Ballet isn't often served with a side of champagne truffles, but Los Angeles-based American Contemporary Ballet invited audiences to enjoy confections, literal and figurative, at weekend performances of George Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie" and Fred Astaire's cinematic choreography.
As part of the "Music + Dance: L.A." program Friday through Sunday at the Farmers & Merchants Bank building downtown, "Valse-Fantaisie" was a fair fit for the company, now in its fourth season under the artistic direction of Lincoln Jones and associate director Theresa Farrell. The piece had a sprightly personality, packing in nonstop hops and piqué arabesques.
On Friday night, six dancers pushed through the paces, kicking up something thicker than pixie dust.
For anyone seated at stage level, just feet from the bounding ballerinas, there was no illusion of ethereal levity here. This was ballet unfiltered — backs glistened, pointe shoes clunked, rib cages rippled with every breath. Close proximity revealed the physical effort required of artistry.
ACB took a more languid pace in the second half with "Astaire Dances II — Fred and Ginger," live re-creations of Astaire's screen choreography. It was a follow-up to the company's first presentation of Astaire's work last year.
For the Record
An earlier version of this post incorrectly said American Contemporary Ballet first performed Fred Astaire's choreography this spring. Also, a photo caption misidentified Cleo Magill as Emily Parker.
The duets began primly, but Zsolt Banki as Astaire effused a steady charisma as he partnered with his various Gingers, each a different member of the company, with debonair expressiveness and smooth assurance. Jones left out Astaire's most famous dance partner last year, but in this sequel he restaged key works from Astaire's career with Ginger Rogers. Classic dances such as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from "Roberta" and "Never Gonna Dance" from "Swing Time" lost some luster in the translation from screen to stage, but others sparkled.
"Cheek to Cheek" from "Top Hat" exuded the most charm. Banki, with Cleo Magill as Rogers, effortlessly lilted in each other's arms as he spun her in a frothy and effervescent swirl. Jones pulled more tricks out of Astaire's hat with the famous roller skating scene from "Shall We Dance." The audience gasped with astonishment when Kaila Feldpausch spilled offstage and nearly into the streets of downtown through the Merchant's double doors.
That dash of novelty didn't linger long. The buzz faded when dramatized scenes meant to serve as transitions between dance numbers fizzled. What could have been clever jokes between actors Rob Norton and Callie Schuttera, stand-ins for Fred and Ginger, didn't land as smartly as they should. The venue's acoustics didn't help. Although the pair's endearing but dated repartee invited laughter, the dialogue was swallowed up by the Merchant's high and echoey ceiling.
However, the foggy soundscape did not muffle the piano and string ensemble, composed of top-notch chamber musicians. Whether playing Gershwin for "Astaire Dances II" or Glinka for Balanchine, the music soared.
Ultimately, American Contemporary Ballet's "Music + Dance: L.A." was like a glass of Champagne — short, sweet and bubbly.