BWW Review: L.A. Ballet Gloriously Celebrates BALANCHINE: MASTER OF THE DANCE

George Balanchine transformed the world of ballet and is widely regarded as the most influential choreographer of the 20th century. In the summer of 1924, Balanchine left the newly formed Soviet Union for Europe, where he was invited by impresario Serge Diaghilev to join the Ballets Russes. For that company, Balanchine choreographed his first important ballets: Apollo (1928) and Prodigal Son (1929). As his career as a dancer and choreographer grew, he co-founded two of ballet's most important institutions: New York City Ballet in 1948 and the School of American Ballet in 1934, which remains in operation to this day, training students for companies around the world.

Balanchine choreographed 425 works over the course of 60-plus years, and his musical choices ranged from Tchaikovsky (one of his favorite composers) to Stravinsky (his compatriot and friend) to Gershwin (who embodied the choreographer's love of America). Balanchine's works are considered masterpieces and are performed by ballet companies all over the world.

So you can image how thrilled I was to find out the Los Angeles Ballet was going to present BALANCHINE: MASTER OF THE DANCE as their final selection of their 2016/2017 season. In it, three of his most outstanding ballet choreographies are presented: Divertimento No. 15 featuring music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Prodigal Son with music by Sergei Prokofiev; and Who Cares? with music by George Gershwin, adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay.

LAB's Co-Artistic Director Colleen Neary stages Divertimento No. 15 and Who Cares? Colleen trained at the School of American Ballet and danced as a Soloist with New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine, who personally selected her to teach his choreography as a Répétiteur for The George Balanchine Trust.

Patricia Neary, who trained with Balanchine and became one of his top dancers in the New York City Ballet, stages Prodigal Son. Since 1988, Patricia has been working for The George Balanchine Trust and has staged over 30 of his masterpieces around the world.

These two women's brilliant and all-encompassing knowledge of Balanchine's work, along with the talented dancers of the Los Angeles Ballet, make this outstanding production one not to miss!

As the first act, Balanchine captures Mozart in the crystalline Divertimento No. 15, which debuted at the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Connecticut in 1956. The divertimento genre reached wide popularity amid parties and informal entertainment in the 18th-century, and is divided into Allegro, Themes and Variations, Minuet, Adante, and the Finale performed by the ensemble of three amazing men (Kenta Shimizu, Tigran Sargsyan, Dustin True) and a dozen lovely and lithe ballerinas. The piece is a perfect example of beautiful, classical ballet choreography in costumes provided by The Royal Danish Ballet. Prodigal Son was created for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Balanchine with décor by Georges Rouault in 1929. Adapted from the biblical story, it opens with the prodigal's rebellious departure from home and leads to his seduction by the beautiful but treacherous siren, whose followers rob him. Wretched and remorseful, he drags himself back to his forgiving father. The highly-stylized choreography is a perfect showcase for the brilliant and highly emotional, as well as talented, Kenta Shimizu, who will capture your attention every moment he is onstage as he leaps as if he can fly. The Siren is danced by Elizabeth Claire Walker in a gorgeous costume provided by the Miami City Ballet, complete with a flowing red cape Ms. Walker uses to great effect on both The Son and his drinking companions. I especially enjoyed the comical choreography as the drinking buddies gathered around the table to watch the seduction take place.

In 1937, George Gershwin asked Balanchine to come to Hollywood to work with him on Samuel Goldwyn's "Follies." Gershwin died tragically before he completed the ballet music for the film. Thirty-three years later, Balanchine choreographed his homage to Broadway and Gershwin - Who Cares? to 16 fabulous songs Gershwin composed between 1924 and 1931 including "Strike Up The Band' (1927), "Sweet and Low Down" (1925), "Bidin' My Time" (1930), "The Man I Love" (1924) as a beautiful pas de deux danced by Julia Cinquemani and Tigran Sargsyan, "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" (1922), "Embraceable You" (1930), "My One and Only" (1927), "Who Cares?" (1931), "Somebody Loves Me" (1924), "Fascinatin' Rhythm" (1924), "Liza" (1929), and "I Got Rhythm" (1930) in which the entire ensemble joyously ended the evening's entertainment. With so many selections, the more modern ballet choreography displayed during each number allowed many company dancers to be featured in the limelight.

Los Angeles Ballet is presenting BALANCHINE: MASTER OF THE DANCE at the following three venues: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91203 on Satruday, March 11, 2017 at 7:30pm; Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 990278 on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 7:30pm; Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive on the UCLA Campus, Los Angeles, CA 90095 on Sunday, March 26, 2017 at 2:00pm. To order tickets by phone, call 310.998.7782, Monday - Friday, 10:00am - 5:00pm

Photo credit: ReEd Hutchinson

Next on Stage

Related Articles View More Los Angeles Stories   Shows

From This Author Shari Barrett