The L.A Dance Project was founded by director Benjamin Millepied in 2012, and it “seeks to foster dance-centered artistic collaborations across all disciplines, cultures, and communities in Los Angels and around the globe.” Millepied’s company performed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, November 2-3, 2017. As the first Company-In-Residence, LADP will be presenting their work this fall as well as in the spring of 2018.
“CLOSER,” a 2006 Benjamin Millepied duet was the opening piece set to Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush.” A piano sat up stage accompanied by the talented Richard Valitutto, with Costume Design by Lydia Harmon, which beautifully added to the piece. The wonderful lighting design by Roderick Murray helped move the storyline forward. The piece, danced by David Adrian Freeland Jr and Janie Taylor, depicts the life of a relationship: falling in love, fighting, growing apart and then back together. It exemplifies appreciation of one another and the lasting relationship and the closeness you can only find over time. Both Freeland and Taylor are strong dancers and were exquisite in execution of the choreography. Freeland felt a bit stronger to me, though, as he brought more to his character until the end moments. He manipulated Taylor and made her feel as though she was weightless and seemingly powerless. I’ve actually seen this piece before at the same location. In 2015, Les ballet Jazz de Montreal performed this same piece, with both dancers executing at the highest level. They were able to maintain a powerful stage presence without losing the masculine and feminine qualities that this piece requires. I would have liked to have seen these dancers a bit more as equals—with a more intense connection—showing the rise and fall of the emotions of their relationship, and not just through the choreography. Also, let me first say that I’m a huge fan of long hair being down while dancing. With that, Taylor’s hair was a huge distraction. It was just too all over the place, including the faces of both dancers. “Closer” was very enjoyable, but I found myself needing more in all aspects.
“SECOND QUARTET” is choreographed by Noé Solier, Music by Tom De Cock (Ictus Ensemble), and Noe Soulier, Recorded and mixed by Alexandre Fostier and the Lighting Design was by Victo Burel. In the company program, this piece is described with a quote by Solier, which states “ The movements presented are not immediately recognizable. Rather, they are motivated by concrete goals—-such as avoiding, striking, throwing, pushing, and resisting—-but impeded through the use of specific strategies.” Reading this was immensely helpful, as I would have thought the dancers were just hitting an imaginary ball with different parts of their body around the stage for 28 minutes. There were some interesting initiations of movement during the piece, but in the end it became very repetitive and lasted too long. The audience did think some of the movements were laugh out loud funny, since it was a little slapstick-ish with prat falls, kicks, rolls, twists and turns. This piece was not really my cup of tea, but the audience seemed to really enjoy it. And that’s what really matters, right? The middle of this piece featured a duet with dancers Nathan Makolandra and Rachelle Rafailedes. They are both powerhouse dancers, and they showed the necessary connection and emotion to the movement, each other, and the audience. They really allowed you into their world. This piece would have been more interesting if we’d been able to see how it was conceived in rehearsals.
“IN SILENCE WE SPEAK,” choreographed by Benjamin Milliped, began with the lights dimly lit in the house. Lighting designer, Jim French, helped Millipied turn the audience into a unique character. The audience felt different during this piece. It was palpable. The closely moving dancers delved into their own little world, but we were all there looking at them and we both knew it. The lights eventually went down and everyone in the audience seemed to settle and shift. The two dancers’ world finally shrunk to just the two of them. This duet was danced by Rachelle Rafailedes and Janie Taylor. After a little research, this piece was originally made for Ms Taylor and Carla Körbes, both retired ballerinas who were close friends. Unfortunately, this piece was just a little blah for me. The dancers were gorgeous, but the choreography and costumes did nothing for me, including the distracting squeaks of tennis shoes on the floor. This choreography didn’t tell me a story about friendship or what each friend brought to the table. I was left wondering what this relationship was all about with awkward elementary duet movements. These strong women dancers should’ve been pushed so much more. Everything was there to show us a strong friendship where women support women, especially during life’s ups and the downs. Millipied needs to dig much deeper into women and friendships because there so much more to give.
“ORPHEUS HIGHWAYS” is choreographed by Benjamin Milliepied. It is a multi-media piece featuring a film of dancers projected onto a screen behind actual dancers performing on stage. The dancers were occasionally in lock step with movements projected behind them, sometimes not. This piece instantly made me think of Westside Story meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre, before the kids discover Leather Face(filmed in Marfa, Texas). This piece was fun, exhilarating, and a great way to end the evening on a high note. The music was composed by Steve Reich and had a very rhythmic quality, which the choreography tried to mimic, almost like a tap dance. Sadly, the dancers failed to stay with the rhythm with their tapping tennis shoes. Besides that, this piece was one of the two pieces I really enjoyed in the evening. It left me wanting to see what more Milliepied might do with this multimedia aspect, especially since his company is housed in the middle of the entertainment capital.
It is exciting that Millipied has chosen to bring his company to Los Angeles, and that he now has two apprentices that are actually from Los Angeles—and not New York. But, there are many amazing companies, choreographers, and dancers in the city of Los Angeles (and surrounding areas) that have made world-class work that don’t have the celebrity name or backing. It would be extraordinary for both Millipied and the Los Angeles dance community to actually join forces and bring the Los Angeles dance world where it belongs, on top.