Ballet companies, like NFL teams, have a hard time surviving in Los Angeles. Blame it on the altogether too bright and cheery weather, the city’s decentralized sprawl, the hours needed to drive anywhere—everyone else does. Everyone, that is, but Raiford Rogers, who hadn’t the time to speculate on the matter one scorching afternoon in July. He was too busy readying his eponymous Modern Ballet for an August 8 opening at the Duke on 42nd Street.
Co-founded in 1981 as an eclectic “Joffrey-esque” venture and under his sole directorship since 1996, RRMB is currently a pickup group of 10, most of whom are well-versed in Rogers’s stripped-to-essentials style and reductive distillations of music. During this rehearsal, however, senior ensemble members look as frustrated as the newbies with In C, a new work set to Terry Riley’s minimalist masterpiece of the same name that requires “tremendous containment and commitment,” according to Rogers. He isn’t worried that the ballet will come together in time—in fact, it’s hard to imagine what would trouble this affable man in chunky black shop-teacher glasses, with the art-nerd crewcut and an easy grin. While others grumble and despair over the lack of support for dance in L.A., Rogers continues enthusiastically carving out a niche for his troupe, collaborating with the likes of Woody Allen, jazz bassist Charlie Haden, and Joey Altruda and his 18-piece mambo orchestra. Like last year’s Cabin Fever (a piece, also on the Duke program, inspired by the writings of NPR commentator, author, and queen of L.A. angst Sandra Tsing Loh, who also wrote the music), Rogers’s dances most often embody and spoof L.A. attitudes and anxieties. “When you live in New York or Paris or Rome, the city defines you,” says Rogers. “But in L.A., you define the city.” Here on the Left Coast, choreographing contemporary ballet also means “no walls, no dress code, no rules.”