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A ballet's next steps

Los Angeles Ballet announces its first season, to be presented in three areas of the sprawling city.

October 11, 2006|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Aiming to become what artistic directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary call "a major company that belongs to L.A. -- that has a local flavor at an international level," the newly formed Los Angeles Ballet has announced its first season of performances and placed subscription tickets on sale.

The company's debut will take place Dec. 2 at the Wilshire Theatre in a brand-new Christensen / Neary "Nutcracker," with repeat engagements through December at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center and the Alex Theatre in Glendale. Programs dominated by the works of George Balanchine are scheduled for mid-March and early June at these same three venues.

"We feel that it's part of our mission to bring ourselves to audiences in all of the areas," Neary explained in a recent interview.

Christensen added: "You can't blame audience members for not wanting to sit in traffic when they go out at night. By being in the Wilshire Theatre, we're covering the Westside. By being at the Alex, we're covering Glendale and Pasadena. And by being down in Redondo, we're covering the beach communities."

Christensen danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet before becoming artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet. Neary (his wife) danced with New York City Ballet and has staged Balanchine choreography for a number of major companies. Their Los Angeles Ballet has no connection with the company of the same name run by New York City Ballet alumnus John Clifford from the early 1970s to the mid-'80s, or with Clifford's attempt to restart that company 10 years later.

The current roster includes 21 resident professional dancers on 21-week contracts. Home is the Malibu Performing Arts Center. The projected annual budget is $1.7 million, and Christensen said that enough money is on hand, from unspecified sources, to carry the company through the "Nutcracker" engagements "without selling any tickets. We have paid for our production, we have paid for the theaters, and on top of that we have a cash reserve of approximately two- to three-hundred-thousand dollars."

"Nutcracker" costumes are being donated by the Royal Danish Ballet, but the sets are newly created by locally based designer Catherine Kanner. "They'll be traditional but a little bit different," Christensen promised. "We wanted to make something very specifically for Los Angeles."

Negotiations continue with musicians needed for the "Nutcracker" orchestra and with guest dancers as well. American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera has been signed for three "Nutcracker" performances. In addition, the company subscription brochure lists Artem Shpilevsky of the Bolshoi Ballet and five principals from New York City Ballet (Yvonne Borree, Nikolaj Hubbe, Maria Kowroski, Nilas Martins and Benjamin Millipied) as guest artists, but who will appear when has to be determined.

Christensen and Neary have been working for years for this moment of launch. "Los Angeles is ready for its own ballet company," Christensen declares. "The timing is right for this. We're going to have to develop our own audience -- to prove ourselves, to show that the level of excellence that we put on is at a very high level. That's going to be our challenge. But we feel now that we're ready to begin."

lewis.segal@latimes.com.

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