Newsletter: Essential Arts: How the Mariinsky Ballet has kept ‘La Bayadère’ going for 142 years


A bit of ballet. A mother-daughter musical. And a radical orchestral series. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with your guide to what’s happening in the culture:

A historic ballet on stage

Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet will be at the Segerstrom Center performing “La Bayadère.” The dance was created by French choreographer Marius Petipa in 1877 after being named the Mariinsky’s principal ballet master and has been performed by the troupe ever since. The Times’ Makeda Easter charts how the dance has been preserved and has evolved over the 142 years it has been in existence.


In other dance news: Spanish artist Marta Carrasco and her team were deported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection before an 11-day engagement in Los Angeles with the Latino Theater Company. Nikki Munoz has the full report.

On stage

The Broadway musical “The Light in the Piazza” has graduated to the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, courtesy of L.A. Opera. Some aspects soar, says Times theater critic Charles McNulty. Others do not. “[Renée] Fleming and [Dove] Cameron delicately negotiate this poignant mother-child relationship,” he writes. “Yet when the production swirls into a more operatic mode, psychological truth dissipates.”

McNulty also reviews Obie-winner Ain Gordon‘s “217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous,” a work of documentary theater that tells the story of masked psychiatrist Dr. John Fryer, who challenged convention and got homosexuality removed from the list of mental illnesses as maintained by the American Psychiatric Assn. in the 1970s. “The story of Fryer is only flickeringly told,” writes McNulty, but by the end, he and his ongoing legacy are emotionally unmasked.”

In a commentary piece, McNulty notes that L.A. is regularly hailed as a cultural mecca but that theater is frequently left out of the discussion. “Los Angeles is undeniably a theater town. Important works are launched from our stages before traveling the nation. The city receives the pick of touring companies.” The problem? The stops and starts of the dominant Center Theater Group. “The city has come too far to accept a diet heavy in New York seconds from its largest nonprofit theater,” he writes.

The politically charged surrealist musical “Soft Power,” which debuted at the Ahmanson last year, has landed at the Public Theater in New York and reaction is mixed, reports Jessica Gelt — it’s been labeled both “revolutionary” and “political nonsense” by critics.


Ashley Lee has been hanging out at the Pasadena Playhouse, where she got an exclusive look at what gives the ravenous plant at the heart of “Little Shop of Horrors” such curious appeal. “I wanted to make something that seems alien and extraterrestrial but also that gives an emotional reaction — you can’t help but smile,” Sean Cawelti, the show’s puppet master, tells Lee.

Heidi Schreck‘s Tony-nominated autobiographical play “What the Constitution Means to Me” has played to sold out audiences in New York and been a Pulitzer finalist. But the big question has been who would play Schreck once the show hit the road. Lee has an answer: Maria Dizzia, a Tony-nominated actress who is a good pal of Schreck and helped her fine-tune the show.

Design time

It’s been a stellar year for Johnston Marklee, the rising L.A. architectural studio founded by Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee. Late last year, they received wide acclaim for their design of the graceful new Menil Drawing Institute in Texas. And last month, they opened the doors on the Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios for UCLA. I profile the duo, one “less preoccupied with planting Instagrammable icons than in creating structures that react to local context in deliberate ways.”

Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee at their Westside studio in August.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Jessica Gelt reports on changes afoot at the historic Gamble House in Pasadena. David Gamble bequeathed the home to the city of Pasadena in 1966 with the stipulation that it be operated by USC for 99 years. The university, however, is bowing out, leaving the property in the hands of the new Gamble House Conservancyall pending court approval.

Classical notes

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra kicked off its experimental “Session” shows with a concert led by Christopher Rountree in the old synagogue that now houses the Pico Union Project. “This wasn’t in the least a safe concert,” writes Times classical music critic Mark Swed, “and that was its greater magnificence.”

Beethoven’s 250th birthday is next year and some orchestras are getting a jump on the celebrations, including the Colburn School’s Calidore String Quartet. “Its performances of two of late Beethoven quartets Wednesday, some of the most utterly profound chamber music in existence, were shockingly deep,” writes Swed.

In the galleries

Times contributor Sharon Mizota reviews a show of sculptures and paintings by Jebila Okongwu at Baert Gallery. The artist uses the language of Pop Art (imagine large crates of fruit) to “comment on exoticism and the legacies of the slave trade, with varying degrees of success,” she writes. Afterwards, “bananas may never look the same.”


At ltd los angeles, the Philly artist Shikeith employs photography and video to explore “how black men can express tenderness and desire for each other in the face of racism, homophobia and toxic masculinity,” while at Regen Projects in Hollywood, Theaster Gates perfectly captures “the contradictions of a luxury culture that fetishizes labor to make consumption feel less exploitative,” writes Mizota. “But like that culture, he ends up commodifying the trappings of labor along with its output by turning his wardrobe into an even more expensive and exclusive product: art.”

The fallout continues over Desert X‘s decision to partner with the Saudi government’s Royal Commission for AlUla: the MaddocksBrown Foundation, an L.A.-based organization has announced it will withdraw funding, reports Deborah Vankin.

What I’m reading

I just finished “Sabrina,” the 2018 graphic novel by Nick Drnaso, a book whose languid pace evolves into the slow unfolding of a nightmare for our internet- and conspiracy-addled age. Highly recommend.

Nick Drnaso's "Sabrina" is carefully observed by Bonnie the Pitbull, world's worst research assistant.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Ready for the Weekend

Matt Cooper rounds up the eight best things to do, including a Day of the Dead show with crooner Lila Downs.

Tim Robbins is making his first stage appearance in 14 years: as O’Brien in “1984” at the Actors Gang in Culver City. Contributor Philip Brandes has the deets, along with everything happening in L.A.’s small theaters.


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In other news

The science of freestyling.
— After assuming the top spot at the L.A. Phil, Chad Smith will step down as artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival. Taking over for 2021 will be Ara Guzelimian of the Juilliard School.
Music Center Chief Executive Rachel Moore‘s contract has been extended through 2024.
Protesters have descended on New York’s Museum of Modern Art over trustees who have profited from private prisons and Puerto Rican debt.
Anderson .Paak will perform at LACMA‘s annual gala in November.
— Plus, LACMA just launched a collection of three free digital catalogs.
— A monument to Maya Angelou in San Francisco faces delays because it’s not “figurative” enough.
UC Berkeley’s museum has received a bequest of nearly 3,000 African American quilts.
— Developer Onni is slated to break ground on new towers at the old Los Angeles Times building in 2021.
— The estate of late historian Robert Winter (co-author of the seminal architectural guides to L.A.) is going up for auction at Bonhams and it’s a doozy.

And last but not least...

This is why I haven’t been returning your emails.