Over the past several years the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has made a notable effort to include Los Angeles based dance companies. They include Lula Washington Dance Theater, Jacob Jonas/The Company, BODYTRAFFIC, Heidi Duckler Dance, Micaela Taylor/TL Collective, Versa Style Dance Company, Ate9, CONTRA-TIEMPO/ Urban Latin Dance Theater, and DIAVOLO: Architecture in Motion. On February 17 – 18, 2023 Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles led by Artistic Director and Choreographer Judith FLEX Helle, will be added to that list of illustrious LA companies to be presented by The Wallis. Known for its gravity-defying blend of Ballet, Aerial Movement, Acrobatics, and Modern Dance, Luminario Ballet’s program will feature works by Adrian Hoffman, Bianca Sapetto, Dreya Weber, Jamal Story and Judith FLEX Helle. Tickets prices range from $29 to $79 and are on sale now.
Judith FLEX Helle has enjoyed a national and international career including in San Francisco with the experimental modern dance troupe The Oblong Rondas, with Deutsche Opera Berlin for 6 years, in the cabaret show “La Vie En Rose” and toured as a principal dancer for 3 years in the Brazilian dance revue “Brazilian Follies” a full-length Ailey styled/Carnival in Rio extravaganza. The first company that Helle created when working in Berlin was called FLEX, was comprised of top modern and ballet dancers from around the world and also had a commercial dance department, which fulfilled many music video, film, TV, and commercial dance jobs. Helle moved to Los Angeles in 1988 and founded Luminario Ballet in 2008 making its debut at the Avalon Hollywood in June 2009.
Helle and I met to discuss what she wanted readers to know and expect with Luminario Ballet’s program at The Wallis and other news about the company. We began catching up with each other lives and the conversation turned to how The Wallis has led the way to presenting local dance companies. “My hope is that with the efforts of The Wallis and other supporting venues that more LA companies will have a chance” Helle said. “We’re super excited about performing there.”
The theme for the evening is “Heroes, Sheroes, and Eros.” The program opens with a collection of seven works by Luminario Ballet choreographers and special guests that “explore the tangled paths of history/herstory/ourstory.” One of my first questions to Helle was what she wanted readers to know about or expect to see at Luminario Ballet’s performance at The Wallis.
“I like to give everybody high expectations,” Helle began. “I want the readers to know that they are going to be thrilled, emotionally moved, mystified and amazed, and satisfied with the quality of the show.”
The concert opens with Helle’s Hard As a Rock set to music by Vivaldi and John Williams which she describes as an opener that gets the audience going. “It is shot out of a cannon, with confetti, glitter and on fire with gold speedos” she said with great enthusiasm. Later in the program is Helle’s dance film L’Invalide (The Invalid), a story ballet about a woman, Juliette, who is hospitalized and forced to take drugs which causes her to dream about being seduced by vampires.
Luminario Ballet is not what most audiences expect to see when they read the word ballet. There are dancers on pointe performing ballet movement but several of them will suddenly rise above the stage while executing aerial movements on trapezes, loops, or long colorful drapes of material. The Luminario Ballet dancers are of the highest quality who are trained in ballet, contemporary, jazz and acrobatic who can glide between each style effortlessly. Helle stressed that fans who follow the company include audiences who love theater, dance, music, opera and spectacle. Helle describes this concert as contemporary ballet on pointe.
The evening’s music includes works by classical composers such as Vivaldi performed by 2Cellos, the classical stadium group from Croatia who Helle explained shred cellos rather than guitars. Other music includes electronica along with a couple of original scores by other very talented composers. There will be re-orchestrated music by reggae artist Peter Tosh with spoken word by actor, singer, dancer and teacher Grasan Kingsberry, and music by Los Angeles-based British electronic music DJ/record producer, and TV and film score composer Photek. There is music by one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, Phillip Glass, and Mumadji, a group that offers a blend of African, Brazilian and European music.
When asked to explain the program’s theme “Heroes, Sheroes, and Eros.” The heroes that are celebrated in the evening’s work include the late Peter Tosh. Jamal Story has created a new work titled Tosh Thoughts…. Break On Through to the Other Side which contains a film featuring the great Broadway actor, Kingsberry, who through his spoken word embodies the philosophy and power of Peter Tosh. Tosh was a famous Jamaican reggae singer with the Wailers who later established himself as a solo artist and promoter of Rastafari, a religion that developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. Sadly, Tosh was murdered in what was called a home invasion, but many others considered it an assassination due to his political activism.
