BWW Review: L.A. DANCE PROJECT: Stellar Dancers, Yet a Lost Mission Statement
I don't know if it was me, but attending L.A. Dance Project on June 14, 2017, was a bit dispiriting. If this was an evening meant to deliver the L.A. Dance Project message: "we're here folks, watch out, we're going to overtake the dance world," it didn't register. What should have been a strong cold brew was tepid tea.
I have long wondered what Benjamin Millepied has to offer the dance world, choreographically speaking. Almost everything I've seen has a strong idea, yet he does not seem to do anything with it. It's as if he's done his research, started his moves but now his research yields nothing because his findings are diffuse. That pretty much sums up the anticipated "In Silence We Speak," danced by two arresting ballerinas, Janie Taylor and Carla Körbes, both retired, but returning to the stage again to perform. Dancing on a dimly lit stage they follow each other in swirls of legs and arms. They both have abundant hair and this also introduces some interesting takes on friendships between women. They wear lose fitting clothing and tennis shoes (why?) for the simple reason that there is no reason. Had they been on pointe I do believe there would have been more variety to the dance, perhaps more context, ore infrastructure to tell us what Millepied saw in the first place before he began choreographing. Yes, it was a great idea to have such powerful personalities on stage, but we learn nothing about these two, other than they are missed in the dance world. But is that a reason to have them perform? I think not!
Cunningham's "MinEvent," a collection of excerpts from his 1950s dances, "Septet, "Springweather and People," "Suite for Five" and "Changeling" was the most exciting program of the evening. Watching this I was struck again at how Cunningham radicalized modern dance in the same way that Balanchine did ballet. There were so many times that I could almost picture a seasoned Balanchine dancer performing these works, just as it is easy to remember that Cunningham had two of his dances performed at New York City Ballet, even if they did not remain long in the repertoire.<
I found the choice of dancers to be especially arresting, since they all brought me squarely to the reason that Cunningham was so forceful. It's his sense of time proportion, the dance moves to its own rhythm, it does not prolong itself and ends sometimes with a snap, other times as if it were thinning out into infinity. I find it hard to single out one dancer, since they were all outstanding, so a shout-out to Stephanie Amurao, Aaron Carr, Julia Eighteen, David Adrian Freehand Jr., Nathan Makolandra, Robbie Moore, Rachel Rafailedes and Lilja Rúriksdóttir.
Justin Peck's "Murder Ballades" was a bright, light ballet danced in sneakers (again!)
I wonder if these sneakers have some kind of symbolism that I'm missing?
Peck has been hailed as the next BIG CHOREOGRAPHER, and while talented, I don't know if people are anointing him a bit too early. His grasp of groups and his ability to space light and romantic with rush and noisy has always been his trademark, at least so far. But if that's what he has to offer, perhaps we should give him the time to mature and let him figure out exactly how to partition his talents so that everything adds up to a satisfying end. Right now I'm still not convinced.
Illness prevented me from seeing the evening's last ballet, Millepied's "Orpheus Highway." But based on what I have seen in the past and what I witnessed that evening, L.A. Dance Project still has yet to define itself. Sure, it's glitzy, it has names, funding, residencies. Other companies would kill for these. And yet, for all the hoopla, I feel that there is a void in all this. It's as if the company's mission statement was lost. What are they offering? I still don't have an answer. Perhaps Millepied does.
Photo: James Welling