On Saturday, November 16, 2019 Luminario Ballet will hold its 2019 Gala Fundraiser titled Gala Bacchanal at the Beverly Hills Women’s Club. As part of the festivities, Luminario Ballet will celebrate its 2020 US State Department and National Endowment of the Arts supported tour of India, promote the company’s presence at the upcoming NY APAP conference showcasing, and to honor the Emmy Award-winning choreographer Anita Mann for her Lifetime Achievement and Influence in Choreography. Mann has also played an important role in the professional and personal life of Luminario Ballet’s Artistic Director Judith FLEX Helle.

Judith FLEX Helle - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Judith FLEX Helle – Photo courtesy of the artist.

During our interview, I learned much about the path that led Judith to this moment. Born in Boston, she began dance lessons at age 4. Over the years her training included ballet, modern, jazz, modern jazz, contemporary dance and afro/Caribbean with well-known teachers such as Stefan Wenta, Marat Daukayev, Claude Thompson, Alexandre Magno, and Keith Young. Before settling in Los Angeles, Judith toured Europe as part of an Adagio team, performed with the Deutsche Opera Berlin in Germany, created two companies in Germany called “FLEX” and “CounterPointe”, and danced in Las Vegas shows.

Those familiar with Luminario Ballet know that the company incorporates aerial work into several of its repertoire pieces. When I was reviewing Judith’s training, I did not see any mention of aerial or trapeze training, so I asked her about this. She explained that she had grown up in New England surrounded by trees and aside from her God given talents related to dance, she said that it became very clear that “I could climb like a monkey and I was fearless”. Along with her gymnastics training in school, these two attributes became valuable assets later in her career.

In San Francisco, Judith became part of an Adagio team. Her partner, who went by several names during his career was part of a circus family and a good height match for Judith who is 5 ft 8 ins tall. The two separated but reunited two years later in Germany, where her partner used the aristocratic name Count Vernon Gras Von Bergdorf and gave their Adagio duet the name “FLEX” (the origin of Judith’s middle name). While staying in a large compound on the edge of Hamburg owned by a famous actor/musician, they had access to a trapeze and Count Von Bergdorf incorporated it into their act. This was 1981, prior to the era of Cirque du Soleil. The duo took their act to Berlin where they got a gig performing two shows on Saturday  nights at the nightclubbing Metropol Berlin, on a trapeze 30 feet above the stage. It was at the Metropol where Judith met and became good acquaintances with many international celebrities of the movie and dance milieus. One such famous German movie director so enjoyed their act that he made a film about “FLEX” titled The City of the Lost Souls.

While in Berlin, Judith was taking ballet classes at a local studio when the owner informed her that the company was holding an audition for tall ballet dancers who were also trained in modern dance.  She auditioned and was accepted. Taking advantage of the company’s open performance schedule, Judith joined forces with other dancers to form a company called “Counterpoint” designed to earn extra income performing in movies, TV shows, cabarets, industrials, and experimental theater.

Luminario Ballet in Judith FLEX Helle's "Listen To My Heart" - Aerial dancers: Shannon Beach Loureiro and Windu Sayles - Ballet Dancers: Sadie Black and Adrian Hoffman - Photo by Emerson Chen

Luminario Ballet in Judith FLEX Helle’s “Listen To My Heart” – Aerial dancers: Shannon Beach Loureiro and Windu Sayles – Ballet Dancers: Sadie Black and Adrian Hoffman – Photo by Emerson Chen

Fearing for their health and safety because of nuclear radiation fallout after the Chernobyl disaster that rained down and entered the ground water in much of Europe, Judith and her husband decided to return to the US. They were headed for Los Angeles, but only made it as far as Las Vegas. She auditioned for several shows in Vegas but did not fit the height requirements, being either too tall or too short. It is the moment when Anita Mann entered into her life hiring Judith for her first dancing job in Vegas (more on Ms. Mann later).

They made it to Los Angeles, and Judith founded Luminario Ballet in 2008. “In Latin, Luminario means light,” She said in answer to one of my questions. ”I wanted to explore the artistic sensibility of how light affects our interpretation of color, sculpture, movement, and mood.” Over the years the company has toured nationally and internationally, received commissions from the LA Philharmonic, performed Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle with Le Salone de Musiques, received a nomination from the World Choreography Awards for Judith’s “Lift Ticket”, premiered “Trails”, a ballet about climate change, and “The Last Supper”, co-choreographed with Jamal Story.

