BWW Review: LA DANCE PROJECT Bombs at The Joyce
Three men engage in acrobatic entanglements that transform from free-moving sculptural configurations to crumpled masses of bodies that roll all over the floor of a darkly lit fog filled stage. Resembling an improv-ed floor-work exercise full of incongruously musical acrobatic manipulations, this indulgent routine - replete with lingering touches and mashing of bodies into each other - revealed little about its performers and even less about itself the longer it went on. Five minutes into its first solo, "Harbor Me" stopped saying anything new; twenty minutes later the repetition became sleep inducing. Imagine my surprise to discover that it was created by the acclaimed Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The most horrible thing one can say about a work is that it looked as if it were choreographed by a little boy or girl; well... This inauspicious start proved prescient for LA Dance Project's opening night of its 2016 run at the Joyce Theatre.
12 years ago after listening to Pearl Lang savage a Graham II performance I promised myself that I would never behave in this manner. What a difference a clueless performance can make towards shattering a man's resolve. The dancers were not "bad"; they were boring, which is worse. Though they were performing choreography from Martha Graham's " A Dancer's World ", these dancers were not dancing Graham. If the height of your leg is greater than your contraction; if you lack grit and take no risks; if you make pretty pictures that manage to leave an audience unmoved in a work of genius, then you might as well stay home. Apparently this is the first time that these three duets - wonderful despite the poorly calibrated performances - have all been presented together onstage. How shameful then that this served as their premiere. The program notes state that the "Moon Duet" has not been performed since the 1960's; someone should inform Graham II of that since they perform it nearly every year. One wonders who coached and staged this and why the Graham Foundation signed off on it?
It turns out that Justin Peck is not a very good contemporary choreographer. Without a pointe shoe to ground him, his work devolves to all flash with no bang. The partnering was adequate without being recognizably "Peck-ish"; the ensemble work and inventiveness of group formations - for which he is well known - were negligible. And as much as I enjoy seeing women perform double tours, I fail to see what this or a combination of high battements, fouttés into pirouettes, static poses, and dancing frenetically before collapsing to the floor have to do with dancing. Maybe the honest truth is that these dancers failed to pull the best out of Mr. Peck. There is something alarmingly soulless about their hyper-efficiency. I like clean dancing as much as the next person but I still want to feel as if the performers are dancing their guts out; even when they are doing a jazz routine that would not have looked out of place at a competition convention, or as Justin Peck called it, "Helix".
And then there was Benjamin Millepied. What can one say about Mr. Millepied's "On The Other Side? Alessandro Sartori's pajama like costumes were colorful if not bland. It had a colorful painting, which served as a backdrop. The lighting was nice. This shockingly bad cipher of a piece that did not know when to quit, onto which one could have projected all sorts of meaning precisely because it had so little to say managed to taint the repetitive bliss of Phillip Glass' music with contempt. Guilt by association is a terrible thing; the same could be said of LA Dance Project's superb dancers who suffer the Juilliard curse of possessing tremendous technical gifts and physical range but little in the way of personality. If you were looking for élan, you needed to look elsewhere. Is it the chicken or the egg; the dancer of the choreography? It hardly mattered at this concert.
Mr. Millepied is an incredibly immature choreographer who throws chunks of meaningless movement onto the stage. The problem is not that there are too many steps, but that - unlike Mozart - none of his notes mark an impression. The dancers might as well have been marking time for all the good there exertions did them. Curiously, the longer a particular chapter of "Other Side" droned on the better it became; if Mr. Millepied generated ten minutes of dance then the last two minutes of it was good. The only moment to defy this was the second movement of his "women's section" which evolved from typically unconnected and pointless stuff to a rich and rewarding view of sisterhood amongst friends. Someone get Millepied a programmer and an editor to advise him.
If you'd like to see LA Dance Project for yourself, the company continues its run at the Joyce Theatre through Sunday. While I'm sure someone might recommend them, I cannot; I'd rather have my two hours of life back.