Walking into the Orpheum Theater to see “Hollywood Holidays” is an experience in of itself. The theater built in 1926 as a palace to house the best of Vaudeville still stands in all its breathtaking yet diminished grandeur. It is easy to see what it had once been and what it could be again with some loving restoration. With this auspicious start I looked forward to what Hollywood Ballet would bring to the enormous stage.
Artistic Director, Petra Conti with Vice Artistic Director, Eris Nezha, along with Show Director André Megerdichian, have challenged themselves to create a dance company for Los Angeles. This is a daunting task but with determination and community support they have made an admirable effort.
Putting together a roster of top-notch dancers is difficult under any circumstances, which may be why Hollywood Ballet has brought in dancers with good training but little experience. Each and every dancer worked tirelessly to do justice to the choreography but all too often this concert felt more like a well-produced recital.
Used occasionally throughout the show was an excellent string quartet: violinists, Andrew Kwon and Dae Kwon; viola, Angela Liu; and cellist, Yao Wang, all nicely accompanied by pianist Cathy Miller. These live interludes segued into familiar needle-drop tunes.
Within the program notes are phrases to describe each piece. Because the program was digital and there were fifteen dances it was impossible to stay abreast of each description especially within the darkened theater. Therefore, we were often left in the dark as to what the meaning or intent was of each piece. “Release,” for example, a solo to the music of Camille Saint-Saëns, well danced by Lena Harris and choreographed by André Megerdichian with Aaron Wood, had this notation.
“Our dreamer remembers the death of her mother, imagining the moment when she passed from this world. Did she rage against the dying of the light, forgive, or relive the beautiful moments of her life before she passed?”
Because this could not be read prior to seeing the work we were left to guess the cause of the dancer’s angst. Even with an explanation, however, existential questions by their nature cannot be answered and are nearly impossible to convey within a three-minute dance. Something more attainable is the key here and throughout this sometimes overly ambitious concert. Here is a taste of what else the night held.
The musicians and dancers opened the show with “Auld Lange Syne” which quickly morphed into Ben E. King’s classic hit “Stand By Me,” with choreography by André Megerdichian. This is a powerful song and the all-female cast is given classic jazz dance moves in a “celebration of community.” Though executed as well as possible the choreographic ideas did not shine through. This was the consistent issue throughout the concert. What did come through however was the earnestness of these young performers.
I had high hopes for Ella Fitzgerald’s “Winter Wonderland,” which was danced by Lena Harris, Tigran Sargsyan and Joshua Tyebkhan with choreography by Mr. Sargsyan, as these three have major ballet resumes. Though their training was evident the piece itself bordered on cliché and lacked pizazz. Oddly, this was the only nod to the “Holidays” we were here to celebrate.
Mr. Sargsyan again choreographed “Love Me, Love Me” a sunny Dean Martin standard, for solo dancer Joshua Tyebkhan. This is a simple piece that needs a charismatic performer to it pull off. Mr. Tyebkhan does have moments of charm and comedic potential but his technique needs work which distracted from the overall piece. The question here is why give a solo to a dancer who is not yet ready?
“All Of You” with music by Fredric Chopin and choreography by Jennifer Deckert, Aaron Wood and André Megerdichian, is a surprising addition to this “Holiday” show as it touches on a controversial subject, that of love between two women. The women dancing here were Natalie Palmgren and Bryn Graham McRee, both are capable dancers but were overly careful in their approach, especially to each other. Perhaps it is the choreography which is cautious and lacks punch but this interesting choice of material did not go unnoticed.
“Spring,” choreographed by Jennifer Deckert, and danced by the ensemble to the music of Max Richter after Vivaldi, carried this description. “Having chosen love over pain our dreamers’ minds are swept clear, their collective unconscious reborn.” Again, I’m not sure how this is conveyed in a short number but this was nicely danced and choreographed.
Frank Sinatra’s version of “That’s Life,” features soloist Emily Van Citters, choreographed by André Megerdichian. She does what is required of her very well, but the irony and nuance of the song is beyond her years. The same holds true for the iconic “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone and Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing,” again choreographed for the ensemble by André Megerdichian. This is a heavy lift for the technical ability and theatrical experience of these young performers.
Choreographers Megerdichian, Deckert, Sargsysan and Wood, kept the stage moving throughout with interesting patterns and good use of the stage. The actual steps, however, often bordered on the pedestrian. A more daring approach would be welcome.
One of the most difficult endeavors in the world of the arts is to create a dance company. Therefore Ms. Conti and her associates must be commended for their efforts toward this end. Building a company is an arduous process with many layers needed for a firm foundation. Hollywood Dance is in its nascent stages and only time will tell to what heights they can rise. I am hoping with continued hard work and commitment they will do wonderful things for us to enjoy in years to come.
All fifteen pieces were well rehearsed and performed with total commitment and pride by the dedicated dancers. They were; Petra Conti, Eris Nezha, Tigran Sargysyan, Emily Van Citters, Natalie Palmgren, Sarah Alfino, Carmen Callahan, Bryn Graham McRee, Isabel Granqvist, Lena Harris, Milla Popovic, Katherine Thomas, Lila Constantino, Talia Grafos, Julianna Hutton, Madison Marsh, Kate Seales, Aimana Tazhibaeva, Joshua Tyebkhan, Charlotte Vukojevich, Kenadie Daniels, Kristen Der, and John Paszkiewicz.
For more information about Hollywood Ballet, please visit their website.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Hollywood Ballet Ensemble in “Hungarian Dances” – Hollywood Ballet Ensemble – Photo by Jenny Stein