10 Best L.A. Dance Shows of 2014

Invertigo Dance Theatre in After It Happened
Invertigo Dance Theatre in After It Happened
Photo by Joe Lambie

Whether a particular performance or event was a best or significant is far better known by dancers, their artistic directors and the choreographers than to an audience member seeing a single performance — even a semi-knowledgeable one who presumes to write about dance. It may be argued whether these are the ten best amid the hundreds of L.A. dance performances, trends and events in 2014, but they are seriously significant.

1. Invertigo’s unconventional wisdom

When Laura Karlin and her Invertigo Dance Theatre booked a three-week run for After It Happened, Karlin’s consideration of a community beset by a natural disaster, many thought the contemporary troupe was flirting with its own disaster. From small local troupes to major international companies, conventional wisdom holds that dance in L.A. is not financially sustainable for more than a single weekend (except for Matthew Bourne and Twyla Tharp). But of those typical runs, by the time word gets out or a review appears, the show has already ended. Karlin and Invertigo proved conventional wisdom wrong as strong reviews and word of mouth triggered sold-out shows the second and third weeks, plus shows added for the wait-listed. In 2014, bravos to Invertigo pioneering a new approach where extended runs allow time to build an audience.

The ubiquitous Gaga

During 2014, choreographer Ohad Naharin’s signature “gaga” style of contemporary dance, with its emphasis on Butoh-esque slow movement countered by explosive, percussive moments, seemed to be everywhere. Naharin was one of the choreographers showcased in ballet superstars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev’s contemporary showcase Solo for Two. Naharin’s own Batsheva Dance Company not only performed at UCLA but also held sway for a week of workshops, installations and a panel discussion with his acolyte Danielle Agami, who helms L.A.-based Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY, which contributes to gaga’s proliferation in SoCal dance.

David Roussève's Stardust
David Roussève's Stardust
Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

Starry skies

The lush, wistful elegance of Nat King Cole’s iconic recording of Stardust contributed the title and the soundtrack for David Roussève’s musings about a gay African American teenager who appeared to the audience only through a series of sometimes-heartbreaking, always-unanswered projected text messages. Roussève himself appeared in a poignant solo segment as the boy’s grandfather, another strong hint as to why this L.A.-based choreographer’s mantel is heavy with awards. Runner up: Hot British choreographer and popular TED talker Wayne McGregor brought his Random Dance in Far, with ten dancers, a score from Brian Eno and a setting that included 3,200 pinpoint LED lights that had their own choreography.

Blue 13 at Grand Park

The stretch of land from City Hall to the Music Center is still finding its dance groove in many ways, but over five days this summer, downtown’s lunch crowd could view and provide feedback as Blue 13 Dance Company developed a site specific work. The final product brought many of that lunch crowd for the full performance at the weekend, but along the way the participatory process confirmed Grand Park’s unique potential to give new audiences access to dance in new ways.

Alina Cojocaru and Carsten Jung in Hamburg Ballet's Lilliom
Alina Cojocaru and Carsten Jung in Hamburg Ballet's Lilliom
Photo courtesy of Hamburg Ballet

A Carousel ballet before Rogers and Hammerstein

Among 2014’s major visiting productions, Hamburg Ballet’s Lilliom reinforced John Neumeier’s reputation as the Baz Luhrmann of ballet with his lush, dizzyingly theatrical, multilayered storytelling and his ability to reconsider classic tales for modern audiences. Drawn from the same 1909 Hungarian play that was the basis for the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, Neumeier’s inspired Lilliom benefited from the exquisite Alina Cojocaru and the powerful Carsten Jung in the leads and the evocative score from legendary, Oscar-winning Michel Legrand.

Diavolo Dance Theater

Too many contemporary choreographers have been trending toward an imbalance between setting and movement, emphasizing set design, video and lighting into what become static art installations interrupted by dancing. For decades, choreographer Jacques Heim has struck a balance between fantastical architectural constructs and the band of dancers, acrobats and gymnasts that are Diavolo Dance Theater. Heim’s deft hand was evident in the company’s summer Greek Theater performance evoking a ship at sea and SoCal skateboard culture. Perhaps Heim's secret is that unlike many contemporary choreographers, his intricately constructed structures invariably move in their own right, becoming more than an installation, and as much a dancer as the human performers.

Los Angeles Ballet in Swan Lake
Los Angeles Ballet in Swan Lake
Photo by Reed Hutchinson

Having a growth spurt

After eight seasons of critically praised performances and steady growth in its dancer ranks, Los Angeles Ballet began its 2014 season with a major expansion to a fourth performance series, sold out performances of its full length Swan Lake and the addition of Hollywood’s Dolby Theater to its existing home theaters in Glendale, Northridge, Westwood and Redondo Beach. With this new, major venue and expanded season, LAB reaffirms that it is the major professional ballet company this city has lacked.

Summer dance

That two-tiered stage often requires choreographic adjustments, but the al fresco Ford Amphitheater remains L.A. unrivaled summer destination for dance. The line-up for summer 2014 reflected the dazzling diversity of SoCal dance genres and cultures, including a successful debut of a SoCal dance festival. Remodeling and renovations promise to render the Ford even more dance-friendly in 2015.

Ballet RED
Ballet RED
Photo by Jim Doyle

Painting the town RED

Known for her rock music video with ballet dancers shod one foot in a pointe shoe and the other in a stiletto heel, Josie Walsh and her Ballet RED transferred ballet’s renegade side from music video to the live stage for Urban Angels. Walsh has credits that include commissions from Los Angeles Ballet and a prior aerial influenced company MYOKYO, and her Urban Angels took flight with three contemporary works backed by live music from Jealous Angel, led by stilt-walking Paul Rivera.

Rainer at Getty

In 2013, the Getty was part of the multi-venue celebration of New York choreographer Trisha Brown. This year, the Getty mounted a stunning celebration/retrospective of New York choreographer/filmmaker Yvonne Rainer that climaxed with performance of new choreography from Rainer. No question Rainer and her work were deserving, but can one hope the SoCal-based Getty might eventually turn similar attention to a SoCal-based choreographer. Say, Lester Horton? 


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