Bernstein Dances delivers a pastiche of moments and meditations conceived by John Neumeier,  Artistic Director/Choreographer/Stage and Lighting. Neumeier has led the Hamburg Ballet since 1973 bringing his company of nearly 60 dancers to Los Angeles. They grace the stage for their first appearance at the Music Center, fearlessly and playfully tempting us with fragments of the life of Neumeier’s friend and the complex genius, Leonard Bernstein. This gift was made possible by Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center in its 19th season.

In Bernstein Dances the evening begins with a minimalistic stage setting. Images of “Lenny” are draped from ceiling to floor on one side of the stage. The music swells and soon the images come alive. It’s stirring to see and hear again the fierce passion of this artist and his music. And, with his form unconstrained, he appears again to lead us to “dance.”

Hamburg Ballet - "Bernstein Dances" - Alexandr Trusch, Ensemble - Photo © Kiran West

Hamburg Ballet – “Bernstein Dances” – Alexandr Trusch, Ensemble – Photo © Kiran West

The brilliant L.A. Opera Orchestra, conducted by Garrett Keast, delivers. Adding to the experience is masterful pianist Sebastian Knauer and violinist Tai Murray. CJ Eldred and Dorothea Baumann, the young singers chosen to express the lyrics and music of the greats, Bernstein, Comden, Green, Schwartz and Sondheim, recognized the import of this moment, and tended to push the vocals and pitch whilst at times making random or not fully directed appearances. Yet with the dance, the actual feeling of the soaring music and breathing movement, we fully understand what we missed during the last two years.

Hamburg Ballet - "Bernstein Dances" - (L-R) Alexandr Trusch - Photo © Kiran West

Hamburg Ballet – “Bernstein Dances” – (L-R) Alexandr Trusch – Photo © Kiran West

Bernstein Dances is an intricate and active novella in its 2.5 hours of unfolding. It pieces its protagonist, with all his complexities, together in allusions to his life. Neumeier loosely ties together Bernstein’s music, with his earthly needs and entanglements as a constant subtext.

The story unfolds, like an apparition, from the very instrument that was his signature, the piano. It acts as a kind of womb, where the birth of Bernstein the artist, the creator, the man, is intimated. The stunning dancers, Alexandr Trusch, as Bernstein, David Rodriguez as “Love” Hélène Bouchet, David Rodriquez, Emilie Mazoń, Madoka Sugai, Jacopo Bellussi, Karen Azatyan  weave the tale that is to become his life’s joy, the music.

Hamburg Ballet - "Bernstein Dances" - Karen Azatyan, Alexandr Trusch, Ensemble - Photo © Kiran West

Hamburg Ballet – “Bernstein Dances” – Karen Azatyan, Alexandr Trusch, Ensemble – Photo © Kiran West

There is also a silent character in Bernstein’s life and that is New York. The backdrop, from photographs by Reinhart Wolf, with its half-built construction of, one might surmise, Lincoln Center, then moves to the nascent Twin Towers so silently present, and the Iconic Brooklyn Bridge forging the path from the city.

Hamburg Ballet - "Bernstein Dances" - Ensemble - Photo © Kiran West

Hamburg Ballet – “Bernstein Dances” – Ensemble – Photo © Kiran West

As for Neumeier’s choreography; in L.A., the capital of commercial dance where passion and sexuality is king/queen, and transplanted Broadway dancers make up a great percentage of this star-studded world, the work appeared simplistic and unfulfilled. In spite of the elegance and color of the Giorgio Armani-clad dancers and the brilliance of the fire-In-the-belly of Madoka Sugai, Azatyan, Trusch, Rodriquez among them, the excitement of the dance hardly rises to the masterful level of the music and what we remember of choreographers Robbins, Gennaro even Peck. Surely to let some of that in to break the monopoly of leadership would have been a generous thing to do. In that stead, this is still a must see for the opulence of live music and dancers and to revisit its beloved subject, Leonard Bernstein.


To learn more about the Hamburg Ballet, please visit their website.

To learn more about what is next for Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, please click HERE.

To find out the full season lineup at The Music Center, please visit their website.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Hamburg Ballet – Bernstein Dances choreography by John Neumeier – (L-R) Emilie Mazon, Jacopo Bellussi, David Rodriguez, Alexandr Trusch, Madoka Sugai, Helene Bouchet, Sebastian Knauer, Dorothea Baumann, CJ Elder – Photo ©-Kiran-West