And so it was the presence of Edward Villella -- the erstwhile New York City Ballet superstar who, in 1986, founded Miami City Ballet -- that seemed to bring the most cheers from Saturday's audience. In town to accept a LADI Lifetime Achievement Award, Villella, at age 71, still has charisma and charm to burn, which is more than can be said for many of the nine works (mostly premieres) on the two-hour-plus program.
Four duets tilted toward either bliss or angst, with Marie de la Palme's premiere, "Immortal Beloved," set to a Beethoven adagio, among the former. Jonathan Todd easily partnered a swooning Melissa Sandvig (on pointe), tossing off a cartwheel in addition to executing intricate lifts that otherwise didn't amount to much. Malathi Iyengar's previously reviewed "Jatiswaram" radiated unmitigated -- and unforced -- joy, with Lakshmi Iyengar and Shaheen Sheik performing precise bharata natyam moves.
In the premiere "Bird Cage," choreographer-dancer Jose Luis Reynoso found a worthy adversary in Jia Wu as the couple offered combative, improvisation-like moves in a doomed-love mood. Terri Best's new "Duet" featured David Contreras and Anh Dillon in a kind of Blanche DuBois/Stanley Kowalski tableau, their torment accentuated by jumps and split-leg lifts.
Best also received a Stanley Holden Award for Distinguished Teaching on Saturday, with Villella and LADI producer Howard Ibach presenting the honor. Holden, who died last year, was a beloved local ballet teacher and former Royal Ballet character dancer to whom a tribute was performed by some of his former students, dancers from the California Dance Theatre Pacific Festival Ballet.
Looking far less professional than the Holden contingent, the six women in Genevieve Carson's premiere, "The Probability of Failure," lived up to that unfortunate title as, unitard-clad, they pointlessly pranced about, looking beyond lost. Also a study of vapid, if energetic, moves: Christopher Liu's "Change/Over," featuring the RhetOracle Dance Company in cheerleader mode, their sloppy unisons resembling a hodgepodge of "So You Think You Can Dance" freneticism.
Kim Eung Hwa's "Fan Dance," another contender for most ragged execution, found nine performers brandishing fans in a traditional Korean dance accompanied by a scratchy recording. Happily, JT Horenstein's premiere, "Reasonable Doubt," included a wild Christopher Fox flipping, twisting and leaping in a trial-by-jury scenario. Linda Lack's 1980s solo, "Spirit Wolf," completed the program. Evocative of Sarah Palin's Alaska, it showcased an agile, wolf-head-wearing Lack stalking the stage, albeit with grace.
L.A. has an abundance of dance talent. This program left you wondering why Ibach hadn't chosen to present more of it.