BWW Review: LUMINARIO SHINES BRIGHTLY IN CHOOSE YOUR IDENTITY & A BELLA LEWITZKY/RUDI GERNREICH PRESENTATION at Fais Do Do & Skirball Cultural Center
Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles is a very unique and valuable, strong and powerful Dance Company.
They offered up two fantastic evenings of Dance, Song, Music and a Q&A, last weekend at Club Fais Do Do, and this past weekend at the Skirball Center, in conjunction with a Fashion Exhibit of Rudy Gernreich's '60s fashions that tied in perfectly with the 1st dance piece presented that evening. The costumes used in "Inscape," were originally created by Rudi Gernreich at the same time the piece was set, in 1976.
"Choose Your Identity" June 16, 2019
The evening began with singer Tawny Ellis and her band, performing several selections from her new upcoming album release "Love Life." Dressed in a beautiful, flowing, lacy white dress, she looked like an angel and sang like one, playing her matching white Lap Steel and omni chord instruments with a passionate, down-to-earth country sound that was soothingly sultry, with lyrics that commanded your attention. She and her talented band played selections from her upcoming release; one of them being "Pretend Love," which was accompanied by a beautiful dance, choreographed by the Artistic Director, Judith FLEX Helle, performed by the incredible Kelly Vittetoe, an extraordinary soloist, en pointe, accompanied by David Tai Kim and Cory Goel. One of the strongest ballerinas I have ever seen, (Ms. Vittetoe) that up close, performed magnificently, with a perfect dancer's body, face and feet. She is exquisite, and her two partners were also equally impressive. The exactness of technique performed by all three dancers was just heavenly. Up close and personal. What a treat!
The following piece was so intense and powerful, it left you breathless and speechless afterwards. With the intense musical score, by Larry Attaway, "Turf," choreographed by Bella Lewitsky in 1992, and reconstructed by John Pennington, a former member of Bella's original company and using only wooden boxes as props, designed by Bella's husband and original set designer for her company, Newell Reynolds; the four male dancers (AJ Abrams. David Tai Kim, Louis Williams and Cory Goel) recreated an entire scenario that represented the Los Angeles riots in the early '90s.
I remember being here in L. A., and the many emotions it brought forth to everyone impacted by these incidents. The music, composed by Larry Attaway, was equally intense and riveting. With swiftness, amazing strength and agility, the dancers played out the emotions felt by everyone during that time. Feelings conveyed were anger, protection, standing ground, territorial, fear, interacting with one another in combat, defending their "Turf," challenging each other, yet also helping and balancing off of each other as they were constantly changing the formations of the boxes. At one point facing off in a wide rapidly moving circle, in deep plie' in second, arms spread wide to encompass what they were trying to protect, leading into chaos, upheaval and a feeling of anarchy. A potent reminder of how racial and dividing issues tear us apart, like some kind of internal combustion.
Next on the program was "Lift Ticket," choreographed by Judith FLEX Helle in 2011. Another fabulous piece that highlighted the strength and technical aspects of this phenomenal company. The three ladies, en pointe, magnificently dancing to a soft flowing melody, are joined by three men and executed commanding lifts and partner work; so clean and exact and so full of impeccable movement, that you hardly notice three filmy scarves coming down from above. The three couples then begin utilizing those scarves, wrapping and crossing their legs around to begin with, and forming beautiful images by working the scarves with their bodies, very acrobatic and gymnastic in nature, moving up and down, laying out completely, then curling up, opening up into a split, using the ends of the scarves to hook their feet into. All so smoothly done. Fluid movement that defied the difficulty of the movements. The gorgeous dancers were Sadie Black, Kelly Vittetoe, Jessical Delgado, AJ Abrams, Louis Williams and David Contraeras. Beautiful work.
The piece de resistance came next. Dreya Weber, also the choreographer, a most heavenly creature, began by entering in very staid, prim and proper attire, looking like a librarian, clothed from head to toe, and began reciting a poem about the "Joy of Love," moving off the stage to the floor in front, earnestly speaking the verse. As she hits the floor, she notices a man in the audience, and asks him to come join her. There are those same boxes, preset beforehand downstage front, where she leads him to, reprimanding him poetically, seemingly that they have met before and he has done her wrong... He plays along, she feels him up, plays with his hair, taunting him, up atop the boxes, and we in the audience are not certain what is going on when unexpectedly, all her clothes are ripped away and, in filmy see-thru lingerie, she begins dancing sexily. In "I Can't Quit You," by Led Zeppelin, a trapeze comes down from above, taking her up in the air, a bluesy guitar begins to play and one of the most sensual and difficult routines ensues, with her twisting, swinging, using the trapeze to drape her body all over, around and under it, constantly moving and switching positions. With her long blonde hair and exquisite face, body and cat-like movements, there is a hush over the audience; as all eyes are glued to this gorgeous vision, gyrating and spinning rapidly with ease. She ends high in the air, in a split, upside down, her ankles wrapped tightly, working those golden locks for all they are worth. Coming down slowly. walking away into the night, she says, "I do feel better, now..." Blackout. Fantastic performance!!
Yet there is more. Lights up as a single rope comes down above those same boxes downstage, as dancer AJ Abrams joins Dreya in an equally sensual duet to Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be," (also choreographed by Dreya Weber) a beautiful portrayal of lovemaking in the air. The slow, fluid movements and expression through their bodies and the dynamic lines they hit were so beautiful to watch; very intricate, tasteful, and moving.
