Each summer LA Dance Chronicle creates a listing of the upcoming dance season or series for each of the larger LA area venues. This year I noticed that the Los Angeles Ballet 2022-23 season had not been announced publicly or on their website in June as previously projected. Over the past years the company has consistently performed at The Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA., CAP UCLA Royce Hall in Los Angeles, The Dolby Theater in Hollywood, and at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Nothing is listed for LAB on any of those venues’ websites.
This delay in announcing a company’s new season could be caused by multiple reasons such as finalizing theater rental contracts, shift in repertory, or a change in staff. But while surfing through LAB’s website, I noticed that the names of the LAB founders Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, were no longer prominently placed AND even more newsworthy, they were listed on the “About LAB” page as Artistic Directors Emerita along with Executive Director Julie Whittaker who retired a few years ago. Checking the website just now, it still does not list any artistic director and currently says “Season Coming Soon.”
Founded in 2004 by Christensen and Neary, Los Angeles Ballet is the city’s only resident professional ballet company and one now recognized globally for its excellent staging of works by world-renown choreographer George Balanchine that include Agon, Concerto Barocco, Serenade, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Divertimento No. 15, Prodigal Son, Who Cares?, and more. Additional very notable choreographers whose work has been performed by LAB include Christopher Wheeldon, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Aszure Barton, Alejandro Cerrudo, August Bourneville, Sir Frederick Aston, José Limón, Jiří Kylián, Sonya Tayeh, Christopher Stowell, Melissa Barak, Lar Lubovitch, Kitty McNamee, Thommie Walsh, Stacey Tookey, and Jennifer Backhaus. in addition to its annual Nutcracker, the company has mounted full-length ballets including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, and Don Quixote.
Los Angeles has a growing list of smaller ballet companies with contemporary, often original choreography. Many include dancers who are alumni of LAB. In time, some might develop the heft to bring full length ballet classics and attract choreographers from Balanchine to Sonya Tayeh. This city is a destination for touring ballet companies but has a fraught history of failed efforts to establish its own thriving professional ballet companies including efforts involving the Joffrey Ballet and a prior Los Angeles Ballet led by John Clifford. Except for the Covid shutdown, for 16 seasons the Los Angeles Ballet under Christensen and Neary avoided the traps that doomed prior efforts.
To this writer, the signs, specifically the “emerita” listing, are strong clues of a change of Artistic Director(s) at LAB. Nothing has not been publicly announced. Calls and e-mails to the long-time press representative yielded minimum information and calls to the LAB offices received no response.
My sincere concerns and questions include: will the company still present the Balanchine works that played such a prominent role in building LAB’s reputation? Will the company continue to perform Christensen and Neary’s very popular version of The Nutcracker each winter season? Who will LAB hire as the new Artistic Director(s)? When did this shift in leadership take place, whose decision was it, and why now when the company is thriving? These questions are just a few of the ones I have about what is taking place at LAB.
LAB is a very important asset to dance in Los Angeles and beyond and one hopes that whatever decisions are being made or considered will produce only positive results.
To learn more about Los Angeles Ballet, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Los Angeles Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Bloom – Photo by Reed Hutchinson/LAB