Triple header: Royal Ballet with LA Phil and Thomas Adès

inferno-dp.jpgScene from "Inferno." Photo by Cheryl Mann.

An embarrassment of riches. What else would you call the LA Philharmonic playing in the Music Center Pavilion's orchestra pit while the glorious Royal Ballet, returning here from London's Covent Garden after 24 years, takes the stage.

What made this a triple-header was Thomas Adès, whose works often top the contemporary hit parade of Disney Hall's Philharmonic programs and now, thankfully, also light up the Royal's resident choreographer Wayne McGregor.

The two are remindful of Stravinsky and Balanchine in their creative affinity for each other -- if not so much in the utter and endless delight resulting from their collaborative art. (After all, can those late Russian emigrés to America ever be equaled?)

Well, pity that Adès' "Inferno" did not get the staging it deserved. Although McGregor's ballet figurations are sumptuously serpentine, all limbs in constant activation, with open torsos and extensions that melt into every imaginable motif, his narrative scheme falls far short of the dynamic music.

The British composer's Dante-inspired score abounds in full-dimension, superb imagery -- it has wit and jokiness, an ominous overcast , disaster, lyricism and high drama. I can see a choreographer like Alexei Ratmansky run its visual gamut.

Still, the Royal's dancers, on pointe, were spectacular. McGregor took full advantage of this asset. For his vision of hell, all was darkness -- Tacita Dean's Cezanne-like backdrops turned from black to deep red, dancers wearing black mottled unitards.

But the program's other two items, also set to Adès' music -- his exquisitely eerie Violin Concerto ("Outlier") played for all its virtuosity by Leila Josefowicz, and his "In Seven Days" with pianist Kirill Gerstein casting stardust across his keyboard ("Living Archive: an AI Performance Experiment") -- followed the McGregor format, that is, dancers as interactional duos and trios, entangling, convoluting, opposing, melding.

It was balletic and beyond. Bodies speaking with eloquence. All of it gorgeous.

But the latter work's dizzying, headache-producing backscreen of fast-flying computer numbers and letters (oh, please, make sure we know we're up to AI snuff) took their toll. So naturally we have questions. Why, for instance, must data-mining be applied to personal creativity? Is tech-processed "art" of value? And whatever happened to the Jules Feiffer idea of a divinely free spirit -- you know, the cartooned dancing figure who just expresses an inner gust of poetic feeling?

Still, you can't say Adès, leading the fabulous Phil from the pit and following the whole shebang onstage, delivered anything less than crystalline excitement, both as maestro and composer.

Things were certainly more in order, though, a week earlier when the Royals did what they do best. This time they brought back Kenneth MacMillan's bodice-ripper of a ballet, "Mayerling."

Its score was put together by the late John Lanchbery, a sterling conductor who podium-minded the once-in-a-lifetime "Giselle" of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland and in so doing became the third lead in that performance. Perversely, he concocted the atrocious, wrong-headed "Mayerling" music, Lisztian odds and ends that exult in bombast, with Koen Kessels ably leading the ad-hoc orchestra.

Scene from "Mayerling." Photo by Helen Maybanks.

But the dancing, with its deep characterizations and nth degree of passion grounded in technique, bring off the tragic epic as no other in this art form.

Back in 1978 at Shrine Auditorium, the audience was gobsmacked. A mad crown prince, a syphilitic addict who takes relief in womanizing but is headed to self-destruction -- finally finds the perfect love partner in crime. Call theirs a consensual murder-suicide.

Now that's surely not your typical tippy-toe fairy tale. But we've come to see realism in extremis on our ballet stages. No more spirits of mystic kingdoms. So this narrative, based on Rudolf and his decadent Austro-Hungarian empire of the 1880s serves the cause robustly. Well maybe there's some trouble telegraphing in detail the court's political treachery. But the sexual intrigue comes across with easy definition.

What's more, MacMillan created fluid images with signal meanings -- a lover's pointed toe reaching across the floor in a shudder to suggest dread, as one example. Indeed, there are original dance steps mainly depicting state of mind while at the same time incorporating the rigors of classical ballet.

And finally Los Angeles got to see Natalia Osipova. If she did not quite capture the feverish nihilism of Mary Vetsera (as did Lynn Seymour, who originated the role decades ago) this fabulously physical and seemingly jointless Russian dancer made her own kind of death-pact partner, a ferociously liberated anti-heroine.

Surprisingly, though, Ryoichi Hirano did little to suggest the princely wildness of Rudolf at first -- he was very buttoned down in manner, every hair in barber-shop place, and he even drew attention to his effortful partnering. But he did come through in the bedroom rape-scene with Francesca Hayward, as his young, frightened bride, so thin and fragile that he threw her around like a leaf. And the finale, of course, lacked nothing in deadly import.

Dance essences even wound their way up Cahuenga Pass to the Hollywood Bowl, when Gustavo Dudamel and his LA Phil installed themselves for the alfresco summer season. Few works make better fare in the open spaces than Prokofiev's delectably graphic "Romeo and Juliet" Suite.

And along with it would naturally be the reprise of Benjamin Millepied's wrap-around version of the ballet -- with the orchestra sitting in its central place and the dancers, looking like tiny stick figures scattered on the stage apron and slithering through the Bowl shell's corridors, with cameras following them. This time, much like the first performance at Disney Hall, there was no spotlight, no ambience, no nothing.

Millepied's LA Dance Project, which bears witness to the choreographer-founder's wide-spectrum gifts, fit itself onto the reverse Procrustean bed here -- seemingly for the sake of joining our celebrity orchestra and its rock-star conductor. And it's a familiar bargain to him. Cartier backing came when he led the Paris Opera Ballet, also a recent Ermenegildo Zegna full-page photo ad of himself and Robert de Niro appeared on a NY Times page. Ah, well, show-biz..

But Dudamel and the Phil brought on a guest who did fit their full-music format: the young, upward-bound, much-awarded cellist Pablo Ferrández. His way with the Dvorak Concerto was so mesmerizing that even the softest tonal refinement of lyricism whispered clearly across the 18,000-seat amphitheater.

Before summer got started Dudamel's Phil season at Disney went in for big stuff, Mahler's 8th, which brought to mind, resplendent as it was, a Cecil B. de Mille extravaganza of music. And LA Opera ended with an umpteenth re-run of Marta Domingo's staging of "Traviata," this time with soprano Adela Zaharia, whose gorgeous, wide-open top voice rings out with thrilling freedom. Now if only someone had warned against her exaggerated hip-switch in that slinky sequined gown -- surely she didn't want to look like a guy in a cartoon drag show.

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