The Los Angeles Ballet Brings Dance Back to the City
by emili vesilind
Six of the troupe’s 30 dancers rehearse for an upcoming performance
|Principal dancers Allyssa Bross and Christoper Revels in last season’s production of The Los Angeles Ballet’s The Nutcracker|
Ballet in Los Angeles has had a rocky history. Marred by countless false starts, the city’s classical dance scene has historically had trouble supporting a toptier professional troupe—prompting iconic director/choreographer George Balanchine to famously proclaim there was “no hope” for ballet in LA.
Until now, that is. The Los Angeles Ballet (LAB), which kicks off its sixth season December 3 with The Nutcracker, has slowly evolved into LA’s official resident company, renowned for its high-caliber dancers and next-generation repertoire—a mix of old chestnuts and original works by innovative young choreographers.
For dance-world insiders, it may not come as a surprise that the company is flourishing. LAB’s husband-and-wife artistic directors and cofounders, Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, are both former principal dancers and veteran ballet instructors (and, in Christensen’s case, artistic director) with decades of experience at some of the most venerated ballet companies in the world.
Together, along with Julie Whittaker, another ballet-world veteran and executive director of LAB, they created a board of directors. Two years of business planning followed before the company gave its very first performance, The Nutcracker, to favorable reviews in 2006.
A Company Here to Stay
Still, it seemed some local dance fans remained wary of the new company, which had adopted the same moniker as so many other upstarts that showed promise, but quickly fizzled out. But LAB’s high-quality dancers and consistent, stellar programming over the past five years—geared to both the ballet neophyte and the connoisseur—has eradicated much of the doubt.
LAB has had its share of turnover among its dancers since its inception, which is to be expected in a young company, but currently boasts around 30 dancers who work an annual 24- to 28-week season. “They are young, beautiful, and exciting to watch,” says a proud Neary, adding that many are fresh from America’s best ballet schools.
The company tours the greater LA area each season, performing at Glendale’s Alex Theatre Performing Arts & Entertainment Center, Royce Hall at UCLA Live, the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, and—new this season—the Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach and the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. “It’s important we establish [ourselves in] LA first, before we tour anywhere else,” says Christensen. The Nutcracker, this season’s festive opening ballet, is “very important to present around the holidays,” says Neary. “Kids love it; the dancers love it, and so do we.”
photograph by reed hutchinson (the nutcracker); JSQUARED PHOTOGRAPHY (
We go behind the scenes with James Marsden, and ask him about the shoot, living in LA, and what's next.