Dance at the Music Center: A Brief History

Renae Williams is the Director of Programming  for the series Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.  In this article, she provides a history of dance events (from 1966 to the present) that were presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theatre, and the Redcat Theatre.  Included are many Southern California dance artists and companies.

Established in 2003, Dance at The Music Center (now Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center) has quickly been deemed a national leader in the presentation and preservation of masterpieces as well as the commissioning of future masterworks by famed dancemakers.  Building upon its rich history of monumental dance presentations, The Music Center strives to curate works by major contemporary and ballet dancemakers, to grow and educate the local dance audience and to facilitate interaction between internationally respected artists and the local community.

Since the Music Center’s founding, many legendary dancers and world renowned companies have appeared on its stages with presentations by Associated Presentations and long-time distinguished arts presenter James A. Doolittle. In 1966 — barely a year after the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion opened — the Music Center presented Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn with the Australian Ballet in Nureyev’s own staging of Petipa’s Raymonda, created for the Royal Ballet.  Nureyev and the Australian Ballet returned in 1971 with a series of programs, including the American premiere of his restaging of Don Quixote.  In 1969, S. Hurok presented The Stuttgart Ballet, direct from its Metropolitan Opera House debut.  The Stuttgart returned to the Music Center in 1980.  In 1975, The Pennsylvania Ballet performed seminal works by George BalanchineConcerto Barocco, Serenade, and Scotch Symphony. The ever humorous Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo was presented in both 1976 and 1978.

From 1969 through 1980, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) appeared at the Music Center on virtually an annual basis.  The company brought a broad selection of its vast repertoire and many ballet luminaries to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Mikhail Baryshnikov danced at the Music Center in several ABT engagements, in works that included The Nutcracker, Giselle, Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, and two Balanchine works — Prodigal Son and La Sonnambula.  Baryshnikov also appeared with his own White Oak Dance Project in 1991 and 1993.

On several occasions the Music Center also presented Los Angeles’ most renowned ensembles, Bella Lewitsky Dance Company (1976, 1979, and 1982) and the Aman Folk Ensemble (seven years between 1971 and 1981).  During the 1970s, the Music Center hosted well respected folklorico companies of Mexico including the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, Ballet Aztlan de Mexico and Danza Folklorico Mexicana de Graciela Tapia. In 1969 the Music Center hosted its first presentation of The Joffrey Ballet and in 1983, The Joffrey Ballet became “bi-coastal” and the company was in residence in New York and Los Angeles, presenting a regular season at the Pavilion. With the Joffrey’s departure as a resident company in 1991, the Music Center resident company seasons expanded to occupy more time in the then three-theatre campus.  As a result, performance and rehearsal space for dance presentations became extremely limited.

Nonetheless The Music Center continued to host outstanding presentations such as the following works:  the legendary Bolshoi Ballet (2000) in its historic production of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet and its new interpretation of Don Quixote; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (2000/2001) in a repertory of works that included the ensemble’s signature piece Revelations; Twyla Tharp Dance (2001) in a distinctive program of Tharp’s electrifying choreography; ABT’s (2002) energetic restaging of  Le Corsaire; and in 2003 the Los Angeles-based Diavolo company; the innovative Pilobolus; and finally the return of The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, after a seven-year absence.

Not being presented on a regular basis for many years, dance was a noticeably inconsistent art form on the stages of the Center.  Although other local presenters were including dance in their seasons, there still remained a dearth of local presentations by the foremost dance companies and renowned works requiring an ample theater for large productions and live music.  Members of the community continually questioned the lack of dance at the Center and expressed the desire to support a dance initiative equal to the artistic integrity of the Center’s resident companies.  With the move of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the increased performance time at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the committed of a donor group, Center Dance Association (now Center Dance Arts) enabled the Music Center to make an ambitious commitment to establish a fully developed dance season.

Stephen D. Rountree, President of The Music Center said, “One of my first missions since coming here was to bring dance to the Music Center.  Now, we are seizing the opportunity and bringing a full slate of different dance companies.”

The 2003-2004 inaugural season of Dance at the Music Center included: Dance Theatre of Harlem, Shen Wei Dance Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, ABT, San Francisco Ballet and Paul Taylor Dance Company.  The second season of Dance at the Music Center opened with the New York City Ballet, followed by Garth Fagan Dance, Beijing Modern Dance Company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, ABT, Merce Cunningham Dance Company (included “Split Sides”, a work co-commissioned by the Music Center), and the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. 

