Even those of us who can’t tell the difference between a Battement Tendu and Grand-Plie have heard the name Balanchine, and I’ve always been curious to know why the name is whispered with such reverence in conversation among dancers. So when I saw that the Los Angeles Ballet was putting on three of his works at the UCLA Royce Hall, one choreography for the first time in the company’s career, I figured my time had come to make his acquaintance.
I am so much a stranger to see a ballet performance, that when I announced that I was “going to the ballet” to my significant other, he assumed I was going to a new French restaurant. And for this novice, the LAB production of George Balanchine's work was the perfect primer to show the this world is not just of pale tights and tutus. In fact, there was no live orchestra at Royce Hall, which not only led to a more casual atmosphere of the crowd, but a lot cheaper ticket price, which in turn availed the experience to more people.
The LAB chose three very different “types” of Balanchine's famous choreographies to showcase his illustrious career in under 2hrs. The more “classical” ballet was set to Mozart’s Divertimento No. 15 (the LAB premiere) and filled with the lifts, jumps, and tutus one imagines at the word “ballet”. The second piece, Prodigal Son, was one of Balanchine's earliest works and based on the biblical tale of the prodigal son. The costumes and the movements were somewhere between classical ballet and modern dance, skillfully telling the clear story of the hedonistic son’s downfall. The costumes were Roman-inspired circa and the principal female dancer had on a traditional costume for the piece - something you would get if Nefertiti collaborated with Keith Haring.
The third and last dance was a set of choreographies from Balanchine’s collaboration with George Gershwin, very timely following all the buzz from LA LA Land. Sixteen numbers of fast-paced Gershwin pieces moved one after the other into a toe-tapping finale that put a smile on everyone’s face. I highly recommend not just this Balanchine primer, but for everyone to experience a ballet performance, such as the LAB Pushing Dance Boundaries in October, beyond the annual The Nutcracker.