Robyn Gardenhire’s garden of riches

Dance · Reviews

In the video, artistic director Robyn Gardenhire rehearses her wonderful troupe, City Ballet of Los Angeles, which just delivered a mightily entertaining evening of dance at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in central Los Angeles.

Gardenhire’s diverse dancers bring fine integrity to her vivid, high-energy dance works. She has two strong prima ballerinas: the redheaded Jessie Taylor, a richly three-dimensional dancer leading a group in choreography to Bach, and the leggy Perris McCracken, who can break out of classical mode and swing like a jazz dancer.

Gardenhire won my heart by putting a five-piece jazz combo on stage in “Behind the Red Door.” Yes to live music; yes to jazz; and yes to the homage to John Coltrane. (Yes, as well, to the comfortable, intimate Nate Holden theater as an outlet for dance.)

“Red Door”‘s retro take on a Parisian jazz boite features a mistress of ceremonies  (the irrepressible Sloan Robinson, a recurring Gardenhire collaborator, as a chanteuse of a certain age) lording over the house band and her cluster of cabaret girls. A drunk lurches onto the stage for a comic pas de deux (starting his wobbly journey from the house and totally fooling this audience member!). And then, out bursts (pun intended) Mlle. Fifi and her big balloons, bringing burlesque to ballet. Thank you, Gardenhire, for injecting a little fun and frivolity into the uptight world of classical dance!

“Salt,” set to music by Bjork and Ronobir Lahiri, has the right stuff, sending up a hip urban sensibility. The piece begins with three strong male solos in spotlight; later, the men blend in well with the women. All are costumed in white-and-black Salt ‘n Pepa gear. The piece builds on strong diagonal slides, but goes through marvelous transitions. There’s a bit of a muddle mid-way through when people are kind of milling around the stage. But “Salt” ends strongly.

Gardenhire’s good ear for music leads her to the likes of Bjork, Bach and Trane. Sometimes her choreography gets a bit positional and she loses the thread of the musical flow. There are repeated motifs such as a man holding his ballerina by the foot while in arabesque. Still, for the vast range of material she tackles and for the fun, energetic esprit de corps, City Ballet of Los Angeles merits your attention.

video and photo:  Judy Graeme / LA Observed

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