A vibrant presence on the LA dance scene for two decades, Raiford Rogers took over as choreographer and director of the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet in 1996, and has gone about making it as flamboyant and well-respected as himself. According to the LA Times, Rogers makes other resident regional ballet companies look "pathetically out of touch".
Not your average ballet choreographer, Rogers has a finger in many pies - from the LA art scene to the world of the media (he presents a TV show on architecture). "I have other passions than dance," says Rogers. "I may collaborate with famous artists or composers (on his pieces). But I just love talking, too, so I follow the process of buildings being constructed for a local TV station."
The Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet makes its British debut at Sadler's Wells next week with a double bill. Cabin Fever kicks off proceedings with an examination of the neuroses of Beverly Hills' bikini-clad beauties. Rogers explains: "It's based on the thoughts of a friend of mine, the writer Sandra Tsing Loh, and her own inner conflict about how our society - especially LA - is obsessed with youth. If you buy into those expectations, these weird and wonderful neuroses evolve, and we go crazy." Dancers wear Chanel bathing suits, and Rogers' ever-escalating choreography captures the restlessness and anxiety of being caught up in a youth-orientated culture. "The dance moves faster and faster. The dancers fight like hell to keep up - but there's no way they can," he says.
Ex Machina, meanwhile, is a collaboration between Rogers and the electronic composer Carlos Rodriguez, whom Rogers calls a modern-day Stravinsky. The choreographer listened to Rodriguez's score, and then visualised the ballet in his mind, before bringing in a few dancers to work out the details.
"It's about the veneer on society," says Rogers. "There's an inner reptile within our suits, our jobs, trying to get out." These metaphorical suits were meant to be represented by real ones - until Rogers turned on the Masters golf coverage, and decided his dancers' costumes should instead be caddie overalls with their names on the back. "It had more irony."
For an eclectic company, Rogers is never short of quality dancers. His tactic is to perform in the summer when most dance companies rest, and so he gets the pick of the litter from the most prestigious companies. "I'm inspired by the people I work with. That's the truth," he says.
"Sometimes, when I drive through LA to my studio, it's the ugliest place - and then you see these amazingly beautiful dancers. Of course, I feel like a Teletubby next to them. But I'm not interested in "bun heads", he says of his performers. "We have a joke at auditions about needing a metal detector - if they're wearing too many bobby pins, we don't let them in. I'm interested in a class of dancer that can move and bend, who wants to bring something to the table."
Peacock Theatre, Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London WC2 (020-7863 8222; www.sadlers-wells.com) 17-21 Jun, 7.30pm, £30-£10Reuse content