Turning 50 compels some people to attempt a risky new adventure — sky diving, perhaps, or white-water rafting or, for extremists, running with the bulls at Pamplona.
Count L.A.'s Music Center in.
Its 50th anniversary celebration includes something that has rarely, if ever, been attempted in major performance venues: a dance piece that electronically straddles two celebrated halls.
For the gala birthday bash on Dec. 6, Gustavo Dudamel will strike up the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Walt Disney Concert Hall, kicking off the Phil’s evening concert with “Helix,” a rhythmically driving piece composed by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Dudamel’s predecessor as the orchestra’s leader.
Simultaneously, eight dancers from L.A. Dance Project will jump into action across the street at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, moving to those live sounds from somewhere else.
They’ll execute new choreography by Justin Peck, a young soloist for New York City Ballet. Behind them on a big screen will be Dudamel and his musicians, providing both the backing and the backdrop, thanks to audio and video technology that no one would have imagined back on Dec. 6, 1964. In those days, nailing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D on a festive occasion was enough to earn a 10-minute ovation for Jascha Heifetz and the L.A. Phil, led by Zubin Mehta.
The experiment may seem technologically trendy, but it’s meant to make a conceptual statement about inclusiveness, historical awareness and creative boundary-crossing.
“We wanted to celebrate the totality of the Music Center,” said Renae Williams Niles, the Music Center’s programming chief. The technological edge, she said, helps signal that the Music Center is looking forward to new developments as well as recalling all the creative fruits that have sprouted over the last five decades from the four performance halls along Grand Avenue between 2nd and Temple.
Salonen has described his 2005 “Helix” as “a celebratory and … overture-like piece.” It lasts about 91/2 minutes, accelerating all the while. The title means a coiling of different elements, and the Music Center sees it as a way to entwine its oldest and newest venues. The gala performance that starts with the “Helix” dance aims to encompass all four of the main art forms featured at the Music Center and all four of the resident companies that produce the bulk of its main stage performances.
By playing as doubles partners for the opening 10 minutes, Disney Hall and the Chandler Pavilion will give the evening its taste of orchestral music and dance. Los Angeles Opera and the Los Angeles Master Chorale will team to re-create the banquet scene from John Adams’ “Nixon in China.”
Center Theatre Group will join in with a sequence of moments from some of the signature shows it has put on in its two venues, the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre. The playbill was still being worked out at press time, but, like the entwining of Dudamel, Salonen, contemporary dance and 21st century technology in “Helix,” the idea is to straddle eras and represent a kind of continuity by bringing back Robert Egan, a longtime chief lieutenant of the Taper’s founding leader, Gordon Davidson, as the segment’s director. He’ll work closely on the planning with Michael Ritchie, the CTG artistic director who succeeded Davidson.
With the “Helix” dance, the risk is in the timing, said Charles Fabius, founding producer of L.A. Dance Project, the international company led by Benjamin Millepied. Its first performance took place at Disney Hall in 2012.
“The start is going to be crucial,” Fabius said. “The music is like a train on a track, and when it goes you have only one chance to get it right. That’s going to be a thrilling moment.”
Fabius noted that if all goes well, it’s not inconceivable that dance groups, who often have to settle for performing to recordings because of the cost of a large live ensemble, may start thinking of ways to piggyback on live orchestral performances from across a street, a continent or an ocean.
Having digested all the arts representing all the venues, the gala-goers will adjourn to a tent on the Music Center’s plaza and dine on whatever’s fitting for folks who’ve forked over $2,500 to $15,000 per ticket to attend both the concert and the party (tickets for the show alone will be priced as low as $35). Friends who want to sit together at the party can buy that privilege for $25,000 to $200,000 per table.
The point of those high prices is to raise money for the other, more populist side of what the Music Center does: educational offerings that bus in kids from L.A. County schools or send teaching artists into their classrooms, and communitarian programming that provides free performances and chances to participate rather than watch.
That communitarian side will be the focus of two other 50th anniversary events.
On Oct. 1, a rededication ceremony on the plaza will gather artists and civic leaders to attest to the Music Center’s importance to the life of L.A. Among the speakers will be Vanessa Williams, who’ll be in the midst of an Ahmanson run as Cicely Tyson’s flinty daughter-in-law in “The Trip to Bountiful.” Dale Kristien will be on hand to sing, presumably including something from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Kristien set a Music Center acting record of more than 1,700 performances as Christine Daae during “Phantom’s” 41/2 year run at the Ahmanson from 1989 to 1993.
On Oct. 11, a five-hour Saturday open house and programming showcase will feature free tours of all four Music Center venues, with music and dance from Bolivia in the outdoor Keck Amphitheatre behind Disney Hall (part of the Music Center’s ongoing free “World City” international performance series).