The finale, "Ramble On," choreographed by Judith FLEX Helle, Dreya Weber and Bianca Sapetto was a cornucopia of fascinating and exciting aerial work and dance passes, with acrobatic feats, clean side-split leaps, the ladies en pointe, and like a three-ring circus, three couples across the stage working inside aerial hoops, continually in motion, one dancer in the middle constantly spinning, all costumed in fabulous black-and white striped unitards, leotards and dance pants. Everywhere you looked there was something amazing going on, and the energizing music (again by the infuential rock band Led Zeppelin) gave it a party-like atmosphere. Sadie Black, Kelly Vittetoe, Jessica Delgado, David Contreras, Kevin Scott Cannon and David Tai Kim were the talented and masterful performers.
The last three pieces are actually part of Luminario's full length ballet/aerial piece entitled "LedZArial," one of their most requested pieces to perform.
The Skirball Lewitzky/Rudi Gernreich Performance @ Skirball Cultural Center, June 23, 2019
A week later, Luminario Ballet, in conjunction with the Skirball Center's "Fearless Fashion, Rudi Gernreich" exhibition, which featured Rudi's innovative and ground-breaking designs (the "monokini," a unisex caftan, etc.) that at that time challenged conventional notions of beauty, identity and gender, performed two dance piece excerpts originally choreographed by Bella Lewitzky, a legendary Los Angeles-based choreographer; in one of which, "Inscape," they wore costumes that Rudi Gernreich designed specifically for the piece, first performed 43 years ago.
Bella and Rudi had an intimate, creative work relationship and close friendship for quite some time. They collaborated artistically, especially regarding fabric and design used for her dancers' costumes. They were "on the same page," Rudi having actually been a dancer with Bella's company at some point.
Master of Ceremonies for the event was John Pennington, of Pennington Dance Group, a member of Bella Lewitzky's Dance Company for 15 of it's 30 years, who also reconstructed the original choreography for both pieces. The music was composed by Larry Attaway and Costumes were reconstructed by Diana MacNeil. After the performance there was a panel of dancers from Bella's original Company, moderated by Jeff Slayton, of Dance Chronicle, that spoke about working with Bella and about her choreography, philosophy and life. Diana MacNeil, John Pennington and Sean Green were the dancers/panelists. They also answered many questions from the enthusiastic audience, and gave us insight into how Bella created such a unique company and repertoire.
The three "Inscape" excerpts were captivating, physically difficult and demanding and beautifully executed dance presentations. Rudi Gernreich designed several versions of his "duotard" that were worn, and the dancers were simply hypnotic to watch, forming the most interesting shapes and designs within the one stretchable costume. Obviously, strength, balance, technique and flexibility are a must to perform this unique choreography, and these dancers were all that, completely, plus adding a touch of humor and personality while performing.
"Inscape," referred to as inside the landscape of the mind, consisted of three duets, the first one with two female dancers, Andie Bartol and Kelly Vittetoe wearing a black duotard with matching skull caps. Inching out slowly, one right behind the other, all you see is a single unitard until they start moving forward, when seemingly impossible positions begin to occur, shaping the material like you would a long balloon you twist into an animal at the circus. Working as a tight unit, it felt like they were experimenting and improvising new, never before created forms. Sometimes mirroring each other's movements also created some fascinating images, and again, their balance and flexibility allowed this to happen.
The second duet, with Audrey Hewkes and Daniel Wagner in a red duotard, with matching red clown cheeks, was a playful romp, as they wrapped themselves around each other and then unwound into various elongated shapes, lunging in different directions, each miming a repetitive move until the other stops them; immediately freezing in a pose like a marionette, then taking turns picking each other up sideways, varying the poses to create a kaleidescope effect and throughly entertaining the audience.
The third duet had a different version of the duotard, with two male dancers, AJ Abrams and Louis Williams attached together in the costume through their heads, in red and black. Static-like sounds created a quirky vibe as they walked along on all fours like crabs, twisting and turning, making the material go thru all kinds of changes, and having a ball doing it. What must be extremely hard to pull off, was made to look so easy and effortless, and quite uniquely entertaining to watch.
The second piece, the excerpt from "Turf', was the same piece that is mentioned in detail above that was performed a week earlier at Fais do do. It, again, was riveting, powerful and masterfully articulated. An air of heaviness, impending doom and at all costs guarding their "turf" was created by the strong, controlled movements of the men, and the different sounds heard, drum rolls that continually escalated in volume and intensity, and a reverberating xylophone added to the tension. The four dancers enveloped the space that they created so completely and drove the piece so dynamically, leaping, tours en la air, rolling, cartwheeling, challenging and one-upping each other, arm-wrestling, creating a feeling of mayhem, finally pooling all their energy into an ending pose that made you gasp!
Two amazing evenings of dance, music and creativity that will not soon be forgotten.
They have an array of performances coming up ~ go to https://luminarioballet.org/ for more information. https://facebook.com/luminario.ballet https://instagram/luminarioballet https://twitter/luminarioballet
Luminario Ballet is a 501-c-3 non-profit, and is funded, in part, by the LA City Dept of Cultural Affairs, and the LA County Arts Commission.
Photos Courtesy of Denise Leitner, and through John Pennington