The Wallis Center for the Performing Arts has in past years brought in exceptional highly acclaimed local, national and international companies. They have outreach programs that promote opportunities for children and community. So, it was a surprise to see Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles, that performs in numerous venues and perhaps it would thrive in nightclubs. It is admirable, however, that the Wallis gave this troupe a chance and their audience a vivid look at this type of work. Luminario Ballet has components of an in-your-face body parts promotion of “sex sells” with women and men scantily dressed to highlight their private areas. Dance companies of the highest caliber approach sensual components differently, with a subtle sexuality that is artistic, alluring, and subtle in nature. On opening night, Friday, February 17, 2023, the Luminario Ballet had diverse segments in performance art but the question remains whether sex sells or if artistic, understated integrity rules?  After experiencing this performance, I feel that Luminario Ballet should decide whether they want to stick with a risque manifesto or approach artistic sensory growth in a more refined manner. It is apparent that Artistic Director Judith Flex Helle is good at getting the company marketing exposure, government monies, and performance opportunities.  She is to be commended in bringing in different choreographers and giving possibilities to grow talent in the performance art arena.

Luminario Ballet - Dreya Weber in "Hexen" - Photo by Paul Antico

Luminario Ballet – Dreya Weber in “Hexen” – Photo by Paul Antico

On this program Ms. Helle collaborated with four other artists, one of them aerialist and actress Dreya Weber.  In a performance art piece using aerial silks choreographer Dreya Weber’s work Hexenstucke (Witch Pieces) was remarkable.  Joining her on stage were two female dancers, Sadie Black and Emma DeStasio, who added to Weber’s idea of the unity of women empowerment.  Three silks hung from the rafters in the front of the stage and the three performers moved about creating shapes and various actions. While speaking into a head mic, Ms. Weber built a smooth transitional story sparked by her own mother, her background in Germany, along with additional historical facts relating to the treatment women and the creation of the term, “witch hunt.”  Ms. Weber proved that she could seduce the audience in a subtle way and with good taste.  She was a story siren whose voice and body were elusive, and it was amazing and inspiring that at 61 years of age Ms. Weber is in her prime.

Luminario Ballet - R-L Emma DeStasio, Jamal Story, Raymond Ejiofor in "Tosh Thoughts", choreography by Jamal Story - Photo by Rob Latour

Luminario Ballet – R-L Emma DeStasio, Jamal Story, Raymond Ejiofor in “Tosh Thoughts”, choreography by Jamal Story – Photo by Rob Latour

Homegrown dancer and choreographer Jamal Story is a hard-working talent who was trained by local legend Lula Washington.  In a concept forged by Francesca Harper, Mr. Story’s solo structured improv performance The Problem with Homeless Veterans was enhanced by President Barack Obama’s words in the foreground. It was powerful, poetic, and patient and greatly showcased his skill and ability to command the stage.  Mr. Story was a definite highlight of the evening.

As a choreographer Jamal Story attempted Tosh Thoughts…Break thorough to the Other Side, with music sung by Peter Tosh and spoken by Gasan Kingsberry. Working along with dancers Raymond Ejiofor, Emma DeStasio, and Jamal Story, the perception was interesting, the laidback ambiance achieved, and the music and spoken word was an attention-grabbing performance art experience.  However, Mr. Story would benefit from reworking the choreography to cover more of the stage and address the point of the project directly.

“A tapestry of two people – a love story,” was how aerialist choreographer Bianca Sapetto-Finck described her tango in the air.  This aerial piece, utilizing fabric rigging, Wyrd Tango was performed by Bianca Sapetto-Finck and Marlon Pelayo. They were joined by composer and singer Morgan Sorne whose unique tone of voice earned his song even more distinction.  Sapetto-Finck’s concept for Wyrd Tango and the dancing were “spot on.”  I loved the idea but felt that the work could be strengthened through exploration of trickier tango steps and smoother transitions to provide a more complex dimension.

The night began with a few technical difficulties that should have been ironed out prior to curtain time. There were also a few unfortunate choices in lighting, production quality and musical timing. Ms. Helle choreographed two complete works for this program and collaborated on the third venture. During her opening dance, Hard as a Rock with music by 2Cellos Vivaldi “Summer Storm,” and John Williams “Mombasa,” several male dancers struggled with technical elements resulting in falling off demi pointe during their turns.  Contemporary dance elements with pointe shoes looked strictly classical due to the lack of head, shoulder or hip movements often used in contemporary ballets.  The female dancers were capable and technically proficient but lacked stylized coaching and the choreography did little to showcase their talents.  Ms. Helle’s concert style choreography came across as stagnant and requires updating or other forms of revision.

