In an age of real-time online communication, how do people relate to each other today? This seems to be the question that LA Dance Project ’s (LADP) director Benjamin Millepied seeks to answer with this triple bill at Sadler’s Wells. The result is an uneven programme inspired by various techniques from classical ballet, jazz and contemporary/contact work.  

The evening begins with Hearts & Arrows, a choreographed storyboard of ephemeral and intense relationships. The piece highlights the energy of LADP and the synchronicity among the artists. Dancers come out of the blue to lift their partners or rapidly grab their arm to drag them off the stage. The duets are sometimes inverted, and it must be said that the female dancers were brilliant in lifting and supporting their partners. Eventually there is a blackout and another story begins from scratch. Perhaps the intention was to depict someone’s life as in a slide show, but the transition turns out to be disturbing and prevents the audience from engaging with the performance. The dancers are well synchronised but not deeply connected, as it is the case of the second work of the evening, Harbor Me. Music wise, Kronos Quartet brings a strong sense of urgency to the piece; it is impossible not to relate the music to other works that have brought together the quartet, Millepied and American film director Darren Aronofsky. The jazz boots give an extra dose of style to Janie Taylor’s costumes, but do not really favor the dancers’ feet. Fortunately this point is compensated by the athletic lines of the dancers, as well as by their strong musicality.

© Andrea Stappert
© Andrea Stappert
Conceived in 2015 for three dancers, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Harbor Me, the second piece of the evening, explores textures and sensations that emerge from the idea of shelter and departure. Movements are inspired by everyday life at the docklands and by the fusional relationships that develop during long journeys at the high seas. As Cherkaoui digs deep into the lives, hopes and fears of these people, the public somehow experiences – rather than simply watch – the exhaustion from the manual and semiautomatic labor of dockers uploading and unloading containers from a cargo ship. In other moments we share the crew’s struggle to control a vessel through a heavy storm, and the despair of being confined in the lower deck of what seems to be a slave ship. Movements are organic and filled with meaning, and each action tells part of the story and the feelings of these men.

The continuous sound of Park Woo Jae’s Korean harp evokes the hardship faced by these men. Abyss, the first composition, recalls the siren of a boat that refuses to cast off, the permanent idea of departure and the uncertainty of the return. Aaron Carr, Morgan Lugo and Robbie Moore are at their best in this piece. Inspired by the music they show strong contemporary technique, not to mention core strength, and also a deep understanding of the sensations that motivate the movements and bonds that keep the characters together. Their connection is evident when they are physically connected, but equally convincing when there is only one dancer on stage, thus giving the audience the impression that they grew up in a harbour and know each other since their early years.

On the Other Side closes the programme. The costumes and the colourful background bring an “L.A. touch” to the stage. The dancers perform various styles – classical, jazz, waltz –to the music of Philip Glass. The cast works together and is extremely focused. Notwithstanding, it is evident that their main concern is to “get the variation right” instead of performing it. Sometimes the choreography loses rhythm, as in the falls and rolls in the masculine duet; we also witness beautiful movements – this is the case in Paris-trained Laura Bachman's fast-paced and eye-catching variation – but not always do we understand why they are there, as in the tango, for example. Compared to the first two pieces, On the Other Side is a bit disappointing: we leave the theatre with the impression that Millepied and the dancers could have done much better. Hopefully we will be able to see a more concise and connected version of this piece in the future. 

***11