Get the ‘pointe’
OF COURSE WE’RE rooting for the new Los Angeles Ballet, which will debut Dec. 2 at the Wilshire Theatre with a production of (what else?) the “Nutcracker.” Still, it’s hard to ignore the historical odds against ballet in the L.A. area. The company may begin with the graceful arabesques of Clara, but we have to brace ourselves for the thud of “Swan Lake’s” Odette dumped to the floor during the pas de deux by a feckless Siegfried we call “the public.”
Locally based ballet has been tutu scarce in Southern California. This remains the only U.S. megalopolis without a top-tier classical company, despite well-ranked ballet schools that churn out world-class dancers. There have been at least five attempts to launch a premier company in the last decade, and all of them flopped -- in one case, owing large sums of money to its dancers.
L.A. Ballet -- it even rhymes! -- seems like a natural for a dynamic metropolitan area with such a love of arts new and old (including an otherwise lively dance scene). It’s always been puzzling that we haven’t supported a world-ranked company. But the survival of an elite and expensive art form is tricky anywhere. Chicago’s renowned 50-year-old Joffrey Ballet, whose part-time residence in L.A. during the 1980s didn’t work out either, has been on the verge of closing more than once. Even superstar Ethan Stiefel couldn’t bring in the big bucks when he spent a tour as artistic director of Ballet Pacifica, a small, Irvine-based company he had hoped to take regional.
Now two notable ballet dancers, Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, are putting their best slippers forward as artistic directors. Their L.A. Ballet will be affiliated with the respected Westside School of Ballet and make its permanent home at the Malibu Performing Arts Center. In a canny move, its version of “Nutcracker” will be performed at three venues around the county, hoping to draw viewers by chopping their commutes.
None of the locations are within L.A.'s city limits, but there’s time to build toward that. The main issue is whether Southern California will provide enough cash and audience to sustain this latest effort. Perhaps some of the major centers of money in town, such as Hollywood, will see the value in supporting the performing arts. It would help if L.A. Ballet delivers the goods, and if ballet fans buy tickets. Then, perhaps, L.A. will be ready for a major jete forward in the arts.