L. A. — A Mecca for Dance Students?

June 14, 2014

Although Los Angeles is a clear destination for commercial dance, it’s famously a place where ballet companies founder. And it’s not a big city for modern dance either. But during my visit there last week, I saw that things are changing. Los Angeles could become a mecca for dance students of all genres.

At the Colburn School with potential students of Colburn Dance Academy. Photo by Shelby Duncan.

Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette. Photo by Wendy Perron.

New Academy

Starting this fall will be the new Colburn Dance Academy, with two stellar people at the helm: former NYCB star Jenifer Ringer and her husband James Fayette, former NYCB principal and New York area AGMA representative who is now managing director of L.A. Dance Project. James showed me around the beautiful facilities of the Colburn School, in high anticipation of the first 12 academy students starting on September 10. The academy has a ballet studio, tap studio, and access to resources of the larger Colburn Music School (which it is part of) and the Museum of Contemporary Art next door. Guest teachers will include dance artists involved in the L.A. Dance Project. Jenifer and James’ goal is to produce a breed of dancer who is not only excellent technically but has an understanding of choreography, street dance, contemporary dance, music and visual arts as well. As Jenifer Ringer said in this interview they want the academy to be part of the “awakening” of the dance scene  in L.A.

Behind Closed Doors, winning student film by Juilliard student Nobel Lakaev.

Encouraging Dance Films

and Dance Camera West have teamed up to encourage young dancers to make films. As Stephan Koplowitz, dean of dance at CalArts, pointed out at DCW at REDCAT last week, other dance film festivals that are open to students judge them along with professionals. The new CalArts@Dance Camera West Emerging Artists Awards have created a category just for students. The four winning filmmakers in this inaugural year were students from Juilliard, Ohio State University, Elon University in North Carolina, and Palo Alto High School in CA.

Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe of Barak Ballet in Melissa Barak’s For Two. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

New Companies

Small companies with staying power have been cropping up in L.A. for some time. The Los Angeles Ballet and the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company have both been going since 2006, and BODYTRAFFIC earned a “25 to Watch” in 2013. The L.A. Dance Project, the interdisciplinary collective headed by Benjamin Millepied and now managed by Fayette, has become resident at the Ace Hotel theater (when they are not touring in Europe). Barak Ballet, the fledgling company led by former NYCB dancer Melissa Barak, premieres a work by Darrell Grand Moultrie this week. (Read more about Barak in this story on dancers starting companies.) The newest effort is Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY, with fiercely talented Israeli choreographer Danielle Agami at the helm.

Tried and True Dance Artists

Many NYC dance artists have migrated to L.A., but I will mention three who are known as national figures in our field. A pioneer of improvisation since the 1960s, Simone Forti is still a wonder of simplicity, wit, and earthiness. Her workshops on both coasts are so popular that she was recently given a tribute by Movement Research. Victoria Marks, whose works are deceptively simple and emotionally rich, teaches at UCLA. And Koplowitz  himself, one of America’s premier site-specific artists, often includes students in his work.

Yvonne Rainer in Parts of Some Sextet (1965). Photo by Al Giese, from exhibit at the Getty Research Institute.


The Dance Resource Center puts out a comprehensive online calendar and newsletter on all local classes, performances, and awards. For fervent researchers, way up on a hill north of L.A., isolated but accessible by tram and public transportation (yes, you can take buses and trains in L.A., but plan for a long and fascinating trip people-wise), is the Getty Center. The archives of both Yvonne Rainer and The Kitchen (which has produced cutting edge dance and interdisciplinary performance since the 1970s) are lodged at the Getty Research Institute. Right now an excellent exhibit on Yvonne Rainer’s dances and films is up till October 12.

On the Horizon

Plenty of buzz met the announcement that William Forsythe will teach next year at University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, where former Forsythe dancer Jodie Gates heads the BFA program. Thus USC will join the list of already dance-rich programs at CalArts, UCLA, UC Irvine and other universities.