Review: L.A. Dance Project

When Benjamin Millepied was named the new artistic director of Paris Opera Ballet, folks jumped to the conclusion that would be the end of L.A. Dance Project, the chamber company he founded with substantial support from the Music Center. Not so. His commitment seems genuine to keeping L.A. Dance Project alive; maybe someone else will eventually take over as chief choreographer. Recently retired NYC Ballet principal dancer James Fayette was just brought in as managing director, so he’ll be minding the store when Millepied starts his new job in Paris this September.

In the meantime, the company deepens its ties to the community, including a new collaboration with the Colburn School. And L.A. Dance Project performed here again duing the weekend, at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel, a historic downtown movie palace at Broadway and 10th that will apparently be its local performing home. Millepied’s “Reflections” (2013) opened the program (I went Saturday afternoon), and while I have been lukewarm about his work thus far, I was more enthusiastic about this piece. His loose-limbed, casual, give-in-to-gravity style was used to depict sweet love, in duos and trios. The five dancers stacked themselves like building blocks and collapsed like dominoes. He gave the incomparable Charlie Hodges a fantastic solo of jumps landing on half-point, wide-open leaps and spins with high a passe. “Reflections,” though too long, melted the heart, bringing to mind one’s own intimate encounters. Pianist Gloria Cheng played David Lang’s minimalist score with strength and skill. Two backdrops by visual artist Barbara Kruger — “Stay” and “Go” — and a message on the floor — “Thinking of me, thinking of you”– suggested contrasting emotions, but dance was more “stay” than “go.”

The second work was a preview excerpt from Hiroaki Umeda’s “Peripheral Stream,” best summarized as a visual art piece with movement. Umeda was choreographer, composer and visual designer. A grating electronic score of beeps and static accompanied swirling dancing, with the dancers rolling body parts in isolation. Umeda’s  digital video backdrops of lines or checks made for strong imagery, but the dancers neither disappeared into the video nor stood out from it, making it all rather pointless and irritating.

Far more accessible, Justin Peck’s “Murder Ballades” (2013)  was a lovely abstraction and more classical than any of L.A. Dance Project’s repertory seen here thus far. Though story-less, it’s sections rang of urgency and longing. The crackling drive and force of his balletic style woke up the audience and provided needed contrast within the program. The project’s dancers responded with welcome fierceness. The title referred to the folk music–songs recalling the stories of murders–that composer Bryce Dessner used as inspiration for her richly textured score. Sterling Ruby created a diverting patchwork backdrop.

One of L.A. Dance Project’s missions is to bring together visual, musical and dance artists, to create multi-layered works. While an admirable goal, it’s hard to make such collaborations feel organic. But little gems are produced, as well, such as Dessner’s score (recorded by a group called eighth blackbird), and “Reflections” pairing with Lang.

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