Live Music: The American Contemporary Ballet in a Da Camera Society Concert

By Jane Rosenberg

George Balanchine’s spirit hovered over a concrete warehouse on Friday evening, when the Da Camera Society in partnership with American Contemporary Ballet offered a pleasing mix of chamber music and dance.

Performing at the audience’s eye level on a padded masonite floor, the musicians and dancers occupied a loft-like space constructed of cinderblock (with carpet padding part of the walls to create an acoustically acceptable arena).  I mention this to set the stage for an evening that was unique in some ways, disappointing in others.

It’s always a treat to sit in proximity to musicians, something the Da Camera Society, with its mission of playing chamber music in historic sites, has been offering the grateful concertgoers of Los Angeles for over thirty years.  Placing the group in a modern industrial venue was both exciting and inspired – an integration of the classical with the avant-garde. But the intimacy between dancers and audience, unlike that of chamber music, is a rare occurrence, unless one is privileged enough to sit in the rehearsal studio of a ballet company.

The American Contemporary Ballet.  L-R: Marie Buser, Abby Avery, Theresa Farrell and Zsolt Banki

So when the dancers of ACB took to the floor for Josquiniana by Charles Wuorinen, after music attributed to Josquin des Prez, anticipation was high.  Dressed in the classic dance uniform of pink tights and black leotards, the dancers Theresa Farrell, Regina Park Suh, Sara Stockwell, and Marie Buser were partnered by Zsolt Banki – the lone male dancer of the company.  Though lovely as it was to occupy the same space as the dancers, I never felt that I had left the rehearsal studio.  The dances seemed unresolved, never quite growing into a fully formed work.

Lincoln Jones, the artistic director and choreographer for the troop drew heavily on Balanchine’s vocabulary, and so my mind couldn’t help but wander to the master’s innovations.  To name one: Balanchine’s ballet, Duo Concertant, in which pianist and violinist, in intimate relationship to a pair of dancers, play Stravinsky’s piece on the stage. More than mere accompaniment, the music inhabits every gesture, every movement.  Had Jones been more innovative, the comparison wouldn’t have leapt to the forefront.

Still, there were moments of individuality in Josquiniana, particularly in the second section, with the lovely offhandedness of a coyly gesturing Regina Park Suh, the most musical dancer of the ensemble.  And the push-pull partnering of Zsolt Banki and Sara Stockwell when, after a symbiotic pas de deux, he releases her to dance alone like a colt on newfound legs.   The string quartet played Wourinen’s settings (composed 2002) of six secular works by the Flemish master, des Prez, in regal style, yet delved deep to produce warmth and luster.

The second ballet of the evening, to Benjamin Britten’s sprightly and expressive Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 6 displayed more finely honed ensemble dancing.  Once again, Balanchine loomed large as the repetitive hip thrusts in Jones’s choreography channeled the maestro’s ballet The Four Temperaments.  Missing, however, was the razor sharp footwork needed to carry off a Balanchine-inspired creation.  Britten’s music was a perceptive and appealing choice for a ballet and was played to full effect by Tereza Stanislav and Kevin Fitz-Gerald.

Without the accompaniment of dance, the DaCamera players: Tereza Stanislav and Norman Brick on violin, Robert Brophy on viola, John Walz on cello, Fitz-Gerald on piano, and Edward Murray on harpsichord brought a thoroughly engaged audience the music of Walter Piston and Henry Purcell.

Stanislav and Murray opened the evening with Piston’s neoclassical Sonatina for Violin and Harpsichord.  Stanislav’s performance brought out myriad textures and mood changes, while Murray’s harpsichord had an agile and fluid character. In the final section, the cascading notes of the harpsichord juxtaposed with the legato line of the violin were compelling.  Interspersed between the dances, two Purcell trios, Sonata No. 7 in E and Sonata No. 9 in F, were beautifully rendered by Stanislav, Norman Brick, Walz, and Murray. There was something magical about hearing Purcell’s glorious chamber music echoing throughout an industrial space devoid of baroque associations – the past and the present merging into perfect harmony.

As for the fledgling ACB, they’ve embarked on an innovative way to showcase dance, and, as the company grows and matures, one looks forward to their contribution to the L.A. dance scene.

Photo by Damon Casarez.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets

Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children. 

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