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Photos: L.A. Dance Company Re-Staged Forgotten Versions Of Old Ballets

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Dance in Los Angeles rarely veers towards classical. The largest dance company committed to classical ballet here is the Los Angeles Ballet, but in 11 seasons it still has yet to gain a stronghold in L.A.'s artistic landscape. The most visible local ballet company, the L.A. Dance Project (founded by Benjamin Millipied of Black Swan and being-married-to-Natalie-Portman fame), spends most of its time touring elsewhere. And other inventive and exciting companies in Los Angeles—BODYTRAFFIC, ate9 Dance Company, Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company, to name a few—work with contemporary and modern dance rather than ballet. And while there are fantastic touring programs of classical ballet (most of which pass through the Music Center) it leaves you wondering about a classical dance company that's just for Los Angeles—one that makes this city its home, rather than a stage for passing through.

The L.A.-based American Contemporary Ballet aims to do exactly that, by prioritizing the technique, drive, and musical soul of ballet while using the modernity and invention of Los Angeles as its backdrop. On their website, they specify how the "contemporary" in their company name "denotes the fact that we perform a large number of new ballets," but they're all rooted in "the classical tradition." It's the bridge between the style and artistic foundation of the past and the possibilities of new choreographic exploration.

The company hosts, among other events, the MUSIC+DANCE:LA series—twice a season, the dancers present choreography in front of live musicians on the 32nd floor of the BLOC downtown. As part of the first installment of MUSIC+DANCE:LA, ACB presented "Tchaikovsky in Ballet" this past weekend, a four-day run of long-lost choreography.

This event exemplified the company's focus on both the past and present. As most famous ballets have been reinterpreted countless times over, with the influence of different ballet masters and choreographers on display every time a company presents a piece, Lincoln Jones, the artistic director of ACB, aimed to bring back the original choreography of many of the most famous ballets set to Tchaikovsky's music. These included Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty. Jones' intention was to show audiences what the original choreographers intended, and teaching them how a ballet morphs and evolves over time.

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Jones recently spoke with L.A. Magazine about the process of uncovering the original choreography. "We did our best to stage all the dances as they were originally intended," Jones said. He added that he'd collaborated with dance historian Doug Fullington to stage the ballets; Fullington is a specialist in Stepanov notation, which is a Russian classical ballet notation system that was in use from approximately 1885 to 1915. Through his studies, Fullington was able to recreate pieces like the original Cavalier dance in the Nutcracker. While the Cavalier is famous for its virtuosic solo today—alternating with the Sugar Plum Fairy's playful and staccato variation—the Cavalier originally danced with eight other women. According to Fullington, the eight women danced with the Cavalier and then framed the Sugar Plum Fairy as she performed her variation.

Most of the dances were originally choreographed by ballet legends Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, in collaboration with Tchaikovsky's composing. To show how the dances have changed over time, Jones staged performances in which the originals were compared with the versions that were choreographed by George Balanchine, the 20th century master. It's the perfect L.A. blend of seeing the influence of the past while transforming it into something new for the future. "The idea of the program, beyond just showing the unadulterated work of some of ballet’s greatest artistic geniuses, was also to show the influence of Ivanov and Petipa on Balanchine," Jones told LA Magazine. "The first time I saw reconstructed Petipa, the first thing that struck me was how much more like Balanchine it looked than versions of Swan Lake, etc. that have filtered down to us through the years. That was very exciting to see."

American Contemporary Ballet hosts programming that includes lessons and talks, as well as performances. The next MUSIC+DANCE:LA takes place from August 10 to 13. Check their website for tickets and information on other upcoming events.