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Review: L.A. Dance Project at the Joyce Presents Millepied’s Creative Collective

Stephanie Amurao in “On The Other Side” by Benjamin Millepied; photo by Laurence Phillipe.

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, August 1, 2016

The Joyce Theater is such a wonderful place to view dance. Small enough that you can see well from any seat, it’s especially well suited for small groups of dancers, like The L.A. Dance Project.

The L.A. Dance Project was founded by Benjamin Millepied, who is the former artistic director of the Paris Opera, former star of the New York City Ballet, and choreographer/actor of the ballet film Black Swan (who married his co-star, Natalie Portman). In the program, it states that the purpose of the company is to “create new work and to revive groundbreaking collaborations from influential dance makers, both in the theater and in non-traditional environments.” To that end, Millepied has formed a company of excellent dancers, mostly Americans, and has curated dances from different sources, including his own choreography.

The tensile strength of the three men (Aaron Carr, Morgan Lugo, Robbie Moore) who danced in Harbor Me is amazing. Secure and sturdy, they perform off-balanced twists and turns, slow Yoga-like movements, rolls on the floor, handstands, and jumps up from low positions. It was choreographed by Sidi Larber Cherkaoui who also choreographed dances for the 2012 film version of Anna Karenina (with Keira Knightly). Jason Kittelberger and Nemo Oeghoede are credited with being assistant choreographers. The piece is danced to music by Park Woojae Geomungo. I wished that Fabiana Piccioli’s lighting had been brighter so that I could have seen some details more clearly, but her casual costumes were appropriate for the vigorous movement.

Helix was choreographed by Justin Peck, another New York City alum. (I recommend Ballet 422, the documentary film about Peck.) Although there were some interesting combinations and patterns, I was never caught up. In fact, I have to admit that I became confused. Esa-Pekka Salonen composed the bombastic music, which, to me, sounded like a movie soundtrack for a special-effects/sci-fi spectacular. So I assumed that this was about superheroes. The costumes by Janie Taylor—grey unitards with blue boots (or were they socks?)—fed my idea. But I was wrong. Once I read the program notes I understood that this piece is based on a more lofty, philosophical idea of a spiral in nature, a helix.

The most balletic piece was Millipied’s On the Other Side. When I use the term “balletic,” I don’t mean pointe shoes, but that the dancers had “pulled up” torsos and held their arms in a graceful manner. And there was a flow that was often missing in the other pieces. “Visual Concept” was by Mark Bradford, which I guess refers to the splashy, colorful painting in the background. The equally colorful costumes, designed by Alessandro Sartori, picked up the same bright colors from the background and the dancers could be seen in the sunny lighting designed by Lucy Carter. The music consisted of bits and pieces of compositions by Philip Glass. Some of the music was grandly Romantic (think Rachmaninoff and Chopin), but usually with the rolling, roiling under-rhythm for which Glass is known.

Most of the pieces in the program were uneven and tended to ramble in parts. Despite the apparent originality in sections, in other sections they seemed to lack focus or structure, except for my favorite piece—the oldest, Martha Graham Duets. These three short pieces had been included in a documentary film, A Dancer’s World (1957), and the recorded music, which was commissioned by the L.A. Dance Project, is based on the soundtrack from that film. The simple yet riveting dances clearly indicate why Martha Graham is such an iconic force in the world of modern dance.

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L.A. Dance Project presented by the Joyce Theater July 26-30, 2016.  Artistic director: Benjamin Millepied; founding producer: Charles Fabius; associate director: Carla Korbes; composers: Nico Muhly and Nicholas Britell; art consultant: Matthieu Humery. Dancers: Stephanie Amurao, Laura Bachman, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra, Robbie Moore, Rachelle Rafailedes, Lilja Rúriksdóttir.

Harbor Me. Choreography: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui; assistant choreographers: Jason Kittelberger, Nemo Oeghoede; set design: Fabiana Piccioli, Sander Loonen; lighting and costume design: Fabiana Piccioli; music: Park Woojae Geomungo by commission for L.A. Dance Project. (Premiere: April 8, 2015 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, France).

Martha Graham Duets. Choreography: Martha Graham; lighting design: Brandon Stirling Baker; costume design: Janie Taylor; music: Cameron McCosh. (Premiere in this form: July 26, 2016 at The Joyce Theater)

Helix. Choreography: Justin Peck; lighting design: Brandon Stirling Baker; costume designer: Janie Taylor; music: Esa-Pekka Salonen (Premiere: 2014 at The Music Center, Los Angeles, California)

On the Other Side. Choreography: Benjamin Millepied; visual concept: Mark Bradford; lighting design: Lucy Carter; costume design: Alessandro Sartori; music: Philip Glass. (Premiere: June 24, 2016 at Sadler’s Wells in London, United Kingdom)


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