On November 21, 2021 Luminario Ballet held its Rock n Roll Ballet Gala Fundraiser Hard As A Rock at Los Angeles’s historic Avalon Hollywood featuring choreography by Artistic Director Judith FLEX Helle, Jamal Story, Bianca Sapetto-Finck, and Alexander Stabler. The Gala/Fundraiser, which I did not attend, included a dinner, hosted bar, and silent and live auctions. I arrived as hosts Judith FLEX Helle and actor, singer, dancer and Luminario alum Grasan Kingsberry were honoring choreographers Story and Sapetto-Finck, and the incomparable dance entrepreneur Renae Williams Niles for their work and contributions to dance. This was followed with live performances by Luminario Ballet and guest artists.

Luminario Ballet is a contemporary dance company that performs ballet, classical modern works (including several by the late Bella Lewitzky) and thrilling aerial dance. The Gala performance included choreography that provided movement from each of these dance genres.

Luminario Ballet in Bella Lewitzky's "Turf" - Photo by Scott Belding

Luminario Ballet in Bella Lewitzky’s “Turf” – Photo by Scott Belding

Jamal Story began his professional dance career here in Los Angeles with the Lula Washington Dance Theater. Among his other dance accomplishments, Story has performed as a guest artist with Dallas Black Dance Theater, Fort Worth/Dallas Ballet, as a member of Donald Byrd/the Group, Madonna’s 2001 Drowned World Tour, Complexions and with Cher as an aerialist and dancer.

Both of Story’s works on this program appeared to be about complicated relationships. If the Walls Could Scream was choreographed to a variety of music and featured Luminario Ballet dancers Anais Blake, Adrian Hoffman, Chasen Greenwood, Kelly Vittetoe, Nicholas Sipes, and Sadie Black pairing off into couples in varying degrees of turmoil. The choreography was filled with balletic partnering with Story’s characters longing for a more stable relationship. Six Feet A-Heart evoked similar feelings and although both were wonderfully performed, the choreography felt dated and displayed little energy or musicality of the pulse music group Emawk’s song “Ache” blasting out of the speakers.

In his short but powerful solo (no title announced), Story performed to spoken word by Barak Obama, and demonstrated why his dance talents were and are in high demand.

Judith FLEX Helle’s film L’Invalide was the highlight of the evening. Shown on a large screen onstage as well as in bigger-than-life size on either side of the theater, this work truly displayed some of Helle’s best choreography. L’Invalide was another slant on Lewis Carroll’s book Alice In Wonderland. Only here, Alice was given drugs by unfriendly doctors, experienced an LSD type psychedelic trip and died while hallucinating about being tortured by vampires. There was a happily ever after ending, however, as Alice was swept away by her guardian angels. You can read my earlier review of this wonderful film HERE.

Juliette Shannon in L'Invalide - Luminerio Ballet - Photo by Ted Soqui Photography

Juliette Shannon in L’Invalide – Luminerio Ballet – Photo by Ted Soqui

Mutatio, choreographed and performed by guest artist Alexander Stabler to music by The Deftones was thankfully short. Featuring a scaffolding set that resembled a tall, oversized bunk bed, Stabler proceeded to flex his scantly clad muscles and emote. In no way, however, did it appear that Stabler had spent time investigating all the possibilities of getting from underneath the scaffolding to standing triumphantly on top. The music for Mutatio was “Change” by The Deftones and Stabler would have been wise to have choreographed movement that matched the song’s energy.

Bianca Sapetto-Finck provided a dramatic solo for Aerialist Alicia Cutaia performed to the dynamic music composed and performed onstage by Morgan Sorne. Cutaia spun and flew surrounded by a video projected on three sides of the theater. Though brief and hampered by some mistiming by the crew member who was operating Cutaia’s aerial rigging, the work titled Sanctity was exciting to watch. The projected video was conceived and directed by Bianca Sapetto-Finck and Morgan Sorne, and performed by Sapetto-Finck, Sofia and Oona Finck.

The finale of the Gala performance was the premiere of Helle’s Hard As A Rock choreographed to Vivaldi’s “Storm” and John Williams’ “Mombasa.” Helle pulled out “all the stops” for Hard As A Rock and there were wonderful performances by dancers Chasen Greenwood, Kelly Vittetoe, Nicholas Sipes, Sadie Black, and Aerialists Darielle Williams and Maya Kramer. Though the work did not quite live up to the hype or the energy filling the Avalon Hollywood, I am certain that it will with time and performance.

Ballet Luminario – Trails – Photo by Emerson Chen

The Los Angeles dance community should be grateful that Luminario Ballet survived the cancellations, postponements and financial woes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and we all look forward to where Judith FLEX Helle takes the company in the future.

To learn more about Luminario Ballet, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Luminario Ballet in Judith FLEX Helle’s LedZAerial Ramble On – Photo by Stephen Sherrill