N.Y. in L.A.

L.A. dance correspondent, Benn Widdey, sent us this report on a recent wave of flirtatious engagements of big gun NYC choreographers in La La Land!

The past several weeks have brought some of your hometown heroes out to the west coast. The bigger local venues can afford to bring in some of the seat-filling NY artists and we get a peek at what’s been going on in the Big Apple. The events often come out here years after their creation and premiere, but we get to see what all the hubbub has been about. Sometimes we are impressed and inspired; sometimes we wonder about the hype.

Mid September, David Michalek’s Slow Dancing, the hyper-slow-motion video portraits of larger-than-life (mostly) famous dance personalities were exhibited to the public outdoors at our Music Center Plaza. Surprisingly, we had some rain during the exhibit’s residency, but the crowds did make it to the free nine day event. The night I went, the rain had recently halted, the air was warm and people were walking around the screens and marveling at some of the beyond-butoh action.

It seemed like an extended Edward Muybridge compilation of photographs of movement, but the color and resolution of the images highlighted our current technological advances. Not that everything was perfect, but a bit more refined than Muybridge’s efforts. I liked watching Desmond Richardson’s muscles tense, Herman Cornejo jump, Judith Jamison survey her king(queen)dom, “Kwikstep” Dionisio spin on his head for ten minutes and all the ballerinas extended their legs slowly. If there had been chairs there, I could have stayed longer to see everyone, but after an hour or so of the four screens changing every ten minutes, I returned to my car.

I had seen Bill Viola’s The Passions a few years back at the Getty Art Museum and that blew me away. These dance not-quite-still lifes were interesting and inhabit some strands of the same line. What was more exciting, however, was the opportunity for all kinds of people to share the experience. It wasn’t all theater-goers, dames and courtiers, but local white collar workers and young and old out for a good time, stopping by to see the big videos. Remember, this is LA, film and TV heaven.

Soon after, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company came to the highly esteemed Royce Hall at UCLA with Blind Date (2005). Performing two nights at this 1800 seat venue, the audiences gave several standing ovations for the artists and were treated to a short epilogue of solo/duet dancing by Mr. Jones. Undressing on the stage until he was left bare chested in slacks, he riffed to the jazz standard “I Like Manhattan” and people hummed that tune as they exited the theater.

Blind Date‘s dancing was outstanding, the music variety and performance untethered and the visuals sometimes overwhelming. Jones has a great sense of theater, understands what his audience wants and often delivers. For me, the moment when the dancers walked casually throughout the space and one would stop, announce “Me!” and fall like a tree in the forest . . . only to be cradled onto the floor by some nearby co-workers made metaphoric sense while they sang the national anthem in harmony.

The next week, what had been an example of (your) City Center’s outreach activities realized its potential fifty miles south of Los Angeles at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Usually a place where the large international ballet companies stop by for a night or two, or where the road tours of Tony Award-winning musicals spend a couple weeks, the California programmers took on the Fall for Dance model.

Offering two different programs over four performances at $10 for each seat, I got to see the Martha Graham Company doing Sketches from Chronicle, the Dutch National Ballet (choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa), Charlie Moulton’s Extra Large Precision Ball Passing (for 60 people), Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, Rennie Harris Puremovement (Students of the Asphalt Jungle) and Project Bandaloop hanging from the roof on the side of the building. The other program included Pacific Northwest Ballet doing Nacho Duarte’s Jardi Tancat, Boston Ballet doing a Pas de Deux by Val Caniparoli, Susan Marshall’s aerial Kiss, Srishti-Nina Rajarani Dance Creations ( Quick) and Via Katlehong Dance.

I think the highlight of these dance samplers was the size of the audience. Most of the 3,000 seats were filled when I went and I think that was true of each performance. For those with a history in watching dance, we were hopefully pleased for at least 20% of our time in the theater and could appreciate the remainder. For the uninitiated, I imagine they could savor the quality of the work—the dancing was of the highest caliber–and the experience of being in seats that usually cost five to six times as much as we were paying. Unfortunately, however, newer and less traditional dance and theater ideas weren’t part of this caravan and, as always, it’s hard to get many of the downtown artists onto this coast.

Finally, the Mark Morris Dance Group took over the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for three shows last weekend. They presented Mozart Dances with a live orchestra and Garrick Ohlsson and Yoko Nozaki as piano soloists. Los Angeles had been deprived of seeing the PBS telecast of the work from New York, so many attendees were thrilled and excited to witness the event in person. The company seemed in fine form, the music was clean and supportive and, though the audiences seemed to go home happy, the local mainstream press was not all that ecstatic. I, too, was a little disappointed.

Mr. Morris is an acknowledged craftsman and always a crowd pleaser, even as the art form’s bad boy. He is an intelligent professional artist, developing and maintaining a performing institution. His collaborators and dancers are highly respected in their fields, he seems kind and gracious to his audiences and benefactors and doesn’t seem to be ruffling any feathers these days. Perhaps he shook things up in the past so much that the times have changed enough to make him seem tranquil. Or maybe not.

–Benn Widdey

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