Alvin Ailey dances into Los Angeles with a Hancock Park party
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Thursday evening’s Center Dance Arts celebration of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 10-performance run at Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, which kicks off Friday, pitted guest against guest, but in a good way.
The private party, hosted by CDA Chair Mattie McFadden-Lawson and Music Center Board of Directors member Michael A. Lawson in their Hancock Park Italian Renaissance home, came to a head when 200-plus dance lovers crunched into one room to evade the strangely blustery April weather. Out of doors, it was, as Angelenos like to say when the thermometer drops below 60 degrees, “freezing cold.” The upside of this gathering, which also celebrated the 10th anniversary of CDA (the patronage association supporting the Music Center’s dance programming) was that everyone got to know each other that much better.
Literally rubbing elbows in the entry hall of the ‘Ali mansion,’ named for its previous owner, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, a rip-roaring mash-up of L.A. celebs and their admirers sipped, chewed and conversed. Actor Dennis Haysbert (“I love art. I love it all. Dance, theater, music.”), one of the evening’s co-hosts and a recent appointee to the Music Center board of directors, mixed with Sharon Leal and Judge Mablean Ephriam. Courtney B. Vance shared that he and wife Angela Bassett will introduce their 5-year-old twins to Ailey performances this weekend. (“The girl will love it. But I’ll be doing time in the lobby with my son.”)
The schmoozing paused when dance doyenne Glorya Kaufman arrived, wafting in an orange chiffon dress barely covered by a feather-trimmed sweater coat. The woman who cut a crucial $20-million check to create a Music Center dance endowment two years ago said, “Love you all, keep dancing!” as she partied with Stephen Rountree, the Music Center’s president and chief executive officer; Renae Williams Niles, its director of dance presentations; and CDA stalwarts Liane Weintraub, Jane Jelenko, Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch, Jennifer Diener, Alyce Williamson, Valeria Rico Nickolov, Sue Baumgarten, and Joan Herman, among others.
Nicholas Goldsborough, along with Weintraub, a CDA founding member, chatted with the muscular Desmond Richardson, who was an Ailey dancer before co-founding Complexions dance company and launching an ambitious solo career.
“Having Judith [Jamison] exit her position is bittersweet,” Richardson said of Alvin Ailey’s outgoing artistic director. “We’re all going to miss her, but she’s putting the company into capable hands.”
Those would be the hands of Robert Battle, 38, who was dressed as a manager, not a choreographer, in somber gray pinstripes and a smart blue shirt. The poised Julliard graduate, who has already staged 11 dances with the Ailey company, will showcase his well-received new work, “The Hunt,” during the Music Center run. Introducing himself to Culture Monster, he said: “When I look at the Dorothy Chandler -- and we were just in Tel Aviv -- I think that somebody like me made something of my life despite the obstacles. I was not raised by my birth parents. And so [the Ailey company] is my extended family. So many people [in our audience] have invested in the company; they all have stories; that can be intimidating. But I want to keep it going. The thing that gives me courage and calm is that Miss Jamison was so clear about selecting me.”
In a brief and touching ceremony, CDA honored Jamison and Battle with gifts. Dancer Debbie Allen, who oversees an academy of L.A. youngsters, did introductions: “Judith, when you picked up that umbrella [in “Wade in the Water” from “Revelations”], you changed the lives of many. We wept when we saw you dance.” In the crowd, Allen’s husband, the handsome L.A. Lakers veteran Norm Nixon, noted that “dance and basketball are the same. If you slow down film footage of basketball, you see dance.”
The jovial and earthy Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is running for mayor, clarified to Culture Monster that in actuality she’s a ballroom dancer specializing in “Latin smooth.” That’s how she befriended Kaufman -- in a Santa Monica dance studio.
Standing like flowers themselves amid the backyard’s hardworking heating lamps and round tables awaiting the prime-rib buffet that would come later, a quintet of Alvin Ailey dancers shivered. “We like hot weather! We’re dancers!” they cried, with false grousing. Demetia Hopkins, Rosalyn Deshauteurs, Daniel Harder, Briana Reed and Jamar Roberts admitted, however, that they’re pleased to be in L.A.: “We love to dance in big cities where the audience knows us.”
Their boss, the always imposing Jamison who for the last 21 years has run the enduring 53-year-old troupe, strode by bundled in a poncho. When it was suggested to Jamison that she should embrace the cold and suffer for her art, she retorted, “I already did that,” in a tone that mixed sarcasm, teasing and the truth.
Nothing could supress the affection for dance at this gathering. KPMG, City National Bank and Allstate Insurance were among the arts-enabling corporations to sponsor the party. The love connection between Los Angeles and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater enters its next phase at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the curtain rises at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
-- Debra Levine
Top photo: Actor Courtney B. Vance, left, Debbie Allen, Glorya Kaufman and dancer Desmond Richardson.
Bottom: Ailvin Ailey director Judith Jamison, left, Music Center dance director Renae Williams Niles and Robert Battle. Credit: Maury L. Phillips Photography