LA Dance Project (LADP) is back in Paris this week and the company’s much anticipated return is, for the Parisian public, a foregrounding rendez vous with Benjamin Millepied, the Project’s founding director. Only a few months before he takes over the direction of the Paris Opera Ballet, the charismatic Millepied shows initiative, and a very open mind.

Murder Ballads, Justin Peck © Marie-Noëlle Robert
Murder Ballads, Justin Peck
© Marie-Noëlle Robert

Millepied chose to anchor L.A. Dance Project 1 with American roots. Cunningham and Forsythe repertoire pieces framed two of his own creations, and the whole made for a coherent evening, where modern American movement enlightened the creative impetus of the director’s work.

This year, he gave carte blanche to three international choreographers, and diversity is the driving force behind L.A. Dance Project 2. Contrasting pieces succeed each other: Emmanuel Gat's Morgan's Last Chug, Hiroaki Umeda’s Peripheral Stream – the world première – Closer, which Millepied choreographed in 2006, and Murder Ballads, by New York City Ballet (NYCB) dancer Justin Peck.

Morgan's Last Chug, Emmanuel Gat © Marie-Noëlle Robert
Morgan's Last Chug, Emmanuel Gat
© Marie-Noëlle Robert

Gat’s Morgan's Last Chug was interesting, but it did not meet much enthusiasm on my part. Five dancers – four men and one woman – move in and out of circular patterns and spiral their way across the otherwise empty stage in seemingly latent fashion, and while the piece makes good use of space, levels, contact devices and interwoven patterns, little contact is made with the audience. That in itself is not startling, but the onstage relationship of the dancers with one another does not evolve much either. Morgan's Last Chug is most probably deliberately abstract, with postmodernist intent. The musical accompaniment – which includes excerpts of Bach’s Suite Francaise no. 1 en re mineur (French Suite no. 1 in D minor) and Purcell’s Musique funebre pour la Reine Mary (Music for the funeral of Queen Mary) – is like a base, over the top of which resonates a Jim Norton recording of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. But only short sequences are audible, leading us back to the abstract choreography.

The piece, however, has its place as the opening act of an LADP bill. The research-based imprint of the work recalls ‘works in process’ or studio showings, which give audiences a more intimate glimpse into the creative process. LADP is, as its director insists, not just another dance company, but a collective in which each artist brings something to the table, shares artistic and physical experiences, and aims to present dance to audiences in different ways.

This ethos resonates in the second piece, but the overall effect is that of a more polished piece. Peripheral Stream is a fine example of Hiroaki Umeda’s pluridisciplinary approach. He is as much a visual artist as he is a choreographer. The dance is neat and the movement contained within delimited perimeters. The cast – McKenna Birmingham, Rachelle Rafailedes Morgan Ludo and Nathan Makolandra – execute the technically arduous task with impeccable synchronicity, and their energy resonates off one another to great effect. Umeda’s use of a black and white screen at the back of the stage sends changing linear streams of light onto the bodies in movement and provokes, for the public, varying degrees of sensorial stimulation: Is the digital-esque screen installation responding to the frequency emanating from the dancers, or is the conceptual wave itself responsible for the movement?

Peripheral Stream, Hiroaki Umeda © Marie-Noëlle Robert
Peripheral Stream, Hiroaki Umeda
© Marie-Noëlle Robert

A multidisciplinary approach to performance is more than just an ephemeral trend. Dance blends more and more with other forms – be it video, text, fashion or visual art – which impacts both on the choreography and on its reception. In Peripheral Stream, conceptual art and installation become inherent parts of the choreography itself.

I was expecting Benjamin Millepied’s Closer to be performed at the end. Instead, it comes third, and makes for a moving, lyrical break. Perhaps there is also, in the director’s choice, a wish to finish the evening by showcasing the work of the young Peck. Closer is a stunning pas de deux, and guest artists Celine Cassone and Alexander Hille performed the duet beautifully. Cassone brings power to the role, and her movement quality is fresh and unmannered. Hille steadily supports her throughout and theirs is a strong partnership. At times they almost become one, and this unity echoes Philip Glass’s Mad Rush for piano greatly. Closer is an emotional piece which touched and transported me.

Closer, Benjamin Millepied © Marie-Noëlle Robert
Closer, Benjamin Millepied
© Marie-Noëlle Robert

Justin Peck’s Murder Ballads then, closes the evening. An NYCB soloist, Peck is an emerging choreographer whose work has sparked much interest in the United States. Millepied's trust is his talent is an opportunity for him to showcase his work internationally. His background is transparent in Murder Ballads, with quick footwork and travelling steps echoing Balanchine’s technique, and his well blended mix of solo moments and ensemble works reminded me of some of Twyla Tharp’s work – In the Upper Room and Come Fly Away most noticeably. But overall, it is Jerome Robbin’s legacy that transpires through Peck’s work. Murder Ballads – don’t let the title fool you – is joyful and buoyant. As with Opus Jazz (ch. Robbins), Murder Ballads is performed in trainers – a first for the choreographer – and colourful costumes. Peck has time to fine-tune his style, but he already shows fine musicality, a true ability to work with an ensemble and a clear sense of weight shifts and dynamics, especially in his partnering work.

LADP is a vivid platform for collaboration and creativity, and these international choreographers are all young, versatile and multifaceted. The diversity of their work shows that dance, as a reflection of our ever changing societies, is well and truly a living art. 

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