The Gala Bacchanal is a fundraiser and will include excerpts from the Luminario Ballet repertory and to celebrate the fact that Luminario Ballet is taking four dancers, Sadie Black, Windu Sayles, Grascan Kingsberry and Jasmine Perry, along with a tour manager on a US State Department and NEA sponsored tour to India. There the company of four will perform Judith’s 15-minute work-in-progress “Tosh Thoughts” choreographed to a soundscape of 6 songs by composer Peter Tosh. The titles of Tosh’s songs are “Creation”, “African”, “Apartheid”, “Steppin’ Razor”, “Get Up Stand Up”, and “Walk and Don’t Look Back”.

Luminario Ballet -Kelly Emerson in Judith FLEX Helle's "Firebird"- Photo by Chen Ford.

Luminario Ballet -Kelly Emerson in Judith FLEX Helle’s “Firebird”- Photo by Chen Ford.

Basically, the message is that inequality must be dealt with,” Judith said. “or there will be continued unrest and violence; and, that love is more powerful than fear.”

“Tosh Thoughts” will be performed in Mumbai at the annual Kala Ghoda Festival, an 8-day festival of music, theater, and dance to an audience totaling over 100,000 people. From there Luminario Ballet travels to Goa, to perform at the International Dance Fest which occurs at the Omaggio Performing Arts’ outdoor theater. While in India, the company will also teach workshops in contemporary ballet, acro dance, Broadway dance, and, at the Omaggio Performing Arts, aerial dance. One of Judith’s hopes is to have the opportunity to create a video dialogue between dance students in Los Angeles and in India.

Dreya Weber performing "Witch Piece" - Photo by Paul Antico

Dreya Weber performing “Witch Piece” – Photo by Paul Antico

Included on the Gala Bacchanal program is paying homage to Anita Mann for her Lifetime Achievement and Influence in Choreography. Now in its 20th year, Mann is the Producer and Director of FANTASY at the Luxor in Vegas, and has created, choreographed, and directed revues for casinos and luxury cruise lines including Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah’s, Harveys, Trump, The Mirage Hotel & Casino, Riviera Hotel & Casino, The Sands, Holland America, Costa Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. She is an Emmy Winning choreographer who been honored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as one of America’s top five contemporary choreographers. Nominated for many Emmys, Mann’s first win was for her choreography in “The Miss America Pageant.”

Anita Mann - Photo by SDK Photos

Anita Mann – Photo by SDK Photos.

Mann’s extensive choreography credits include “The Cher Show,” “The Jacksons,” “The Academy Awards,” “The Golden Globe Awards,” “The Academy of Country Music Awards,” “The People’s Choice Awards,” “The Grammy Hall of Fame,” “The Emmys,” and many others.

My most hilarious quote about Anita,” Judith said. “is she choreographed Sesame Street!”

Luminario Ballet will perform excerpts from its repertory. “We are building on Stravinsky’s “Firebird” that people saw at the LA Dance Festival’s Women Rising at the Ford Theatres; “Inferno Dance No. 2” a pas de deux, two contemporary works “Lift Ticket” and “Listen To My Heart”, Judith said. Also, on the program is guest artist Dreya Weber performing a section from her work titled “Witch Piece.”

When asked what else she would like to cover during this interview, Judith paused before speaking. “I think that your readers are very astute on subjects relating to dance, but I feel that there isn’t enough collegiality between the companies and the presenters. I think that the hope for the International Dance Fest hosted by Nigel Lythgoe and Debbie Allen, is that it will bring the dance community closer together.” To try and make this happen, Judith joined their Leadership Committee. “I would hope for more community and sharing so that we all could move ahead.” She said. “Dancers should take advantage of their location.” She was referring to the fact that many dancers have to sometimes miss rehearsals in order to do movie shoots, perform in industrials or do other dance gigs to meet their financial needs. “Companies shouldn’t freak out when a dancer has to miss rehearsals do these things.” She added.

A black tie affair, Gala Bacchanal takes place at the Beverly Hills Women’s Club on Saturday, November 16, 2019 from 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM with Hor d’ouevres, drinks, a seated dinner, a silent auction, and performances by Luminario Ballet.

For more information and tickets, click here.

To visit the Luminario Ballet website, click here.