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L.A. Ballet season moves beyond Balanchine

August 31, 2007|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

As Los Angeles Ballet moves into its second season, it has announced that the mostly Balanchine repertoire of its inaugural year will expand to include new works by three Southern California choreographers.

The company -- launched in 2006 by artistic directors Thordal Christensen and his wife, Colleen Neary -- will offer pieces by Jacques Heim, artistic director of Diavolo Dance Theatre; Jennifer Backhaus of Backhausdance; and Melissa Barak, a company member who has previously danced with New York City Ballet and choreographed works there.

In addition, the company, which makes its home at the Malibu Performing Arts Center, will add new venues to its performance schedule, including UCLA's Royce Hall, the Music Center's Ahmanson Theatre and the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Its 2007-08 season, scheduled to begin Nov. 29 with "The Nutcracker" at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, will also include the company premieres of George Balanchine's "Tarantella" and "Allegro Brillante," along with August Bournonville's "Napoli Pas de Six and Tarantella" and Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments."

"Of course, Colleen's background is Balanchine, so it's very natural for us to show his pieces," Christensen said this week, referring to Neary's career as a New York City Ballet soloist when Balanchine was that company's ballet master. "But we also wanted to show some new choreographers, show what they can do and make a nice mix."

Christensen said the local choreographers have revealed no details of their plans for the new dances, to be performed next spring and summer. "That's the interesting and scary part. When you do new pieces, you never know what is going to come out," he said.

Although Barak, raised in Los Angeles and trained at Santa Monica's Westside School of Ballet, comes from a classical ballet tradition, "everybody in the ballet world is of course trying to branch out into more modern expression," Christensen said.

Heim and Backhaus, who began her career as a gymnast, are both multidisciplinary artists noted for being on the cutting edge of contemporary dance. Diavolo, perhaps L.A.'s most celebrated dance company, will perform Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to music composed and conducted by Philharmonic music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Still, Christensen suspects the new choreographers will choose to tailor their work to the skills of ballet dancers.

"We're in a lucky position in that we have great ballet dancers that are trained with pointe shoes," he said. "And if they can use that great tool, I certainly want to encourage it, because it's a unique expression in ballet."

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

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