On opening night of “Choose Your Identity”, the Fais Dodo set the perfect scene for a rock-and-roll themed performance. The stage was small, but the rows of chairs were set a few yards from the stage to make room for a dance floor. The backdrop of the black stage was covered in red curtains, reminiscent of the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks and gave the stage some lusciousness in the otherwise cavernous venue. The program revealed that tonight would be a night of largely unrelated acts rather than a cohesive performance. Tawny Ellis and her Band opened the show with driving, rhythmic, twangy folk music that was nostalgic in tone as Ellis, a muse in a white dress, lead us down various country roads with her sultry voice.
Their third song was accompanied by Kelly Vittetoe, a beautiful, classically trained pointe dancer who performed simple, repetitive phrases with ease, though were unconnected to the music in both content and style. Adding to the disconnection, her white leotard, lipstick, and diamond earrings contrasted the bands relaxed, bohemian style. Vittetoe’s stunning grace, strength, and strong technique carried the piece despite the choreography’s discord with the music.
The next song was accompanied by Vittetoe and two additional dancers. As the dancers repeatedly performed piqué arabesques against the audience’s toes, Vittetoe acknowledged the audience members with a warm smile that offered a new, compelling piece of her performance personality. All three dancers were strong and technically proficient, but Cory Goei stood out as a performer with an authentic smile that carried him through the piece. The song was a country-style love ballad and the choreography introduced the athleticism, partnering, and aerial work that would be prevalent throughout the rest of the evening. The logic of this melting-pot of elements were, again, a bit disjointed, leaving me to wonder why these elements were being combined, and why this dance was happening to this music.
While the stage was cleared of instruments, amps, and cords, Judith FLEX Helle, director of Luminario Ballet, told a story about being a broke artist in Berlin, Germany and working as a casino scam artist with a mathematician. It was the first piece I could tie to the name of the show “Choose Your Identity” as she talked of dressing up in her best evening dresses and playing the character of a rich, high-stakes gambler while going home broke and hungry. The story was followed by TURF, choreographed by Los Angeles modern dance legend Bella Lewitzky. This piece consists of four men territorially defending the wooden box they each sat upon. The piece started with each man on their box, under a special doing a sort of full-body voguing one-by-one, with menacing expressions. Goei was the last man to be featured under the special and had a more fluid approach, tracing the edge of the box and bathing in the light of the special, proving his versatility as a dancer.
It was an exciting piece that showcased the dancers’ athleticism as they went in-and-out of unison, protecting their space, battling each other, and moving their territories (the boxes) around to take as their own, or join others in alliances. It was such a pleasure to see this classic work inspired by the Los Angeles riots of 1992 following four LAPD officers being acquitted after using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. Despite the officers’ misconduct having been videotaped and widely circulated, the officers had little repercussions making it a piece relevant to today when we are consistently seeing officers mistreat black Americans in droves and still rarely being met with the consequences of their monstrous actions. The cast of Luminario Ballet did a wonderful job and the audience was clearly moved. However, I felt some discordance with the theme of the evening, “Choose Your Identity”, as Rodney King was not given the agency to choose the part of his identity he was mistreated for.
While the stage was cleared and dancers changed, Judith FLEX Helle gave us the option of “rockstar or art star” before she told us another story, playing into the theme of “choose your identity”. This time the story was about being a Jewish dancer working the Christmas holiday shows and meeting Chaka Khan, who shared her little-known circus past with Judith. The next piece consisted of two men and three women in psychedelic pants or leotards, respectively. The men performed acts of strength and acrobatics while the women performed piqués, leaps, and walked around en pointe. Louis Williams’ dancing stood out with an impressive balance of strength, athleticism, graceful lines, and flexibility. Lift Ticket (pictured above) was full of spectacle with dynamic dancing and expert aerial work as pointe dancers and aerial performers joined forces, exhibiting their diverse talents. After the dancers mounted their aerial ribbons, Jessica Delgado shined, revealing herself as a seasoned aerial performer and an irresistible stage presence that hadn’t surfaced in her pointe work.
After the spectacle that was Lift Ticket, Dreya Weber entered the stage for Witch Piece which lead directly into LedZAerial. Dreya truly cast a spell over the audience and remained the high-point of the evening. Dreya Weber flexed her acting skills in an emotive, comedic introduction then stole all our hearts on the trapeze. A sexy number to Led Zeppelin, Weber flirtatiously flicked her long blonde hair as she made mesmerizing feats of strength on the trapeze look seamless, easy, and sexy. She wowed us with her personality as much as her tricks and you could hear the unanimous astonishment in the audience’s applause.
A second trapeze then dropped downstage, up close to the audience, as Weber was joined by AJ Abrams for a sensual, trapeze duet entitled What Is and What Should Never Be. Weber continued to entrance us, her long blonde hair revealing her endearing smile like a burlesque performer’s feathered fans reveal her curves. She was punishing but fair, sexy and strong, flexible, balanced, tender, and oozing enviable confidence.
The finale of the evening was another amalgam of athleticism, classical ballet, and aerial work with the full cast, minus Dreya Weber, entitled Ramble On. An epic ending full of rock-show style lighting cues and big movements that added to the spectacle of the evening. Once again, Jessica Delgado stole the show as an expert aerialist with compelling performance quality. If the work’s goal was to show disparate pieces together to be in-line with the theme of “choose your identity”, it didn’t communicate its purpose clearly, and while Judith FLEX Helle clearly understands the spectacle and technique of classical ballet, she abandons the nuance that makes ballet the enchanting art form it is. After cheerfully reclining upon each other for a final pose, one-by-one the dancers freestyled their way downstage for their bows then began grabbing audience members to join them in a dance party that got nearly half the audience off their feet and having fun. A great end to the evening that ensured every witness left the venue feeling charged and inspired.
“Choose Your Identity” was a night of spectacle and entertainment, but which lacked visible substance and cohesion. I wasn’t sure if the theme of the night pertained to the dancers constantly shifting between modern, ballet, and circus performance; a political statement about how our identities are perceived by society; or an admission of the disparate nature of the evening. Overall, the dancers were strong and confident, there were plenty of exciting highs and fascinating visual illusions, and the general vibe of the artists and audience were warm and welcoming. However, the absence of a true theme or comprehensive vision prompted me to question many choices that were made in the curation and direction of the evening.
If you’re looking for a professional-grade, fun night of spectacle, Judith FLEX Helle’s Luminario Ballet has a ton to offer you. I would especially recommend this company for friends who may not be exposed to much dance, as there are plenty of exotic elements to be wowed by. Their next event will be tailored for the seasoned dance enthusiast with a restaging of Bella Lewitzky’s “INSCAPE” at Skirball, check out this link for more information.
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