A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Grace McLaughlin and Drew Grant in Josie Walsh's "Transmutation" / photo courtesy of Los Angeles Ballet

From May 15 to 30, the Los Angeles Ballet finishes its fourth season with the unveiling of four contemporary world premieres by acclaimed guest choreographers Mandy Moore, Travis Wall, and Sonya Tayeh of the FOX TV hit, “So You Think You Can Dance,” and LA’s Josie Walsh. Titled “New Wave LA,” the program presents cutting-edge, innovative movement from some of the brightest beacons on the choreographic horizon.

LAB Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary have commissioned new works each season — but presenting four world premiere dances on a single program is all but unheard-of for a classical ballet company. That three of the four young choreographers featured in LAB’s production come from the hit TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” is no accident. In 2008, dancers from Los Angeles Ballet made an impressive appearance on the series, and last July Christensen choreographed the first-ever classical ballet piece for the show. That some of the show’s resident choreographers return the favor seemed natural.

Mandy Moore’s caffeine-infused, witty “Wink” opens the show. Moore was inspired by “the world of Internet dating — profiles, coffee dates, second dates,” she writes in her program notes, “and all the awkwardly beautiful moments along the path to finding true love.”

In an early rehearsal in the company’s vast West Side studios,  two dancers catch each other’s eyes in passing and chuckle, and Moore hollers, “Keep it!”  Her rehearsal is focused and disciplined, yet full of humor. “Dance is so silly to me when people don’t react to each other,” she tells her dancers. “Don’t just ignore them — especially if they’re cute!” One of the choreographers for Celine Dion’s “Taking Chances” world tour, Moore’s eclectic style has delighted viewers regularly on “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.”

Down the hall in another studio, Los Angeles native Josie Walsh is working with another group of dancers. Walsh danced with the Joffrey Ballet, Zurich Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theatre, before returning to LA to found MYOKYO Renegade Rock Ballets in 2000. Her ballet, “Transmutation,” was developed from a piece originally commissioned for LAB’s first choreographic workshop last summer. It evokes the visceral interplay between “the male and female archetypal energies,” she explains, “the friction of opposition creating balance. If we didn’t have opposition, we’d be looking for it, for the wisdom of the middle road.”

Walsh creates movement organically, empathically on the dancers, making changes as she works to achieve integration of body, mind, and spirit. “I don’t like to dictate,” she says. “I use what is, in the moment. My intention is to cultivate the presence of each individual dancer.” The music — specially created for this ballet by Walsh’s husband Paul Rivera, Jr. — inexorably throbs and pounds, ultimately leading to transcendent stillness.

Award-winning contemporary choreographer Travis Wall left home at 12, to appear in “The Music Man” on Broadway. Runner-up on season two of “So You Think You Can Dance,” Wall later returned to the show as a featured choreographer. This year he was assistant choreographer and dancer for the Academy Awards show, and created a piece featuring New York Ballet principal ballerina Tiler Peck for ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Wall’s “Reflect. Affect. Carry On…” for LAB is a bittersweet love story inspired by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” U2’s “With or Without You,” and Sigur Ros’ “Samskeyti.” His unique style is a seamless hybrid, melding elements of classical ballet and contemporary dance. As he shares his very individual dance vocabulary with the dancers, I am struck with the sense that this remarkable 22-year-old may be the Bob Fosse of his generation.

Her stylized movement relying substantially on aggressive one-on-one physical contact, Sonya Tayeh directs “combat jazz” and contemporary dance as a choreographer on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Her dances incorporate a personal, quirky style with the essence of contemporary technique, producing startlingly original combinations.

In “the back and forth,” Tayeh has created a flamboyant, show-stopping finale for “New Wave LA.” With huge appreciation for their virtuosity, Tayeh’s shrieks of “Yes! Yes!” goad her six dancers into reckless, dangerous flight to Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” She is completely collaborative with the three couples, igniting fire and passion in their dancing. “When the matador meets the bull, the back and forth begins,” she says.

Performances of “New Wave LA” are on Saturday, May 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center; Saturday, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. at Glendale’s Alex Theatre; and Saturday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 30, at 2 p.m. at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. For more information, visit www.losangelesballet.org or call (310) 998-7782.