Her second composition was a film created out of LA County Covid Arts Relief funds called, L’Invalide (The Invalid) and set to a compellation of music including Prince Fatty and Shniece’s “Black Rabbit,” G.O.L.’s “Angelica in Delirium,” and David Lang’s “I Lie.”  The choreography was similar in its concert style with a lot of standing around between movements that lacked any incorporated connections or transitions.

Luminario Ballet - (L-R) Jamal Story, Precious Gilbert, Raymond Ejiofor, Adrian Hoffman, Vanessa Nichole, Sadie Black in "The Last Supper - Coachella", choreography by Judith FLEX Helle - Photo by Rob Latour

Luminario Ballet – (L-R) Jamal Story, Precious Gilbert, Raymond Ejiofor, Adrian Hoffman, Vanessa Nichole, Sadie Black in “The Last Supper – Coachella”, choreography by Judith FLEX Helle – Photo by Rob Latour

Following intermission, a multi-segmented work called The Last Supper contained nine sections choreographed by Ms. Helle and Mr. Story.  Again, there were disjointed connections, numerous acting scenes and even hip gyrations of simulated sex.  Perhaps some were necessary for the story they wanted to tell and they indeed succeeded with The Coachella vibe that they were shooting for.  In the Judas’ Regret section, Vanessa Nichole, assisted by Adrian Hoffman, was at the very top of the stage whirling like a top in a circular aerial hoop apparatus.  Ms. Nichole appeared confident and concise; a very impressive feat considering that there was no net beneath in case she fell.

The standout of the evening was dancer Adrian Hoffman whose movements came across as natural and rhythmic. He was an absolute pleasure to watch in every section that he appeared. He had an intriguing and stirring quality about him that was reminiscent of the actor Evan Peters, and possesses beautiful long and broken lines. Hoffman is also fully convincing in his acting roles. He demonstrated his abilities as a knowledgeable professional by following through with his own transitions where none were provided.

Luminario Ballet - (L-R) Adrian Hoffman, Raymond Ejiofor, Marlon Pelayo in "Tend", choreography by Adrian Hoffman - Photo by Rob Latour

Luminario Ballet – (L-R) Adrian Hoffman, Raymond Ejiofor, Marlon Pelayo in “Tend”, choreography by Adrian Hoffman – Photo by Rob Latour

As a choreographer Mr. Hoffman’s work Tend set to music by Joe Berry, had a nice swaying quality and was soft and dreamlike in nature.  Performed in white costumes by Adrian Hoffman, Raymond Ejiofor, and Marlon Pelayo, the length of this piece was perfect and Mr. Hoffman has a worthy understanding of melding movement together. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

There has been some push for Los Angeles based companies to stay afloat after the pandemic. Many troupe or pickup companies and studios closed or are functioning on low funds due to the economic struggles.  The Wallis could benefit by supporting smaller companies, as well as their audiences.  The concept of combining aerial with ballet and contemporary music is not a new concept.  There have been professional establishments including Michael Smuin’s ballet company in San Francisco, the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, and the Cirque du Soleil company out of Canada who have successfully pulled it off.  Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles ultimately is impressive in performance art and aerial maneuvers, however, there needs to be a push for better dance choreography, better casting choices, and coaching the dancers in specific follow through actions. The question remains, however, whether audiences want the type of in your face provocation offered by Luminario Ballet.  There is a market for this type of presentation and it is up to the company on how they wish to expose themselves on stage and what message they wish to deliver.

Managing and Artistic Director: Judith Flex Helle
Luminario Ballet company dancers: Sadie Black, Emma DeStasio, Raymond Ejiofor, Wil Geary, Stephanie Hall, Adrian Hoffman, Grasan Kingsberry, Antonio Martinez, Vanessa Nichole, Marlon Pelayo, Bianca Sapetto-Finck, Jamal Story, and Dreya Weber.
Aerial Rigger was by Kevin Scott Cannon, with Costumes by Terril Teran Mire.

For more information about Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles, please visit their website.

For more information about the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit its website.

Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Luminario Ballet – (L-R) Sadie Black, Raymond Ejiofor, Vanessa Nichole, Antonio Martinez, Stephanie Hall, Adrian Hoffman in Hard As A Rock, choreography by Judith FLEX Helle – Photo by Rob Latour