Ballet Review: Lost Angels’ “Burn” and “Bathing for Beauty”
Rarely does one think of Ballet and in the next thought think twisted, perverse and sadistic. These rare combinations of thoughts were combined for me last week at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse’s one-night production of the Lost Angels Ballet “Burn” & “Bathing for Beauty”.
Wishing I had become a ballerina, I’ve spent the past decade of my life going to ballets, admiring the grace, agility and beauty of the men and women who glided across the stage. Most of what I’ve seen has been classical performances. You know, Swan Lake or the Nutcracker, where Tchaikovsky meets pink tights and Tutus and stories without words are performed slowly and passionately. Having been a jazz and modern dancer for almost two decades, I can appreciate when worlds of dance collide but my mind was not prepared for the Lost Angels performance I saw on Thursday.
I was aware that I was in for a treat when the poster proclaimed “A night of Ballet for the wicked” accompanied by a picture of dark, dreary beauties tied up at the stake. My mind reveled at the possibilities as I explored the Lost Angels website and found that not only did they incorporate ballet with other forms of dance but they took modernism a step further and brought good ol’ fashion pop and rock n’ roll into their theaters.
Directed by Kara Fioretti, the founder of Lost Angels Ballet and classically trained herself, as well as with Gabrielle Palmatier, the performance began as any Halloween themed ballet should: on a dark night on the way to… the ballet.
The first performance “Burn” told the story of three pilgrim sisters who lived in Salem, MA. After having unwillingly gone with their family to the ballet, bored of the town and their lives, they stumble upon a gathering in the woods with native dancing like they have never seen before. Excited they eagerly ask if they can join in. Their dancing delights are soon squashed when other pilgrims find them and arrest them for lurid behavior that they attribute to witches. They are put on trial, found guilty and burned at the stake for their reckless behavior, which is so unbecoming in a tight assed pilgrim.
The dances in this piece were exciting. While the beginning of it had little dancing merely setting the story and the stage for what was to come, the scene in the woods was thrilling. It featured live music by the Street Drum Corps where the natives and the pilgrim sisters danced a hypnotic, rhythmic and tribal routine set to basic drumming. It was captivating. Later I discovered that the natives were actually Capoeira artists, a Brazilian martial arts form mixing rhythm with self-defense. That is pretty neat.
When the sisters are in jail, their faces covered by a black mask, they engage in a captivating dance set to an eerie Regina Spektor song. Beautiful in movement and heartfelt in music, the ballet was a combination of tradition and innovation as the three sisters waited for their punishment, death by fire, to be handed down. With each beat of the song their emotions were exuded through arabesques, ronde de jambes, attitudes combined with modern steps like Isolations, leg overs and lunges. It was sad, creepy and altogether graceful.
In the next scene, when the sisters are indeed burned at the stake, Queens of the Stone Age blared on the radio as the sisters were tied up, the pilgrims stood by and watched, and the flames danced, literally, at the feet of the sisters. Here the dancers playing fire, while beautiful and engaging in their bright full length uni-tards of red, orange and yellow, weren’t quite in synch with one another which was distracting. They utilized movements from ballet, modern and ballroom, as they danced with the Grim Reapers. It was neat to see it set to such modern music but sometimes one dancer or dancing pair would be a few beats behind and then another one would be. That took away from this final scene.
In the next performance “Bathing for Beauty” there was more story telling and less dancing. A young queen, loyal, kind and altogether good to her subjects is ruthlessly mean to her servants. One day, while getting her hair brushed by one of her many virgin servant girls, the girl cuts herself and her blood falls onto the Queen. Angry at first, she takes a hand to the young, innocent girl’s face. Soon she discovers however, that the blood has turned her skin into something more supple, young and fresh looking. After confirming with the local witch that virgin blood has rejuvenated her skin, she takes to killing her virgin servant girls, with the help of her henchmen, so that she may bath in their blood. Sick? Yes. Twisted? Oh, definitely. One of these girls manages to escape, gets the help from four friendly knights, who in turn, kill the queen’s henchmen and leave her to die a slow death by the natural causes of life.
This was a little bit droller of a ballet, for in ballet there is no talking. As I mentioned, there was very little dancing, though Felicia Guzman who played the Queen, impressively performed what dancing there was, one of the principal dancers in the Lost Angels Ballet Company. Her skill was clear, with every movement she made. She was lithe and graceful, serene and poised.
The music that accompanied her every warped move throughout was creepy twanging and erratic beats. It was almost painful to listen to, which certainly added that frightening feeling you get from Halloween themed movies but didn’t make it easy to listen to or watch. The witched, played by Cory , a ballerina herself, was adept at doing the tribal and modern dance that you would attribute to a crazy, wood living witch. This performance was less enthralling than the first, given the lack of movement and the altogether uncomfortable music that went with the increasingly slow moving scenes.
When I left the theater I was torn on my feelings about this ballet. On the one hand it was everything they had said it would be: a ballet for the wicked, where music chilled the bones and the stories left you wondering what evil lurks around corners. On the other, it was slightly amateur in it’s performance, with off steps and missed beats. While I always love going to the ballet I was left pondering whether it should be modernized anyway.
» Lost Angels Ballet (official site)