As the Music Center entered its third season in 2005-2006, the mission to balance returning companies and dance artists new to the Center became clearer, with the first-time presentations of Nuevo Ballet Espanol and Miami City Ballet.  The goal to provide outreach such as open rehearsals and master classes in the community and also residency activites with our local dance schools was achieved with a successful engagement by the Limon Dance Company.  As part of the engagement, the Music Center worked in collaboration with CalArts to provide a 3-week residency with local dancers and CalArts dance students who performed Jose Limon’s “Missa Brevis” at the Ahmanson Theatre.  The Music Center also presented the Kirov Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre’s “Sleeping Beauty” with over 40 local dance students (ages 7-15) performing in the production.  The season also included the return of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with six public performances and the Ailey II company provided sold-out school performances as part of the Center’s Children Festival, produced by the Music Center’s Education Division.

In 2006-2007, the Center began to explore colloborative opportunities with other presenting enitites which included the successful co-presentation of Ronald K Brown/Evidence with the REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater) and also co-presented Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands with Center Theatre Group.  This season also included the Center debut of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and Compania Nacional de Danza 2 (CND2) from Spain and the return of ABT which also included the first summer program for youth ages 9 to 11, a partnership with ABT, the Colburn School and ABT.  The Joffrey Ballet, returned as well and celebrated its 50th anniversary.  A highlight of the season was the program’s first presentation of a dance performance in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Shen Wei Dance Arts performed with live music.

The fifth season of Dance at the Music Center brought its first out-door art installation project on the main plaza, Slow Dancing by David Michalek which was a West Coast Premiere and was co-commissioned by the Center.  Completey free and open to the public, it was exhibited on the plaza for a total of nine days with one preview night for press, donors and dance subscribers and was viewed by over 20,000 people.  This season also includes the Center debut of the Mark Morris Dance Group with the Southern California premiere of “Mozart Dances” and Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company with Diana Vishneva performing on opening night as well as the return of the ABT and Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

The sixth season brought Miami City Ballet’s “Nightspot” by Twyla Tharp, the Kirov Ballet’s (Mariinsky Ballet) The Nutcracker and the much-celebrated Ailey company as part of their 50th Season Celebration and included 23 local youth dancers performing with the Ailey company in Ailey’s “Memoria.”  This season also included the Center’s first presentation of Ballet Hispanico and a Los Angeles favorite American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

In 2009, the program was renamed Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center in honor of the tremendous endowment gift given by Glorya Kaufman.  The 2009/2010 season included American Ballet Theatre; Pilobolus, the Music Center debut of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet’s “Cinderella” under the new direction of Ashely Wheater; the Merce Cunningham Dance Company co-commission and World Premiere of reconstructed “Roaratorio” (part of Legacy Tour); and the Kings of the Dance with major ballet stars – David Hallberg, Mercelo Gomes and Desmond Richardson to name a few.

Completing its first decade, the series continues to present the world’s most respected companies in U.S. debuts, World Premieres and North American premieres including the West Coast debut of Angel Corella’s Corella Ballet (now Barcelona Ballet) and the Music Center debut of Brazil’s Grupo Corpo; Nederlands Dans Theater; Scottish Ballet (U.S. Debut of current company/North American Premieres) and Ballet Preljocaj’s “Snow White” (part of production’s first U.S. tour); Mark Morris’L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” in partnership with the LA Opera (Southern California Premiere); the significant presentation of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the return of the Bolshoi Ballet.  The 10th season will feature The National Ballet of Canada making their Music Center debut with the U.S. Premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as well as The Joffrey Ballet performing “The Rite of Spring,” 25 years after its reconstruction premiere here in the Chandler Pavilion and 100 years after its original premiere with the Ballet Russes.  Opening the 12/13 season will be the Commission and World Premiere of Benjamin Millepied’s much anticipated L.A. Dance Project with works by Millepied, William Forsythe and Merce Cunningham.

Now playing a vital part in making dance accessible to the community, Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center provides diverse activities that allow the visiting master artists to interact with the local community in a personal and meaningful way. Since the beginning of the dance series, there has been the Dance School Network, which includes over 25 local non-profit dance studios and public schools with dance programs who receive access to the various outreach activities provided. The program serves over 45,000 children and adults each season through performances, discounted tickets for students and seniors, performance opportunities for talented youth, invited rehearsals for students, community dance classes and pre-performance talks that can be experienced both in person or via phone. The series has collaborated with the Center’s own Active Arts program jointly providing amateur dancers the unique experience of learning sections of Ailey’s classic “Revelations” from current company dancers. The dance series also hosts long-term residencies with presented artists such as AileyCamp for downtown L.A. middle schools; a summer training intensive in partnership with American Ballet Theatre and the Colburn School as well as our first-ever Artist in Residence for the 11/12 season, L.A.’s own Diavolo Dance Theater.  The Artist in Residence for 12/13 will be Benjamin Millepied, founding director of the L.A. Dance Project.