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Review: L.A. Ballet season opens with adventurous and flirtatious 'Modern Moves'

Review: L.A. Ballet season opens with adventurous and flirtatious 'Modern Moves'
Bianca Bulle and Tigran Sargsyan in Friday's dress rehearsal for "Lickety-Split" (Courtesy Reed Hutchinson for Los Angeles Ballet)

Like adventurous pioneers, Los Angeles Ballet stepped into uncharted territory Saturday for its season opener, “Modern Moves,” which introduced Aszure Barton’s “Les Chambres des Jacques” and Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Lickety-Split” into the company’s repertory at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

George Balanchine’s 1954 classic “Western Symphony” capped off an evening devoted to contemporary and neoclassical works that were flecked with folksy charm. Throughout, Los Angeles Ballet proved not only fluent in the three choreographers’ styles but also in the wide-ranging love language of their dances.

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Longing and desire emanated from almost every move in Barton’s lusty “Les Chambres,” set to a fusion of Quebecois folk music, klezmer and Vivaldi. Men approached women clad in corsets with sensual sniffs; others attempted to hug the empty air around them. Agape mouths in the shape of silent screams looked like lips yearning to be kissed. And principal dancer Tigran Sargsyan’s desperate crawl after the woman he pines for sends a stab straight to the heart.

If “Les Chambres” is an intimate study of unrequited love, then “Lickety-Split” gives us a look into love unbound.

In one vignette, principal Bianca Bulle and Sargsyan initially play hard to get. He then offers his hand, and she squeezes out some invisible elixir — an aphrodisiac perhaps — that sends them into a joyous jaunt across the stage. As Devendra Barhart’s raspy voice creaks over the speakers like a well-worn rocker, you can’t help but feel as if you’re on a front porch, watching lovers dance by the light of fireflies.

The duet culminates with Bulle ecstatically shaking her hand between her partner’s legs and Sargsyan playfully banging his head upon her rear. While an odd image, it’s immensely satisfying — reminiscent of the comfort that comes from knowing another intimately — and avant-garde like a piece of absurdist theater.

Against such an edgy program, Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” felt a tad dated — its corps of clean-cut cowboys gallantly strumming air guitars and feather-hatted saloon gals do-si-do-ing primly a far cry from Cerrudo and Barton’s sensuous styles. Even Hershy Kay’s classic orchestrations of American folk songs felt a touch Disney-fied.

But there were plenty of enchanting moments. The versatile Sargsyan pulled off a delightful adagio with principal Petra Conti, and the dance’s iconic finale — endless pirouettes as the curtain falls — was a strong reminder of how modern this piece once was. Like the depths of a boundless love, it insisted on having no end.

***

Los Angeles Ballet takes “Modern Moves” to UCLA’s Royce Hall at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20. $36 to $104. Visit losangelesballet.org/2018-2019-season for tickets.

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