A concert under the stars stirs up images of picnic dinners and extravagant evenings for audiences.

But for dancers, outdoor venues are a unique canvas, offering site specific possibilities and their own set of challenges.

Now through October, Los Angeles’ two major outdoor theatres — THE FORD AMPHITHEATRE and THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL — will be showcasing 20 different dance companies, each customizing the space to match artistic vision and practicality.

The 1,245 seat Ford, with its bi level performance area, terraced steps and lush trees and vegetation, has proved to be a perfect stomping ground for Kultura Philippine Folk Arts. The 20 member company, founded by Celia Diaz de Fato in 1992, is making its sixth appearance in two nights in early July.

For two hip hop troupes, Lux Aeterna, directed by Jacob (Kujo) Lyons and Antics, founded by Amy (Catfox) Campion, the raked stage has made dancers’ head spins problematic. The companies will be on a bill of 10 performers as part of J.U.I.C.E., the third annual hip hop festival at the Ford in October.

Adam Davis is managing director of the Ford.

“It’s magical, but can offer challenges. It gets cool at night and we try to get in as many shows before the temperature dips in October.”

The last concert of the season will be October 9, when Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble, founded in 1983 by Eytan Avisar, presents Jerusalem Soul.

This year’s dance season at the bucolic venue is the biggest since the County Arts Commission first began programming there in 1993. Performances also include tango, flamenco, Brazilian and contemporary dance.

Laura Zucker, executive producer of the arts commission, is pleased that summer rain is infrequent in Los Angeles.

“We did have to cancel one year when Focus Fish [family circus and aerial acts] got rained out. Even though it stopped raining, the equipment was too slippery to finish what they were doing.”

Ford newbies this year include Invertigo Dance Theatre, IN/EX Dance Project and Method Contemporary Dance, a trio of companies that share the stage in September. Bradley Michaud founded the über athletic Method in 2005. The troupe usually performs barefoot but, as Bradley Michaud remarked, “We’re going to be wearing shoes since condensation could make it slippery at night.”

Making its eighth appearance at the Ford in late July is audience favorite Viver Brasil, which was founded by Linda Yudin and Luiz Badaro in 1997.

Dance also has a storied history at THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL, the 18,000 seat summer home of the LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC. Arvind Manocha, chief operating officer of the orchestra, points out that dance and music have “obvious symmetries.”

As to the weather, Mr. Manocha added, “Rain has never been an issue, but it does get cooler at night. The challenges of the Bowl are not unlike any of the other stage productions that involve non musical elements.”

Since its 1922 opening, groups such as THE MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY and THE BOLSHOI BALLET have graced the stage framed by the iconic shell. This season three troupes will join forces with musical organizations to present concerts.

One of those is locally based Diavolo, the hyper physical dance troupe founded in 1992 by Jacques Heim. The company will perform John Adams’ 1988 score Fearful Symmetries in September.

Conducted by Bramwell Tovey, the work is the second part of a trilogy commissioned by the L.A. PHILHARMONIC (the first, in 2007, featured Esa Pekka Salonen conducting his Foreign Bodies). Diavolo’s premiere includes a 5,000 pound motorized field, an 800 pound cube and 10 daredevil dancers.

For Parisian Jacques Heim, the challenge of appearing at the Bowl three years ago in September was the temperature.

“It was so hot that the Marley was soft and melting. But we stretched it and taped it and it worked out.”

He added that performing on the stage where some of the world’s greatest dance companies appeared was humbling.

“It’s like being part of a special club.”

In a way, all dancers and choreographers are part of a club – one that seems more exclusive when they’re performing in the Cahuenga Pass surrounded by trees, gorgeous fragrant greenery and the faint sounds of traffic.

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