Dancing a Balanchine ballet is hard enough. Explaining Balanchine aesthetics to a lay audience should be even harder.
But Lincoln Jones made the most complex issues seem like child’s play in a beguiling “Dance and Design” lecture and demonstration by members of his locally based American Contemporary Ballet on Saturday in the intimate Gensler rotunda downtown.
Beginning with nursery rhymes and the simplest of movements, Jones showed how the relationship between music and dance could open what he called “a world of meaning and substance” as well as “new dimensions of thought.”
Accompanied by Chloe Kam (violin) and Stephanie Ng (piano), solos from Balanchine’s 1961 “Raymonda Variations” were broken down to show the relationship between Balanchine's steps and the music by Alexander Glazunov.
What’s more, at one point Jones drafted an audience member (airline pilot Jim Buss at the final performance of the day) to illustrate the difference between poses executed by a non-dancer and someone trained in the intricate muscular relationships of ballet body-sculpture.
This foray into dance literacy faltered only when Jones tried to illustrate bad (or insufficient) dancing. Yes, everyone knew what he meant, but watching a fine dancer negate everything she had been trained to do simply wasn’t convincing or pleasant. In a satiric context---a ballet such as Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert”--- we could have enjoyed the deception. But as a demo, no.
Now in its fourth local season, the company ended the hour-long program by showcasing Rochelle Chang, Cleo Magill, Carrie Ruth Trumbo and Theresa Farrell in “Raymonda Variations” solos that heightened the special heroism of classical dance---what Jones described as its “unrelenting defiance of gravity and inertia.”
At close range, Chang’s steely elegance through every sharply etched shift of position or hop on pointe proved particularly impressive.
Afterward the event wound down in a reception offering wine, cookies, strawberries and a chance to meet the dancers, plus an opportunity to cruise the architectural wonders on display near the seating area.
Indeed, the Gensler space at 5th Street and Figueroa (reportedly donated to the company) provided a show in itself, especially its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a cityscape dominated by the Los Angeles Public Library.
One glass panel is inscribed with the image of martial arts virtuoso Jackie Chan, who jumped from that window in the 2007 film “Rush Hour 3.” Breaking down Chan’s moves might be a worthy task for Jones in the future. However, his next American Contemporary Ballet forum (May 2 and 3) will explore the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers---so dust off your top hat, white tie, tails and, above all, your tap shoes. Feathered gowns optional.