Some in Los Angeles will remember nearly 30 years ago when Frankfurt Ballet, then directed by American choreographer William Forsythe, performed here. This was near the beginning of Forsythe’s rise as an important influence in European dancemaking. It was also an era that witnessed another American, John Neumeier, achieve great success directing a European company in Hamburg. They (inheritors in one way or another of Béjart and his Ballet of the 20th Century) along with Pina Bausch, Netherlands Dance Theater, Cullberg Ballet and host of others made Europe a powerhouse modern dance and contemporary ballet capitol. Around the same time Montreal’s La La La Human Steps, along with the Joffrey Ballet and NDT were also giving Los Angeles performances. For a brief while, cutting edge dance was available in a city that had very little of it coming from home grown sources.
This week, Forsythe makes an LA return in a kind of Fall for Dance festival program featuring his old and new works danced by three American companies: San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Houston Ballet. Two works on the program, “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” and “Artifact Suite” are more than two decades old and have been widely franchised. The third, ”Pas, Parts” is new for San Francisco Ballet this year. All of it is neatly timed to coincide with Forsythe’s brief emeritus victory lap at the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance where he has been in residence this fall during the school’s second year of operation.
The Kaufman series, which started in 2009, has brought many international touring companies to Los Angeles but none of it has had either a profound or lasting impact (or any impact at all, really) on local companies or even local audiences. The series, with its mostly backward looking programming, has always seemed artistically cut adrift and has achieved a spectacular, almost deliberate, disconnect with the dramatic rise of artistically savvy new, local dance companies. At the same time it has managed to miss most of the truly interesting developments in dance in America, Canada, and Europe. It is something of an oddity that Alvin Ailey, which has been the series’ most frequently represented company, has itself partially morphed from its early inspiration as a solely American phenomenon into a company embracing in its new choreography exactly the same bigshot European choreographers who have mostly gone missing on Los Angeles stages for the last 20 years.
This weekend, the programming, now under the direction of Rachel Moore, makes good on the lost time, but you can’t help but wonder with works like “Vertiginous Thrill”, and “Artifact” that being 20 years late to the party is more old hat than cutting edge. For now, local audiences will have to make do with catching a glimpse of the end of a storied career and wonder how it came to be that we missed out on all the rest.
(The Frankfurt Ballet, NDT and La La La Human Steps performances mentioned were presented at the Wiltern Theater. During the same period, The Joffrey Ballet were regular visitors to the Music Center. Please click on “Artifact Suite” for an extended video of a performance.)