ENTERTAINMENT ARTS & CULTURE

Los Angeles Ballet floats with 'La Sylphide' and 'Serenade'

Los Angeles Ballet, with 'La Sylphide' and 'Serenade,' makes the old new again
With L.A. Ballet on Saturday, Allyssa Bross is unstoppable, dancing lead in two numbers on little notice

Maleficent isn't the only witch in town. Madge, the evildoer in August Bournonville's 1836 Romantic ballet "La Sylphide" also has been creating misery (and laughs).

As devilishly portrayed by Los Angeles Ballet's co-artistic director Colleen Neary and choreographed by her co-director husband, Thordal Christensen (after Bournonville), this witch is only one element that gave "La Sylphide" its wings Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

The program, which also presented George Balanchine's 1934 classic "Serenade," featured about three dozen dancers breathing life into these difficult, alluring works. One performer in particular proved unstoppable.

Allyssa Bross danced the lead in both numbers on little notice, replacing an ailing Allynne Noelle in "Sylphide." The pair alternates in the role, so Bross knew her stuff; the question was stamina. But Bross brought insouciance, grace and technique to burn in a sumptuous production last presented by the troupe in 2009.

What man wouldn't fall for her?

Set in Scotland to taped music by Herman Severin Løvenskjold, "La Sylphide" told the story of the kilt-clad James as he succumbed to this exquisite creature's charms. Kenta Shimizu as James offered powerful leaps and turns — pesky sporran aside — as well as quicksilver, precise beats. Alas, he already was betrothed to Effy, articulately danced by Chelsea Paige Johnston, with their wedding scheduled that day.

James' cottage teemed with people, including best pal Gurn (a wonderful Zheng Hua Li), a semi-buffoon who winds up marrying Effy after James disappears, as well as a corps of tartaned-out friends, six children and a pair of bagpipers.

But wedded bliss wasn't meant to be.

After James offended the witch, Madge was out for blood — or at least death by sylph wing-removal. Act II's forest scene had Madge and four crones hexing it up around a caldron to make a poisoned scarf.

Neary, a former New York City Ballet principal, dove into Madge with glee, adding luster to this production that's originally from the Royal Danish Ballet, a company Christensen once headed.

The sylphs were also out in fairy force, with lovely, airy dancing by Bianca Bulle, Julia Cinquemani and Paige Johnston, a fine corps abetting them. But after James gifted the Sylph (Bross) that scarf, she began her death spiral. Yes, the ballet ends badly: James crumpled in grief; seeing his dead fairy float up to heaven, he'd lost everything.

"Serenade," set to taped Tchaikovsky and staged by Neary, could also be seen as a work about loss. A poetic vision of yearning, 17 women in diaphanous dresses filled the stage with intricate patterns and circlings. There were also off-balance arabesque lunges, legs scissoring in lifts and an impassioned waltz; hair streamed loose, and several men came and went.

Bross was stunning as lead ballerina, sharing the stage at first with a capable Ulrik Birkkjaer, then the able Alexander Castillo, as well as a divine Cinquemani and a thin Kate Highstrete. And, of course, there was the corps, among whom crisp footwork and floating arms were paramount. The ballet had the love-disillusioned-by-destiny theme of Balanchine's later neo-Romantic works, but its propulsive energy and beauty came from the pure movement patterns that continually introduced new motifs and variations.

Los Angeles Ballet, on a roll, made the old new again.

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Los Angeles Ballet

What: "La Sylphide" and "Serenade"

When and where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach; also 7:30 p.m. June 21 at Royce Hall, UCLA

Tickets: $24-$95

Information: (310) 998-7782, losangelesballet.org

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