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L.A. Ballet's Balanchine Festival follows in master's steps

March 8, 2013

March 8, 2013 | By Susan Josephs

Colleen Neary will never forget the day when George Balanchine articulated the blueprint for her life’s work. She was in her early 20s, then a respected New York City Ballet dancer.

“He put me in to teach company class,” she says. “He said to me, ‘This is what you will do in the future.’ I said I wanted to dance, but he said, ‘You won’t dance forever. You will teach dancers my ballets.”

Fast forward to 2013, to a rehearsal of Balanchine’s 1941 “Concerto Barocco” at the Westside headquarters of Los Angeles Ballet.

Neary, now 60 and the company’s co-founder, surveys her dancers with microscopic scrutiny as they attempt to master the rigorously precise footwork, high-energy unison phrases and tricky group formations of the 18-minute dance.

Both critical and encouraging, she invokes the words of her mentor during the section where three female dancers must weave around the sole male dancer in the work, interlocking hands and arms to create sculptural yet quickly dissolving tableaux.

“Balanchine always used to say, ‘You should be walking around like Grecian goddesses,’ “ she tells the female dancers. “You’re missing this thing. In all his ballets, there’s this thing that’s more than the steps. It’s about feeling beautiful within yourself, and I can’t teach you that.”

Neary, however, can remember how the famous choreographer known as Mr. B made his dancers feel beautiful, and it’s this firsthand experience that serves as the guiding force behind her company’s Balanchine Festival 2013.

“Colleen has this great gift for challenging dancers to embody the Balanchine aesthetic,” says Ellen Sorrin, director of the George Balanchine Trust, which authorizes the staging of Balanchine’s ballets worldwide. “It’s an enormous responsibility to do what she’s doing, to disseminate Balanchine’s works as fully and wonderfully as possible.”

Los Angeles Times

by Susan Josephs

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