It’s Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles and I am about to see the much talked about L.A. Dance Project show at The Ace Hotel Theater. My experience begins outside of The Ace Hotel Theater, as I make my way to the end of a substantial line of people, stretching all the way around the building. Men are wearing suits and women are dressed in gowns and fancy fur coats with elaborate accessories. This is where Hollywood meets fine art and I feel like I am holding a golden ticket to the crème de la crème of the city of angels.
The star of the night is Benjamin Millepied, choreographer of Oscar winning movie, The Black Swan, who founded LA Dance Project four years ago. It is also Millepied’s final time taking the stage as a dancer, so tonight is quite a big deal.
Inside the theater, after waiting in yet another long line to use the restroom, and almost running into Natalie Portman, I take my seat and admire the Spanish gothic architecture of what used to be a church. Admiring the theater's ornate features in awe, I can’t decide if I feel like I’m in Sagrada Família or in one of Goya’s paintings.
The show opens with a local debut, II Acts for The Blind by Israeli choreographer Roy Assaf. The dancers are dressed in simple pink leotards and they are mechanically moving through a smokey setting, making them seem like naked mannequins. Two women lie on their front while one flicks the other one’s hair a few times, a group gathers around a microphone as if singing and clapping, a man lies on his back as if cycling in mid air. They move around the space seemingly taking turns at different stations. The repetitive gestures are executed to a slow, dreamy song, Svanur by Rokkurro. When the music stops, the dancers change and the scene is reenacted with more color and light, as if coming to life. This time the same scene is performed with a humorous and absurd narration of one of the dancers. II Acts is essentially done twice and feels like a commentary on the absurdity of life in a big city like Los Angeles, with a man in center stage trying to get the world record in imaginary vertical cycling.
Following II Acts for The Blind, is a short 9 minute duet, After the Rain by renowned British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. I very much enjoy the classical music accompanying the piece; Arvo Part’s “Spiegel Im Spiegel” performed with exquisite finesse by pianist and cellist Qiele Guo and Albert Cano Smit. As the dancer Carla Korbes dances, with her beautiful long hair down, I can’t help but zoom in on it’s elegant flow and moments when her hair softly sticks to her male partner, Batkhurel Bold’s chest. When I ask the lady next to me what she thinks about the piece, she sums it up very well: “The piece is not revolutionary, but very pretty. It’s the kind of thing my daughter would like.”
Millepied’s premiere Homecoming is the 15 minutes everyone has been waiting for; a wonderful duet by Benjamin Millepied and Janie Taylor accompanied by the music of highly talented songsmith Rufus Wainwright. Here again the dancer’s hair gently flows through the stage. Her short and loose blue dress boldly slides up as she twirls around her partner. There is an energetic applause as Millipied enters the stage. His step is light and buoyant and he is wearing an elegant outfit by Berluti. The chemistry between the dancers is evident and they move from affectionate and romantic intertwining to shifting emotions of loss of affection. They search for one another until they reunite with joy but also fear. Millepied masterfully conveys the bitter sweet nature of partnership and the image that still resonates with me is Millepied lying on the ground, holding onto Taylor’s ankles while she drags him across the floor and reaches out to something that is not there, covering her eyes, almost aware that she cannot see what she is looking for.
The final piece of the evening, On The Other Side is another one of Millepied’s premieres - a 43 minute piece, danced to the colorful mosaic backdrop of the work of Los Angeles artist, Marc Bradford. As the light changes to bring out the different colors in the painting, so the dancers almost blend into its blues, reds, yellow’s and greens. The piece is made up of nine sections and all nine are danced to differing compositions of Philip Glass (played by Grammy-nominated pianist Richard Valitutto). The dancers move around the stage in single colored, loose outfits as Millepied explores unconventional pairings. There is a certain stillness to the theater when blue and green dancers Morgan Lugo and Robbie Moore come together. This beautiful duet is, in my eyes, the highlight of the evening as it gets me thinking about the beauty of friendships between men, something I can always admire from afar but never be part of.
The evening culminates in a well- deserved standing ovation. Although not all of the choreography was indeed revolutionary, I have to say that the ambiance, the extremely talented and committed dancers and the inspiring collaborations with the musicians made it a very enjoyable and reflective evening. Spending it in the company of curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, architect Frank Gehry, gallerists Shaun Regen and Paul Schimmel and artists Alex Israel, Doug Aitken and Barbara Kruger, definitely added to the appeal, excitement and glamour.