Timing is everything and on February 28, 2020 the LA Ballet concluded their final performance of "Balanchine Blach & White" with their Annual Gala. Artistic Director, Colleen Neary opened the evening as audience members and gala attendees made their way into the theater at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Fashionably late after a slowing technical difficulty with tickets, the evening was delayed nearly half an hour.
Neary apologized for the delay and proceeded to explain each Balanchine Ballet presented for the evening and ironically expressed the challenging timing and intricate counting for each piece. While the audience members were about a half an hour late filing into the theater, the dancers were right on time.
Los Angeles Ballet Artistic Director Colleen Neary with honoree Anastasia Soare and presenter Kris Jenner. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.
This year's honoree included: Kenny Ortega, producer, director, and choreographer, who received the Industry Excellence Award, Gelila Assefa Puck, designer, creative director and philanthropist who received the Global Impact Award and Anastasia Soare, CEO and founder of Anastasia Beverly Hills, who received the Angel Award. Nigel Lythgoe hosted the evening which included guests Kris Jenner, Ken Paves, Michael Costello, Khourtney Kardashian, Corey Gamble, Elaine Wynn and Charlene Roxborough, among others.
Presenter Kris Jenner and Corey Gamble. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.
Governor Gray Davis. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.
While the guest list was impressive and included vastly important figures in the Los Angeles community and around the world, the true man of the hour remained, George Balanchine.
The evening of Balanchine Ballets was named "black and white" due to the dancer's practice clothes, black leotards and pink tights for women and white fitted shirts and black tights for men. The dress code attire became a standard and continues to be worn in most ballet schools around the world. Balanchine loved to see the physique of the body and pioneered Ballet out of the popular story ballets of the time. For the Balanchine Era was considered abstract from the empirical Russian story ballets we all think of when we think of Ballet.
The program consisted of three of Balachine's choreographic masterpieces: Agon, Apollo, and Concerto Barocco. Program Note: Agon is the Greek word for contest; the movements of the ballet are named after French court dances. Together, Balanchine and Stravinsky designed the structure of the ballet during the creation of the music. The outline for the score specifies in detail, with exact timings, the basic movements for twelve dancers clad in simple black and white costumes.
Agon was originally made on dancers, Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell in 1957. Stravinsky and Balanchine drank a lot of vodka together and their masterful comradery seeps through the walls in the intricate composition and choreography.
The strength of this repertoire as presented by LA Ballet was the bookended Pas de Quatre of four men in Part I and the Coda of four men concluding Part III. Dancers Eris Nezha, Tigran Sargsyan, Magnus Christoffersen, and Jeongkon Kim formed crystal clear lines in the body and held the choreography in high esteem. This was a clear sign of Neary passing on the tradition of the repertoire with integrity while focusing on the strengths of the dancers. However, I could go without seeing Magnus counting under his breath.
AGON - Jeonkgon Kim, Eris Nezha, Tigran Sargsyan and Magnus Christoffersen. Photo By Reed Hutchinson.
In Part II, "Gaillard," company dancers Brittany Rand and Helena Thordal- Christensen danced laboriously to stay in tempo with the challenging score. The steps and counts seemed to rule them instead of the other way around. The challenge of the choreography was displayed a little too much in this section. Although there is no doubt in the strength of the dancers, the performance quality and confidence in the work needed more attention in this section.
During the Second Pas de Trios, company dancer, Julianne Kinasiewicz, was a sight to see. In the spirit of Balanchine her dancing was a bit safe but her the precision of her pirouettes had a redeemable quality. I'm excited to see more of her. Overall, Agon was clean and well-done. It left me wondering, how Neary recreated the repertroire that still shines in the "now?" Very impressive.
AGON - Julianne Kinasiewicz with Jeongkon Kim and Magnus Christoffersen. Photo By Reed Hutchinson.
Apollo was the most powerfully memorable work of the evening. Originally staged in Paris in 1928 when George Balachine was just 24 years old, Apollo still holds a timeless quality in themes and storytelling. The casting was perfect for this piece.
Soloist, Tigran Sargsyan danced the role of Apollo and his sculpted physique was perfect to create shapes and sense-memories resembling that of greek mythology. Dare I say he shares aspects of Baryshnikov in Apollo. Baryshnikov mastered the choreographic sharpness in the dynamics of this work while Tigran is getting there. Tigran was indeed powerful and is surely making a name for himself- a wonderful role for this dancer.
APOLLO- Tigran Sargsyan with Hannah Keene and McKenzie Bryne. Photo By Reed Hutchinson.
Female Soloists, Petra Conti, Laura Chachich, and Jasmine Perry were exquisite together as the three muses: Terpsichore, Calliope, and Polyhymnia. All three ladies had such similar proportions in their bodies that when it came time for iconic pieces of the choreography like the arabesque progression they, simply put, nailed it. They displayed timeless romance in their dancing: sensual, supple, and an embodiment of grace.
It is moments like the ones in Apollo that were breathtaking because the choreography transcends through times, spaces, and dancers again and again. When done well, you can see the spirit of Balanchine and Ballet in general. That magical essence is what keeps dance alive.
Program Note: Balanchine regarded Apollo as his artistic coming of age. He said that through the creation of this work, he learned he could "dare not use all my ideas, that I too, could eliminate. . . to the one possibility that is inevitable."
APOLLO - Petra Conti, Jasmine Perry, Laura Chachich with Tigran Sargsyan. Photo By Reed Hutchinson.
After the second intermission a quick film was screened displaying the education and outreach programs provided by Los Angeles Ballet. It felt misplaced in the timing of the evening but did display a comprehensive perception of the mission of Los Angeles Ballet.
Concerto Barocco concluded the evening's performance. Originally staged in 1941, the athleticism and intricacies of this work are still equally masterful in 2020. The ensemble was bright and clean in their dancing and truly embodied the syncopations of the musical composition by Bach.
CONCERTO BAROCCO - Petra Conti, Jasmine Perry and LAB Ensemble. Photo By Reed Hutchinson.
CONCERTO BAROCCO - Petra Conti, Magnus Christoffersen and LAB Ensemble. Photo By Reed Hutchinson.
Petra and Jasmine's dancing were a lovely personification of the violins together while Magnus captured the audience's attention in his powerful extensions. Full of energy, the evening concluded with a hungry gala audience with a sense of pleasure to see the beauty of Balanchine Ballets set on Los Angeles Ballet.
Program Note: Balanchine said of this work: "If the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores." In the first movement of the concerto, the two ballerinas personify the violins, while a corps of eight women accompany them.
The LA Ballet 2020 Gala raised just over 1.1 million dollars, and I am hoping some of the fund will be allocated to working with a suitable, live orchestra. The dancers were overall excellent at performing Balachine's work and both the audience members and the dancers deserve the power of a live orchestra.
The Gala - flowers by Mark's Garden and dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.
Neary reminded us of a life lesson through dance. She said Balanchine would say, "Live for now. Dance for now. Dance in the moment." You can learn more about LA Ballet's 2020 Performance Season or become a supporter by visiting: https://losangelesballet.org