There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a gala to bump up excitement and heighten artistic awareness. All of which happened at the gorgeous Avalon Hollywood with Luminario Ballet and guest stars celebrating their upcoming 13th season. Director Judith FLEX Helle pulled out all the stops and featured her talented company in a wide array of works and presentation that satisfied all the senses.
On display was a piece, “Zarathustra!” from 2012 and choreographed by Judith FLEX Helle, Bianca Sapetto and Brett Womack with Vanessa Nichole and Michael Smuin. It was commissioned by the Otis College of Art’s Fashion School. Added to this were works by Jesus Florido and Thelma Houston.
The Avalon, built in 1927, was the perfect venue for Luminario’s blend of classical ballet, contemporary ballet and aerial work with silks and lyra. The dark interior of the lobby and orchestra seating was balanced by large art deco bars on each side with huge digital screens on the walls and as a backdrop for the dance work onstage. The stage has the required height for aerial work and the red velvet curtains on the proscenium completed the rich picture of a bygone age. “Zarathustra!” is a comment on Nietzsche’s pondering if the soul and the body were connected or separate. His outlined elements of Fire, Water, Moon, Darkness and Sun are followed in the topography of the work.
First on the program was a quartet entitled “Asturias.” Music by John Williams and danced by Sadie Black, Stephanie Hall, Nathan Madden, and Michael Hill. This was a straight forward Spanish-suite quartet á la Don Quixote, with much partnering and lifts. All was clean and competently performed. Only during this piece did I feel the digital screens a bit intrusive. They overpowered the dancing by changing scenes frequently and compelling attention away from the dancers.
Next was a solo performance by Jesus Florido where the psychedelic Art portrayed on the screens by Carl Jacobson was entirely apt and transported us along with Florido’s violin to a different sensual plane.
There followed a love duet with Madden and Black all in white and trying to connect with each other tempestuously. As it begins, she is alone on the stage in a fetal position as if in pain or just being born. He enters and gets her up and then they passionately partner each other. At the end he is laying down on the ground and she lightly exits to other realms. What happened? I felt as if I had just seen the entirety of “Wuthering Heights” and watched Heathcliff lose Catherine all over again.
In a second piece by Florido the music and artwork portrayed by Jacobson threw me into a dream state comparable to Carlos Casteneda with Don Juan Matus. The transforming artwork was fantastic and being displayed on all the screens at once was a powerful visual field to behold. The music and visuals were a perfect compliment to ‘A Hero’s Journey.’
The “Fire” section from Nietzsche’s musings begins with a quote about “Hellfire” and then Bianca Sapetto comes out with a whip and stirs the dancers to get to it. Black, Hall, and Madden do in earnest and there is plenty of lifting and partnering to mimic the flames on the screens behind. One felt like Dante halfway through his tour.
“Water” with Brett Womack, Vanessa Nichole and Brandon Hansen was beautiful and perfectly matched the waterfall visuals on the screens behind. They used blue silks for this piece melding the depth of the venue with live props for color that popped off of the screens. It was serene and lovely.
Next was the show-stopper of the evening in terms of visuals working with live performance as we had Nichole ascend to a Lyra with the help of Hansen on the ground. This was “Moon” and as it rose behind her on the massive screen, it was like seeing it up close from a mountaintop. Costumes by Joanna Hadfield Atelier were particularly resonant in this piece. The juxtaposition of a solo human female hung and flying through space along with the moon was surreal and gave Stanley Kubrick a run for his money. It is a comment on how fragile human life is and how we seem to wantonly ignore this fact by all of our activities which compromise the environment and atmosphere and Earth herself. Not lost is the solo Female performer being embracing by Gaia – a powerful metaphor for Mother Earth and the nurturing capabilities of Nature. Hansen was not absent but necessary on the ground and partnered Nichole beautifully. This piece also transcends a Vegas review in that it doesn’t require all the bells and whistles that usually accompanies such shows in Vegas. It is simple, elegant and lets the planet speak for itself.
“Darkness” was an aerial solo on a rope by Brett Womack surrounded by dancers Black, Hall, Madden and Hill. This utilized the dancers well as support and extensions of what Womack was doing up on the rope. There were very convoluted and difficult moves on the rope that affected the four on the floor and vice versa. It was a great showcase of exchanged energy and movement between the two realms of air and land. The rope work was phenomenal.
And last was “Sun” with Thelma Houston singing her hit song, “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Houston wore a blue dress and was lovely with her voice every bit intact and strong as ever. Strangely, the two women’s costumes were red dresses with black jazz shoes that may have been comfortable but clashed with what Houston was wearing and seamed out of place. This was the finale of the evening, and this song was the blast to go out on. However, I think the point was missed in choreographing any movement to it. This single screams for go-go as it came out in 1977 and that’s what we did, on boxes, on bars, on tables. Freestyle is the only way to go here and thankfully after a few minutes the entire cast came out and did just that. The cast was rounded out by Nicholas Sipes and Adrian Hoffman. It was a great way to end such a special evening of dance, aerial, music and support for Luminario Ballet and all that it entails.
Concept and video backdrop for “Sun” was by Judith FLEX Helle and the choreography and dance performance was by Adrian Hoffman.
For more information about Luminario Ballet, please visit their website.
Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Luminario Ballet – Nathan Madden, Sadie Black, and Stephanie Hall in “Fire” – Choreography by Judith FLEX Helle – Whip and Rhythmic Gymnastic choregraphy and performance Bianca Sapetto – Photo by Ted Soqui