LOS ANGELES BALLET LOOKS FOR GOLD in BALANCHINE PROGRAM

Los Angeles Ballet is one stop away from winding up its tour of Southland theaters with an all Balanchine series titled, Balanchine Gold. On Sunday at the Alex Theatre the results were mixed in a program that included La Sonnambula, Concerto Barocco, and The Four Temperaments (all from the 40’s) along with Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux from 1960.  The series concludes next weekend in Long Beach at the Carpenter Center. Both La Sonnambula and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deuxare new additions to the current repertory.

Faring best on the program were The Four Temperaments and Concerto Barocco. Both had exceptional moments, especially from the soloists, but were hampered by the corps dancers who at times made labored work out of Balanchine’s supporting choreography. Noteworthy were Julia Cinquemani, Allynne Noelle and Alexander Castillo in concerto Barocco. Ms Noelle also delivered the best of what the women had to offer in The Four Temperaments in the Sanguinic variation.  Noelle is a seasoned Balanchine performer and her history with Miami City Ballet shows through with both clarity and authority. Also excellent was Dustin True in the Melancholoic variation. His reeling, twisting falls and the lunging, arm-splaying back bends which never let up looked as good as any of today’s New York City Ballet dancers in that role. The best of the introductory variations belonged to Christopher McDaniel, whose fleet, light movements grasped something essential from a Balanchine male role. Ms Cinquemani looked most secure in Concerto Barocco’s outer movements. She danced much of the slow, central, partnered movement with downcast eyes which diminished its impact. Some of the contemplative appeal of the slow movement was spoiled by an inadvertent collision with a supporting dancers head in one of the promenade movements. For the corps as a whole, the parading passages in which the women pass under linked arms gave Concerto Barocco a generous measure of required civility and courtly appeal. 

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The Four Temperaments (the score is an ersatz piano concerto by Hindemith) is a ballet of complex steps and architecture coupled with compelling gestures and poses. The company captured its bigger picture, though in the finale looked cramped for space on the Alex stage. I thought it seemed the most accomplished single performance on the program Sunday afternoon.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (the music is a fragment from the original SwanLake) paired company Principal Dancer, Allyssa Bross with guest artist, Ulrik Birkklaer, who is a Principal with the Royal Danish Ballet. It was unusual for the combination of a seasoned dancer with a partner who is gathering her first real experience with a professional company. But while the bravura work looked mostly secure it had little of the risk-taking abandon that it is supposed to convey. Those famous diving catches in the coda barely registered and were played too cautiously. While the difficulties of the work were navigated with collective flair you never really felt the exhilaration of a partnership that delivered more than the sum of its parts.

Originally, La Sonnambula was introduced as Night Shadow when it premiered with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. With its patched together score of opera excerpts, La Sonnambula comes across as a somewhat mawkish, one act story ballet. At some point you realize that this manor house crowd may be slightly off, as if channeling a ghoulish, Poe narrative. The story gradually gathers steam as it drifts toward a deadly, macabre conclusion. The work’s central pas de deux, with the sleepwalker of the title and a hapless poet, is the ballet’s remarkable choreographic high point. Taking those roles in this performance were Chelsea Paige and Zheng Hau Li. Paige’s bourrées proved often too heavy and bouncy to effectively convey the floating illusion of a candle bearing phantom, while Zheng Hua Li never seemed playful or enchanted enough with his ability to manipulate the phantom’s movements. Dancing the third prominent role with romantic appeal and appropriate feigned pique was Alyssa Bross as the Coquette. Perfunctory acting in the opening scenes with the assembled guests made for little more than static staging. It suffered one other illusion shattering moment when the candle remained lit in an upstairs window at the same moment as the candle bearer appears in front of the poet.

All the works on Sunday were danced to recorded music. Those performances were not identified in the program. I especially missed the real music for The Four Temperaments. The company danced a convincing version of the ballet on Sunday afternoon. With live music, it might have been something special. The company, directed by Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen, continues with part two of its Balanchine Festival on May 11th at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.

(The reviewed program took place on 3/31/2013 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.)

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