Something New Afoot: American Contemporary Ballet Leaps onto Miracle Mile

Since May, the small ensemble has been practicing in a ground floor space across the street from LACMA

There’s something new afoot: American Contemporary Ballet has moved into the eastern annex of the Los Angeles magazine building. It’s a small dance troupe (11 women, 1 man), but it has made a huge impression since it was founded in 2004 by artistic director Lincoln Jones. Since May we’ve been peering through the dark windows of the company’s new space, trying to make out the dancers’ silhouettes as they glide across the floor. They’ve been rehearsing for this weekend’s series of performances as part of Music+Dance:LA Program II. It’s a collaboration with the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary’s College, which brings live chamber music to historic sites (the 5900 Wilshire building was designed by renowned architect William Pereira).

Sold-out shows are not uncommon. The programs this Friday and Saturday (tickets are only available now for the 9 p.m. seatings) each feature the ballets Dances Sacred and Profane (music by Claude Debussy) and Simple Symphony (music by Benjamin Britten)—both choreographed by Jones. Other musical works are from Jean-Philippe Rameau and George Frideric Handel. A reception afterward encourages the audience to meet the dancers and musicians. We spoke with Jones, a Southern California native, about the company’s new home and what to expect this weekend.

What are the challenges and advantages of dancing in this space?
We chose 5900 Wilshire so that people can get closer to the dance and see it in a new context. I want people to see dance primarily as a musical art form, so taking it out of the proscenium stage, where we’re used to seeing stories told and illusions presented, helps present that point of view. Also, I really wanted the performances to be a social outing for people, where audience members who are interested in contemporary classical art could meet each other and talk about it. I think that is a really enjoyable facet of art and entertainment, and in these open spaces I think it feels like you can hang out and get to know each other. One of the challenges is that because the audience is so close, you are very exposed technically and artistically, but that is one of the things I love about ballet anyway—how naked it leaves the performer artistically. One of the other challenges is that we can’t fit as many people as in a traditional theater, but that turned out to be an advantage, too—we solved it by just having more performances, so the dancers get to dance more, which they love.

Can you describe the two ballets we’ll see?
My primary influence is Balanchine, so the company’s substance and style reflect that a lot. Our ballets are based on the scores they are danced to. I try to make dances that complement the music and dancers well. Since the ballets are based in the music, I think the mood of the music tells a lot about the piece. The first ballet is danced to Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane. In some ways it is an homage to romantic ballet, with precision group work for the ensemble and a soft, fluid style for the soloists. The second ballet is to Britten’s Simple Symphony. It is a pretty challenging work for the dancers. The first movement has a lot of precise pointe work with quick changes of direction. The second movement is kind of a marathon of continuous jumping. The third is a long, difficult pas de deux with tricky balances and transitions, and the fourth has some very quick footwork in it.

How does the live music help inform the dancers’ performance?
To me, live music is essential for ballet. Because no two musical performances are the same, I think it produces much more sensitive performances, with a dynamic interaction between the dancers and the musicians. I think a dancer’s most important job is as a musician, albeit in a visual realm, and I think working with the musicians helps them understand that better.