Dance Review: ASTAIRE DANCES III (American Contemporary Ballet)

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by Barry Creyton on February 3, 2020

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles


With Astaire Dances III, American Contemporary Ballet recreates several iconic routines evolved by the great Fred Astaire and his choreographer Hermes Pan, and executes them with charm and grace. But the evening is about so much more than presenting a few meticulously copied dance numbers; the audience is treated to a persuasive sense of period that frames the whole event in a surprisingly comforting sophistication.

The audience enters the darkened raw space on the second floor of the Metropolis Residential building in downtown L.A., where the concrete of the unfinished walls, and the exposed ceiling infrastructure are cushioned by pianist Morgan Jones playing jazz interpretations of hit songs from the ’30s and ’40s –  not to mention a cocktail bar. Beyond, tiered chairs face a long, wide platform backed only by the windows looking out onto the plaza which separates the Metropolis from its twin building, the Indigo Hotel. The lighting is minimal and remains seductively so for the entire program.

Right up front, standup comic Ian Abramson must’ve been as startled by the initially blank reaction to his presence as the audience was surprised by a comic introducing an evening of ballet; but they soon warmed and, for me, his surreal routine as a talking ATM machine as written by playwright David Mamet was just about worth the price of admission alone.

First on the dance bill were three new pieces choreographed by Lincoln Jones, artistic director and co-founder of ACB, danced exuberantly by Michelle DeAngelis, Madeline Houk and Rochelle Chang, all three accompanied only by Ana Barreiro’s precise percussion, and all playfully hinting at the period and the program’s theme, even to Chang tapping drums, cymbals, woodblocks with her toes – a trick of which Astaire was inordinately fond.

The routines for “Night and Day” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” perfectly mirrored the Astaire and Rogers mini romances. “Something’s Gotta Give” from Astaire’s coupling with Leslie Caron, and the high stepping comedy of “Oh Them Dudes” in which Astaire and Betty Hutton shot up the joint and kicked each other in the pants also scored. The finale gave us two of Cole Porter’s last compositions, “Fated to be Mated” and “All of You” from Silk Stockings. The female dancers, Elise Filo, Sarah Bukowski, Cara Hansvick, Houk and Chang, costumed in gowns reflecting the style and flow of the movie originals, were all partnered by a suave Joshua Brown – not only was his dancing supreme, but as the sole male dancer, his stamina must also be complimented.

Astaire, unique in his field, and idolized by such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Robbins and Fosse, despised excessive editing of his routines. He believed that unless the entire routine was seen in a single shot, the audience would feel cheated.  The prime example of this massacre of a dance routine is evident in “Nowadays”, the final number in the movie Chicago, where edits occur around every two bars of music. Not so Astaire’s astute take on how dance should be filmed. Most of his routines contain no more than one, if any, cut to another angle. Here’s the perfect chance to see these routines in a form that Fred would’ve approved – complete, uncut and lovingly recreated.

There may be trouble ahead, but while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance, give yourself a Valentine’s Day treat and experience this beguiling evening of dance by the American Contemporary Ballet.

photos by Mary Joyce, Pierre Michel Estival,
Josh Brown and Sam Muller

Astaire Dances III
American Contemporary Ballet
Metropolis Los Angeles
877 S. Francisco St., Upper Level, in DTLA
ends on February 16, 2020
for tickets, visit ACB Dances

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