds are planted, the seeds that eventually bloom into how we react to modern dance or ballet.
This comparison was already at a disadvantage. Why? Los Angeles Ballet is a new company (they are in their fifth season). So, Los Angeles Ballet’s venue was small, it wasn’t intimate and the stage was hard and shallow. They didn’t have a live orchestra, and the recording the used was probably from the 50’s or 60’s, I’m guessing this because the over use of treble and lack of clarity on the low notes. Los Angeles Ballet’s tracks were fed, thus making pauses between the tracks pop and have complete awkward silence opposed to a recorded silence. They also were at a disadvantage at this venue as the lighting was weak, and spotlights were often uncoordinated.
But here is the reality, with Mark Morris having the advantage of venue, space, orchestra and opera- the Sopranos were horrible. Absolutely off, and sharp. Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong and Sarah Coburn distracted from the dancing. Which wasn’t that great to begin with. Conductor Grant Gershon (who I have seen before, conductor of the LA Master Chorale) was lack luster, and I don’t think he understood conducting for dance, and wanted the spotlight.
Mark Morris’s choreography (originally premiered in Belgium in 1988) at times captured the poetry of John Milton but the dancers didn’t. Sometimes the choreography would be fun and stir laughs during the audience, and the motifs were clever- But that is Mark Morris and I wouldn’t expect anything less than that.
During the echoing pas de deux between women (one in front of the scrim and one behind) was gorgeous. Those two dancers were absolutely stunning. The male “swan” or “bird” solo was awful. He kept falling behind the music, and was obviously self conscious of himself. The walking section made me want to kill myself. The patterns resembled swastikas and bad direction changes. Out of the corps I found that Prentice Whitlow was gorgeous and extremely distracting from the soloists, he should have been one of the soloists or pas de deux. The ending of the first act was quite dramatic and extremely effective, and the second acts change of bright colors and 80’s colored geometric shapes were lively and fun. The second act corps work was impeccable but the problem was this: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BEING TURNED IN. It is parallel. Even in modern. There is no such thing as a half pointed food which half the company did. In jumps you should point or flex your foot not have it flop around like a fish out of water. Either it is pointed or it is flexed, it is either turned out or parallel. Sickled feet are awful. There was one particular dancer, a female, who was just not technically up to par and it showed as she kept falling out of turns and was extremely sloppy Compared to Haile Okamura’s opening second act solo which was beyond technically gorgeous, whose port de bras melted all over the stage, and was extremely engaging- other dancers that stood out for greatness was Lauren Grant, Michelle Yard, Julie Wardon.
L.A. Ballet- we had the best seats in the house: front row, center terrace. With all the disadvantages LA Ballet had with the venue- and how young the company is I was surprised. Adolfe Adam (the composer of Christmas favorite Silent Night) wrote a fun flirtatious theme and variation score. Giselle’s storyline is charming and what little girl doesn’t want to be a ballerina?
Technically this company is beyond gifted- and Thordal Christensen’s choreography was simple but effective- And I will just critique down the playbill. Dancing the title role: Allyssa Bross- she was funny in the first act and her mad scene was okay. Technically the girl is stunning, and her tendu front is killer. Her quirky playful side was darling and it helps that she is a pretty girl. Dancing Albrecht was was Christopher Revels, I believe he is the same male that performed Serenade’s Waltz boy last season, and was a lead on the contemporary bill this season. I don’t know his sexuality but at times he looked gay, and wasn’t really interested in Giselle. Hilarion was danced by Chehon Wespi-Tschopp a guest artist with LA ballet and was PHENOMENAL. His acting skills are ridiculous. And it helps that his face is ridiculously striking. In both acts he was much better than Revels.
Peasant Pas De Deux- Danced by Allynne Noelle and Zheng Hua Li- both who I have seen dance before. Li, has the most incredible plie, and is extremely subtle- problem? None, except for the fact that after every turn and every finish he would twitch his head to move his bangs out of his face... Use gel or get a hair cut. Noelle was gorgeous- her developpe side- CRAZY good- better than Giselle’s. They were cute, they were charming but the stage was obviously too small for this couple.
The corps in first act was okay- minus this one girl who during the girlfriend’s dance was completely off and going the wrong way. The turn out was stunning- but here is where I ran into my first problem. LA Ballet is kind of known for being a small, second tier regional company who specializes in Balanchine technique. Which is obvious in the program as almost every company member went to SAB or another Balanchine affiliate school. So it was hard to watch these high, over extended, broken wrist lines which aren’t really meant for classical ballet. The Balanchine port de bras of over exaggerating a line doesn’t work for the subtlety of classical ballet. Out of the corps was Christopher Charles McDaniel who stood out the most of the male corps who at times were very uncoordinated but he seemed to have a grasp on everything.
Second Act was opened by Kate Highstrete dancing the roll of the bitchy Myrtha. Her opening bourre’s were luscious, but once again I felt the stage as too small for such a tall, long and strong dancer. (Ps. The backdrop was nice) Technically gifted, and extremely thin her port de bras was strong and fearless. Her attendants were both great in their choreography with great musicality. The corps of wilis were kind of all over the place, formations were off, and it seemed that the corps has a hard time doing the arabesque chugs together.
Second Act, Giselle wasn’t as convincing as the first act. It wasn’t really convincing that she was begging for Albrecht’s life- and the choreography didn’t help it. During the great part of the choreography involving the chasse arabesques she didn’t move her head at all. A downside to ballet dancers. It is OK to release your neck at times- it adds some drama. During second act- Alebrecht was worse. It was kind of nothing special or spectacular and was completely out shown by Wespi-Tschopp. During Wespi-Tschopp’s dancing death scene, Thordal Christensen did really clever and really affective choreography.
Overall with all of the disadvantages LA Ballet had compared to Mark Morris- I still preferred their performance because of the technicality of LA Ballet. This once again goes to the bias that technicality within music is stronger and aesthetically more stunning. The only real complaint about the company of LA ballet itself is I didn’t feel it had a real representation of dancers in Los Angeles. Ethnicity was in the lack and bottle blonds populated the stage- this isn’t the dancers’ fault but the artistic directors. It is a shame that even they, living in Los Angeles have fallen into the classic, stereotypical ballet trend of white is right.
But I do admire Mark Morris’s musicality when choreographing and wish LA Ballet had that same musical approach as Mark Morris. Mark Morris dancers just need some technique classes, or at least be aware of technique- because it is distracting when everything just kind of flops around.
This ends the season for LA Ballet- and I will say their last bill with Raymonda Variations was much better. They should stick to the Balanchine Rep. The summer season has more to come with National Ballet of Cuba doing Don Q and American Ballet Theater doing an Alexei Ramatsky ballet.
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