Less than a week after the L.A. Dance Project made its debut in Walt Disney Concert Hall, dance returned there Thursday night, this time at the invitation of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its annual gala.
Do two events make a trend? I believe three's the magic number needed to declare something à la mode. Still, to have the fabulously popular Gustavo Dudamel making room on the stage for a ballerina and her danseur, four musical theater hoofers and, significantly, the local modern dance company Bodytraffic is an encouraging development.
Working with the Music Center's dance presenters across the street, the Philharmonic came up with a program of iconic dance music for the opening night program. The Phil even commissioned two pièces d'occasion.
It is simplistic to call John Adams' 12-minute work, The Chairman Dances, "dance music" (long a pejorative term that the orchestra dismissed with its extraordinary playing). But Adams' piece is subtitled "foxtrot for orchestra" and Adams, who wrote it in advance of his seminal opera Nixon in China (and who was in the house), had envisioned a story in which Madame Mao coaxes her husband onto a dance floor.
Enter award-winning choreographer Barak Marshall. He, instead, created a mini-history of the revolution with five couples from Bodytraffic. Struggle was signified with blunt phrasing, heavy stamping, and squat poses. The victors waved a red flag and released streamers to signify victory. Trouble quickly followed, as nine of the dancers were "executed," waving red kerchiefs as they fell. The one man left standing became the feared leader and he was eventually paired with a woman in a red dress. Some brief social dancing led into a wedding ceremony and an ending tableaux.
Perhaps Marshall was directed to take this literal approach; I wouldn't necessarily expect to see this piece on a future Bodytraffic program. But it was a story told clearly and without sentiment, and the dancing was confident, hard-hitting.
It was a little bit more challenging for the star ballet dancers, Russian Veronika Part and Italian Roberto Bolle, both principals with American Ballet Theatre. They were performing classical repertory on a one-third-size stage space, with stray confetti making footing hazardous. Given those obstacles, Part and Bolle focused on style over power, through selections from Balanchine's Apollo (Stravinsky), Fokine's Dying Swan (Saint-Saëns), and the third act pas de deux from Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky with choreography by Kevin McKenzie after Petipa).
The musicians attacked the multiple Tchaikovsky excerpts with lush abundance. Wouldn't it be lovely to watch and listen to Swan Lake like that every time?
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The official program concluded with three scenes from Leonard Bernstein's On the Town, and Broadway choreographer Josh Rhodes devised charming episodes for the four sailors on the loose in Times Square, with nodding respect to original choreographer Jerome Robbins. The finale from Stravinsky's Firebird was the appropriate encore; only adding dancers could have made it more perfect.