With only a railing separating them from a panoramic sea of Los Angeles lights, Judith FLEX Helle’s 6 dancers maintained somber faces as they leapt into 180 degree splits, and two men pulled at each end of an Audrey Hepburn-like dancer’s arabesque.
On the evening of Sunday February 21, the performance was part of a fundraiser for Ms. Helle’s fledgling dance company, Luminario Ballet, which she began in April of 2009. Hollywood director Randal Kleiser hosted the fundraiser at his home in Runyon Ranch - an ideal setting for a company that seeks to represent the glamor of contemporary ballet in Los Angeles. In her budding endeavor, Helle - a Jewish dancer who has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years - culled together the support of an illustrious crowd, including Jewish public relations women Jann Berman and Lucia Singer, and Jewish producer Charles Evans Jr. The evening was star-studded, with Hollywood sponsorship, and literally, with the glittering lights below us. Nevertheless, here’s the true reason why I was the last to leave the party: in the warm glow of Kleiser’s chic home: it had become like an eclectic family had convened to worship the art of dance.
During a savory buffet of spring rolls and dumplings, Marat Daukayev of the Kirov Ballet in Russia started off the evening’s reverences for dance when he spoke of ballet in Russia as a cultural institution and national treasure. Argentinian-Italian-American opera tenor Carlos De Antonis took the stage – or rather, the pool – as he walked majestically around the translucent blue water with his long wizard’s coat trailing behind him, and elicited the artistry out of all our hearts. Just before the next and main act, I met the woman who had invited me - Jann Berman, who wore large white vintage spectacles. Our formal handshake turned into a familial meeting. She told me she was so excited about promoting dance in Los Angeles, that she took on Luminario’s cause pro bono. Then we were back outside, to watch Helle’s company of 6 dancers perform on Kleiser’s deck – a 10 x 20 foot stage covered in black Marley, and on the edge of the cliff with Hollywood searchlights below and an airplane roaring overhead.
Later, in a phone interview, Helle insisted, “This is the area of the world that loves beautiful bodies and beautiful people and I stand behind my dancers’ beauty.” Having grown up in Los Angeles and pursued dance since I was 4 years old, I could appreciate the dedication and talent that went into each pirouette, and I’ve grown up fascinated by Hollywood aesthetic - but I’ve also learned to seek what strikes me beyond the allure of beautiful people doing balletic feats. My personal favorite moment was when I spotted two of the dancers in the back corner of the railing, in what I assume was a make-shift wing, as they pasted their bodies against each other in a tight embrace. After all the flashy leaps and carefully sculpted poses, this struck me as a vulnerable repose, against the backdrop of a flickering Los Angeles abyss. Meanwhile, a woman in a slick golden leotard took the center.
The works that they performed on Kleiser’s deck were by well-known choreographers Jamal Story (a Southern California native, no longer in California) and Michael Smuin (from San Francisco). In a conversation before the show, Helle told me she was committed to representing an array of international choreographers in Luminario’s repertoire. It seems these pieces were a way for the company to establish its legitimacy that evening, by taking on works by these recognized contemporary ballet choreographers, but actually, with more and more of the general public picking up hula hoops, fire dancing, and learning aerial arts as recreation, what I find most interesting is the proposition that Helle will bring her experience as an aerial artist to a new ballet company in Los Angeles. Helle says she’s been an aerial artist for 30 years.
“Aerial dance is becoming a fusion that is part of today’s lexicon, ” she told me over the phone, “You go to these big rock shows and they have dancers on stage and they have aerial.” Maybe in the next fundraiser they’ll be doing aerial off Kleiser’s cliff?
The audience, of about 50 guests, all seemed energized after watching Luminario’s dancing. The dancers, their friends, and myself included, took advantage of the magnificent view and patient photographer Johanna Jacobson (also Jewish) indulged our Hollywood dreams as we posed as models on the glimmering deck. A DJ played hip hop, while Luminario dancer Alex taught his swing-dancing steps on the deck. A handful of guests got grooving out by the pool.
According to PR firm Berman and Singer, the event raised a total of $20,000. This includes matching funds from the Charles Evans Foundation. Helle said she will use these funds to keep her dancers in rehearsal longer, as they prepare for their next gig: Helle will be choreographing on four Luminario dancers for an event at the Walt Disney Concert Hall April 10th an 17th at 11 AM.