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Swan feathers float down on local stages

March 14, 2012

Something rare is afoot in Los Angeles. To put it simply, “Swan Lake.” Yes, that icon of classical exactitude and style is popping up on stages all over. And the producer turns out to be not some long-standing, well-endowed enterprise on tour here, but the LA Ballet, which is a mere six years old.

Why? Why would brand-name husband/wife directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary be confident enough to mount this behemoth of a ballet? This vast spectacle designed for the likes of kingly companies with multi-millions -- the Bolshoi, American Ballet Theatre, Royal Covent Garden, Royal Danish?

Answer: They have the chops now, that is, the dancers, together with their deep, artistic savvy. And they know it.

All I did was tip-toe into Royce Hall - the first stop in a city-wide tour of major Southland venues that continues through March 31 - only to discover a production of the Petipa-Ivanov-Tchaikovsky ballet that approximated world-class standards.

The capstone of all this cheering came in the second act - you know, the famed lakeside scene, that moonlit mirage with the snowy white swan corps floating about and Prince Siegfried sensing the imminent appearance of his fateful inamorata Odette, aka the Swan Queen, turned from maiden into an avian creature by an evil sorcerer.

And when she alit onstage, in the person of Allynne Noelle, the effect was dazzling -- as that first sighting was meant to be. Tall, with perfect proportions and gorgeously tapering long limbs, this Swan Queen had both bird-like spark and human pathos, her hand articulation spelling out regal elegance. She danced with alacrity and definition and fluid musicality. It was as though she’d been in training at Vaganova since adolescence - not a girl from Huntington Beach - although she’d done stints at redoubtable dance oases (National Ballet of Canada, Villella’s Miami City Ballet and not least, Vicky Koenig’s Inland Pacific Ballet).

So...with Noelle and a host of others now just in their second season with LAB, Christensen and Neary knew this was their moment. In fact, the bench is deep enough to alternate the lead role, as well as others.

But that’s not all. These high-pedigree directors (he a Royal Dane, she a Balanchine Trustee), who have both formerly danced the “Swan Lake” lead roles for years, boast wide contacts for bringing resources to the company -- the dancers, for instance -- and this production, originally designed for Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Besides Noelle, who joined LAB only 18 months ago, is Alyssa Bross, the alternate lead. I glimpsed her rehearsing Odile (the Black Swan), and saw richly expressive qualities - she used every enticement to undermine the Prince’s oath to Odette and was a dewy seductress, not the hard, haughty type who would laugh at her easy conquest. And when she danced Odette, it was with aching vulnerability - which belies her photograph on the program book cover, a misleadingly placid look.

No wonder Christensen went forward with “Swan Lake.” He knew he’d recruited the talent - many had trained at prestigious schools and had danced with top companies. As Noelle’s and Bross’s partners, both Kenta Shimizu and Christopher Revels acquitted themselves nobly, if not exactly at the danseur level. Guest artist Akimitsu Yahata did his thrilling bravura stuff as the Jester.

But down to the last coryphée, the coaching was scrupulous. Everyone had clear focus and a sense of unanimity, even the mimed gestures were natural. What’s more, the muted, old-world sets and costumes looked lovely on the Royce Hall stage, as if made for it.

Considering that taped music allows for no moment-to-moment variation, the company coped well.

DONNA PERLMUTTER is an ASCAP-Award winning music/dance critic and journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and many other publications. She is also the author of “Shadowplay: The Life of Antony Tudor.” Email her at

LA Observed

by Donna Perlmutter

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