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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Los Angeles Ballet opens the season with new moves

LAB Director’s Choice Performance 171007
Los Angeles Ballet’s Director’s Choice program included Tigran Sargsyan and Petra Conti dancing choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Second to Last.”
(Reed Hutchinson / Los Angeles Ballet)

As its Saturday performance at UCLA amply proved, Los Angeles Ballet’s contemporary “Directors’ Choice” programs are a win for everyone — most of the time.

By periodically moving away from the classical repertory, the company allows audiences to see the inherent nobility of ballet physicality modified and updated. The same process gives dancers a rare chance to experience the movement trends and mixed vocabularies defining dance in their own generation.

Unfortunately, the brilliant Spanish choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo suffered from bad choices on Saturday. Throngs of Royce Hall latecomers were permitted to disrupt the structure and flow of his lyrical, understated “Second to Last.” Impossibly dim lighting left his playful “Pacopepepluto” nearly lost in the dark.

Cerrudo’s program note warned us that the five duets for three couples in “Second to Last” had nothing to do with relationships. But the moonstruck intimacy of the partnering and the delicacy of the Arvo Pärt music told another story. Certainly such company paragons as Bianca Bulle, Magnus Christoffersen, Elizabeth Claire Walker, Joshua Brown, Petra Conti and the terrific, tireless Tigran Sargsyan know romance when they dance it. The freshness and sensitivity they brought to the choreography made the result consistently ravishing.

In “Pacopepepluto” Cerrudo possibly wanted us to see the three men darting and swirling to the Dean Martin songbook as guys dancing for their own pleasure off somewhere at night — on a beach, perhaps. But eyestrain and a sense of diminishing returns left this self-effacing showpiece underwhelming.

Tigran Sargsyan in "Pacopepepluto."
Tigran Sargsyan in "Pacopepepluto." Reed Hutchinson / Los Angeles Ballet
The L.A. Ballet ensemble in "This Is You."
The L.A. Ballet ensemble in "This Is You." Reed Hutchinson / Los Angeles Ballet

Cerrudo’s two works were created for other companies. But Menghan Lou’s “This Is You” premiered on Saturday, displaying the Chinese choreographer’s mastery of a radically simplified step vocabulary and an emphasis on upraised arm positions, often like semaphore signals. A soundscore by Thijs Scheele and Ernst van der Loo provided moody sonic washes as well as sharp rhythmic accents, while a large cloud-sculpture by Lou hovered overhead, changing colors as the piece developed from bold corps groupings to a string of forceful duets.

Although equality ruled when the men danced together, the manipulation and subordination of women made most of the male-female encounters look dated and a mite offensive, especially Helena Thordal-Christensen yanked and hurled about by four partners in one sequence, a Rose Adagio with all thorns and no rose.

A glorious exception: the final duet. Here the statuesque Walker became progressively independent, supporting the increasingly passive Sargsyan, who eventually drifted behind that cloud-sculpture. For once, a sense of millennial sexual politics helped justify Lou’s title.

Magnus Christoffersen and Petra Conti performing "The Four Temperaments."
Magnus Christoffersen and Petra Conti performing "The Four Temperaments." Reed Hutchinson / Los Angeles Ballet

The program ended with George Balanchine’s 1946 masterwork “The Four Temperaments,” which also has plenty of unorthodox arm positions and gymnastic duets but no subordination of women. Los Angeles Ballet had danced it in previous seasons, but not with most of the Saturday cast. Tentative attacks softened some of the authority of the performance — but not Sargsyan in the Phlegmatic section. He had faced major challenges in all three of the previous ballets but looked like he’d been waiting all night for the chance to show how Balanchine’s twisty plastique perfectly reinforced the Hindemith score.

Going into Los Angeles Ballet’s 12th season, Sargsyan’s versatility on Saturday made him indispensable to a company coping with a reduced roster and a new slate of principals. He can solo, he can act and he can partner — all with power and magnetism — an index to the excellence the company continues to exemplify.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Los Angeles Ballet

What: “Director’s Choice” program

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $31-$99

Info: (310) 998-7782, www.losangelesballet.org

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