What a difference a hashtag makes. When Los Angeles Ballet presented August Bournonville’s two-act story ballet “La Sylphide” five years ago, the performance seemed an elegy to lost love and tragic misunderstandings.
No longer. A shift of emphasis came with a slate of new principal dancers Saturday at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. #MeToo priorities suddenly endowed the 1836 classic with unexpected contemporary relevance. As brilliantly danced and acted by Tigran Sargsyan, the reckless James seemed all too ready to abuse the three women in his life, and the audience had every reason to watch the character’s excesses with alarm.
On his wedding day, James mistreats an old woman, abandons his bride and soon after, destroys the love of his life — all expressed in buoyant, intricate choreography and high-Romantic fervor. Equal to the technical and expressive challenges on Saturday, Sargsyan created a partnership with Bianca Bulle in the title role that proved ideal in the extended dance and mime interplay of Act 2. And yes, she did break your heart at the end. However, the first act found her dancing the steps proficiently as isolated tasks without connecting them emotionally to a core concept. Give her time.
Company co-director Colleen Neary found all the humor and menace in the character of Madge, and this time, her resentment of James seemed justified. Magnus Christoffersen brought a fine sense of Bournonville style to the empty-headed Gurn, and Chelsea Paige Johnston made a sympathetic Effie (though the despairing rush to the doorway at the end of Act 1 needed to be stronger).
In borrowed sets from Covent Garden, Thordal Christensen's production enforced stylistic authenticity and verve from both the folk-dancing villagers and classical sylphs. But it was a mistake to make the audience sit through a tubby recording of the overture to Herman Løvenskiold's score.
Created 98 years later, George Balanchine’s “Serenade” expresses a parallel sense of betrayal and, as always, Neary’s familiar staging caught both the neo-Romantic feeling and the neo-classical exactitude of the work. On Saturday, however, newcomers in every role left the soloists’ contributions less satisfying than the corps de ballet dancing.
In particular, the dazzling, kaleidoscopic group entrances and exits early on proved an index to this company’s exemplary prowess in the Balanchine repertory. If unanimity eroded somewhat later on, freshness of attack didn’t, and the corps always danced up to the imposing level of the recorded Tchaikovsky score.
Among the soloists, Bulle’s modest dark angel will eventually make a striking contrast to her sweet Sylphide. Jasmine Perry did nothing wrong but needed more confidence. Petra Conti looked more compelling when waltzing than suffering. Eris Nezha and Jeongkon Kim partnered her adroitly.
These were essentially down payments on performances that should develop and deepen throughout the company’s March run. But they highlighted the problems of continuity and turnover, short seasons and largely taped accompaniment that diminish this company’s image and achievements.
Fifteen years after its founding, Los Angeles Ballet remains a work in progress. It’s an invaluable cultural resource with programs like this, but solving its problems and expanding its season are tough, given the economic realities of big ballet. And where’s the hashtag for that?
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‘Serenade and La Sylphide’
At UCLA: 6 p.m. Saturday at Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive
In Glendale: 7:30 p.m. March 16 at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Ave.
Tickets: $31-$99 (subject to change)
Info: (310) 998-7782, www.losangelesballet.org
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