Seven ballet peformers mid-dance with snowflakes falling on them.
Art and culture

Los Angeles Ballet – Behind the Scenes

November 19, 2021

Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen founded the Los Angeles Ballet in 2004, which has grown to become a world-class ballet company known for its classical ballets, innovative performances and a repertory inspired by the Georgian choreographer, George Balanchine. Here, Neary takes us behind the scenes.

Creating a world-class company

Thordal and I met in Copenhagen when Thordal was a dancer and I was staging a Balanchine ballet. Then in 1986, we moved to Seattle, where we became principal dancers. We married and returned to Denmark in 1992, where Thordal became artistic director of The Royal Danish Ballet and I became their first instructor, in charge of productions. In 2002, we decided to move to Los Angeles with our children and to found the Los Angeles Ballet. Our vision was to present contemporary works and full-length classics and the company eventually became well-known for its masterpieces by Balanchine and August Bournonville.

Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen founders of the Los Angeles Ballet
The Mouse King on stage in The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

We launched our first production, The Nutcracker, at a theatre in Beverly Hills (now the Saban Theatre). Set in 1912 Los Angeles, we created it to instil a holiday tradition for Los Angeles and to make a signature version of the ballet, reflecting the story in an unusual way. The lead is a life-size Nutcracker, not a small doll. He reveals himself at a party but remains in doll form throughout the battle until the Mouse King is killed. When Clara visits the Palace of the Dolls, her favourite dolls come to life, but when she wakes up we are not sure if it was all a dream.

A festive tradition

We like everything about The Nutcracker. The glorious music and story, the superb dancers and Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score, which tells the ballet’s story, like in Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. The Nutcracker is part of my childhood and was my first stage performance; a memory and now a tradition that I cherish. The Nutcracker evokes happiness, love and a dream world. Audiences react positively and have made our Nutcracker their family tradition. The set is designed by Catherine Kanner and the costumes by Danish designer Mikael Melbye. They were made for The Royal Danish Ballet during our tenure there.

Los Angeles Ballet partners dancing on stage
Sleeping Beauty live on stage with the LA Ballet

A repertoire of classics

The Los Angeles Ballet has built a repertoire of full-length classics including Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Don Quixote. We admire them for different reasons: the passion, tragedy and beauty of Swan Lake, good overpowering evil in The Sleeping Beauty, and the joyful, eclectic story of Don Quixote, taken from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel. We remain true to their tradition while adding personal touches to the choreography. The Sleeping Beauty will return to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center in May 2022. It was considered the most authentic work by the choreographer Marius Petipa and the music is breathtaking.

A sparkling future

This December we are presenting The Nutcracker in four venues, including the Dolby Theatre, with a live orchestra conducted by the renowned Andrea Quinn. Next year, we will be at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica showcasing our first piece by Christopher Wheeldon, titled Ghosts. We will also be showcasing choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Bloom and Balanchine’s Apollo. They are incredible choreographers and it’s a beautiful and ethereal programme. And then of course we have The Sleeping Beauty, which everyone loves. It is such a wonderful ballet and a perfect finish to a great season.

The Nutcracker on stage with Snow

The Nutcracker creates the ultimate holiday experience for families, and The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air are the perfect bases from which to enjoy the Los Angeles Ballet’s incredible programme year-round.

All images are courtesy of the LA Ballet

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