“We’re excited to present it” Helle said. “We are doing it in a very loving fashion because Tosh’s philosophy which is equality, justice, diversity – equal rights is the main focus.” Helle went on to describe how Tosh was a big supporter of environmental equality, of no nuclear war and a healthy landscape and environment. “It’s a little misogynistic, the Jamaican world, but if he were alive today, I think that he would include women in his push, so we do.”
Another hero is Jesus, who is the focus of Helle’s longer theater work The Last Supper, which is “about when Jesus, Mary and Judas went to the 2017 Coachella Music Festival and what happened. We’re also celebrating Mary in this piece as well as Judas who was a hero in his own way” Helle added.
Jamal Story performs a solo that he choreographed called The Problem With Homeless Veterans. It is a very soulful, short contemporary work set to the voice of Barak Obama speaking about homelessness veterans.
The Sheros that Luminario Ballet is celebrating are choreographers Debra Weber and Bianco Sapetto who Helle describes as doing a very mysterious but not a direct confrontational exploration of misogyny. Sapetto’s work is titled Wryd Tango and is about how it feels to be a witch and to fly. Dreya Weber’s piece, Hexen, addresses both misogyny and climate change. It is a story based on her family roots in Trier, Germany where all but one of the women were burned as witches. There was a severe freezing period that killed the town’s livestock and crops, and the male leaders blamed everything on witchcraft rather than a shift in the climate.
Helle described Sheros as women who simply want to fly but who are accused of terrible things. “Hilary Clinton is the perfect example” Helle declared. Smart, talented and ambitious women who, in a misogynistic society/world, are put down and lied about in an attempt to halt their success.
In describing the Eros part, Helle said that it “comes with the deep abiding love that we in Luminario have. I can not tell you what a lovely group of dancers we have and have always had.” She described how following a concert in Florida that was performed for an audience who had never seen the company, people came up to her and said that they had not expected to be so emotionally moved. “Also just the gentle, general love that we want to share with each other, and through that way of being, help the world connect with each other” she said.
Helle shared that one of her most important feelings about her work, The Last Supper, which features Jesus as a rock star and includes scenes with people scantily dressed, is that it gives people ideas to begin discussions about. It is, as many say, exactly what art should do.
Adrian Hoffman is an emerging choreographer who has been a member of Luminario Ballet since 2015. His new work, Tend is in response to the isolation of the pandemic. “And ho
w we need to tend to each other emotionally and care for each other’s feelings NOW as we try to get what we lost” Helle added.
“I want them (the audience) to understand that ballet dancers, like everyone else, will save the world with their hearts and minds” she said and went on to talk about the dancers in Ukraine who have fought and died fighting against Russia to save their country and democracy. “We want to share and we’re willing to take the risks and talk about difficult things in order to do that.”
The cast of Heroes, Sheroes, and Eros will include: Guest artists Jamal Story, Dreya Weber, and Bianca Sapetto with dancers Sadie Black, Stephanie Hall, Adrian Hoffman, Wil Geary, Raymond Ejiofor, Vanessa Nichole, Antonio Martinez, Precious Gilbert, Marlon Pelayo and Emma DeStasio. Morgan Sorne is a musician/composer who will perform live onstage.
When I asked if there was anything that I failed to ask her, Helle fondly answered “What’s the latest Judith?” Her answer to this question was not expected but extremely well deserved.
“In December I was awarded the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for service in my field, as well as the UN’s Humanitarian Award, again, for service in my field” She said proudly. Sadly, Helle was unable to travel to Washington to receive the award in person but she has the award as well as a Presidential Award Seal pin. “I was so grateful that they gave me this award while I was still alive,” She added.
Judith FLEX Helle is not only a dancer, choreographer, educator, and activist, she is also soon to be a published author of her memoir titled “Wild Animals I Have Known.”
“It’s not just about dance” she explained. ”It’s about trapeze, but it’s also about the struggle that each one of us have. Each one of us individually. As artists the struggle is real! We struggle with emotions. We struggle with finances – never more than during the pandemic.”
WHAT: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Presents Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles Heroes, Sheroes, and Eros
WHEN: Friday, February 17, 7:30 pm and Saturday, February 18, 2023, 7:30 pm
WHERE: The Wallis’ Bram Goldsmith Theater
TICKETS: Prices range from $29 to $79 – TheWallis.org/Luminario – 310-746-4000 (Monday – Friday, 10 am to 6 pm)
For more information about The Wallis and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.
For more information about Luminario Ballet, please visit their website.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to current health and safety variables, performances are subject to change, postponement, or cancellation.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Luminario Ballet – Marlon Pelayo and Bianca Sapetto in “Wyrd Tango” choreography by Sapetto – Photo by Ted Soqui