Gala ballet programs have been largely absent from Los Angeles dance stages. But that changed this weekend with the arrival of Roberto Bolle and Herman Cornejo and their shared program of European and Latin American stars, BalletNow. Bolle and Cornejo are no strangers to galas but their split program has kicked aside some of the cobwebs in the gala idiom with a fresh combination that gave audiences equal doses of Eurozone modernism and standard classical bravura. Bolle’s programming leaned heavily on contemporary European dancemaking (Galili, McGregor) while Cornejo stuck with traditional pas de deux and longer suites from the classics.

Herman Cornejo in <i>Tango y Yo</i> © Dance Europe Net
Herman Cornejo in Tango y Yo
© Dance Europe Net

Mr. Bolle seemed at his best in two recent solo works - Passage and Prototype - which featured on stage projections of extended filmed sequences of himself dancing. What could be better than one Mr. Bolle dancing if not two? But in both pieces, he steered well clear of self-infatuation to produce a heartfelt narrative of loss in Passage (which included black and white sequences of Bolle running through an empty warehouse as well as sensual footage of him dancing with Polina Semionova), and a wry, self-deprecating humorous work in Prototype which gave us Bolle as a kind of dance cyborg eventually tempered with more human instincts.

Ultimately Prototype (conceived and choreographed by Massimiliano Volpini) looked like a protest against the digital way of life. In the closing moments, dressed in jeans and a vest, Bolle is seen in an interactive sequence full of wonder as he manipulates light on a filmed backdrop. Both works showed a keen sense of integrating film and onstage dancing. What comes across is Bolle’s dedicated interest in making new, technically complex collaborative works that bring together designers, dancemakers, filmmakers, and contemporary composers invested in both electronic and concert idioms. 

Herman Cornejo’s solo essay Tango y Yo riffed on a modern choreographic style popularized by Julio Bocca and his home-grown company, Ballet Argentino. Backed by a live onstage duo, Cornejo cruised in and out of pools of light on an otherwise darkened stage. Taking his movement from a mix of ballet and generic contemporary dance moves, Tango y Yo has no storyline, and comes across as a meditation on Piazzolla’s “Fuga y Misterio”. Brilliant predatory playing from bandonéonist JP Jofre and pianist Yoni Levyatov gave the piece a sense of place and authenticity. It was the program’s only work with live music. Both musicians took virtuoso solo turns - Ginastera’s blazing toccata “Gaucho Matrero” and Jofre’s harmonically complex “Transcendence” - on Saturday evening’s performance. But in both cases the amplified sound was poorly balanced.

Best in the classical pas deux series were Cornejo and Cuban dancer Viengsay Valdes in a straightforward Don Quixote duo. Erica Cornejo and Carlos Molina danced in a lengthy, two part mise-en-scène set on Khatchaturian’s score for Spartacus. The choreography by Mr. Molina was a West Coast premiere,and it proved the most theatrically charged duo of the evening, remarkable for easy transitions between acting and blended contemporary and ballet genres. Don Quixote was nonstop bravura dance. Ms Valdes is a mighty turner with a vibrant onstage personality. She also possesses the coy and confident demeanor of a dancer working at the top of her game. Ms Valdes does not usually perform in galas, but she looked better here than in performances on the same stage three years ago with her home company, Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Cornejo and Molina also teamed up for an underplayed duo set to music from Carmen's Act II. With expressive dancing but missing accompanying contexts, the piece was not as convincing as the more powerful stand-alone contemporary works.

Maria Eichwald and Roberto Bolle in <i>Mono Lisa</i> © David Friedman
Maria Eichwald and Roberto Bolle in Mono Lisa
© David Friedman
The best of the contemporary works was Itzik Galili's Mono Lisa danced by Bolle and Maria Eichwald. Eichwald, who has danced with many European companies, is now exclusively a freelance artist. The choreography is set to a measured, electronic score by Thomas Höfs. Liberally infused with hyper-physicality and athleticism, the partnering looks dangerous and at times uncomfortably brutal. It felt like a kind of dance showdown. Bolle and Eichwald make an interesting pair. She looks half his size on stage. It’s hard to say what the underlying intention is in this work. She submits readily to the gender biased partnering, and though it may all be a cooperative venture, he is clearly calling the shots. A hazed stage with gloomy lighting gave Mono Lisa an industrial look.

BalletNow was produced by the Music Center of Los Angeles in partnership with Richard Kielar and Emanuela Bolle. It comes with a clever filmed curtain call of all the participating dancers. The Latin Program on Saturday evening featured a short documentary on the recently retired ABT principal Paloma Herrera, who danced in two short works in that program. Over the run of BalletNow, a party atmosphere prevailed, and clearly the hybrid program struck a resonant chord with Los Angeles audiences.