It was one of those magical Los Angeles evenings.
In a location as romantic as its name -- Rustic Canyon -- the New York-based Ballets with a Twist made its local debut Friday night. The forested glen, tucked about a mile inland from the Pacific Ocean, provided a fantasy setting for the choreography of Marilyn Klaus, an L.A. native whose dance influences range from Isadora Duncan to Busby Berkeley to the great ballet instructor Carmelita Maracci, with whom she studied. Returning home after a career in Germany and New York, Klaus brought her retro, pop-culture-infused sensibility to a town that gets the references.
The program's main event was "Cocktail Hour," a smartly themed pastiche of solos, duets and group dances that springs a cocktail-bar menu to life. A bevy of pretty ballerinas, reminiscent of Berkeley's cinema girl-parades of the '30s, pranced on pointe through dance-nuggets interpreting the Martini, Mai-Tai, Margarita, Manhattan, Shirley Temple, Gimlet, and more. Clad in Catherine Zehr's fetching costumes that cross-cut nostalgia with the contemporary, nine ladies and one lucky guy delivered charming dance send-ups of adult beverages.
Clever. Well-branded. What's more, in Rustic Canyon Friday night, the drinks weren't just on the stage.
An arts-loving couple, architect David Martin (grandson of A.C. Martin, a key mid-century builder of Los Angeles) and his wife, Mary (the choreographer's sister), hosted the show at their chic modern home. Erected in the midst of their rather massive front yard was a full-blown stage amply equipped with lighting and sound equipment.
After mounting a steep incline to the hilltop mansion (golf carts were on hand to help), the audience was generously plied with wine and hors d'oeuvres to put everyone in a good mood. As the sharp ocean air spread its mist over the festivities it picked up provocative aromas: scented candles, the light sweat of dancers, and perfume worn by the handsome ladies in attendance.
Klaus's simple jazz-inflected ballet language delighted with its musicality (swank lounge music by Stephen Gaboury) and in its hunger for moving out; there was a kind of pleasant grasping for space. A choreographer unabashedly concerned with entertaining her audience, Klaus deployed light humor effectively. In an adorably performed solo as a "Roy Rogers" cocktail, Traci Finch cracked a whip over the hapless Aengus Ortiz to theme music from Rawhide.
Klaus, a hip ballet romantic, reasserted the art form's feminine mystique, pushing back against the gender-flattening egalitarianism of contemporary choreography. This conservative bent from a stylish dance maker is evident in the title of her group dance pictured below, "Return to Normalcy."
Photo Credit: Nico Malvaldi