LA Dance Project is a very young company founded in 2012 by choreographer and dancer Benjamin Millepied (ex New York City Ballet dancer and currently the Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet, Millepied is best known for his choreography in the movie Black Swan). His vision for L.A. Dance Project is to promote new works and the collaboration among different artists. The company has also performed older works such as Merce Cunningham’s Winterbranch, choreographed in 1964 and William Forsythe’s 1993 Quinttet. The performance at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts included works by Justin Peck, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Benjamin Millepied.

<i>Murder Ballades</i> © Laurent Phillippe
Murder Ballades
© Laurent Phillippe
 Justin Peck dances with the New York City Ballet and he is a very young choreographer in his late twenties. His work Murder Ballads, which premiered in 2013 in Lyon, France, opened the program and frankly left me wanting. The dancers were beautiful, the music by Bryce Dessner was delightful and the visual installation by Sterling Ruby was pleasing to the eye, but until the last section of Murder Ballads the piece did not rise to that of the level that L.A. Dance Project has offered in the past. Too much attention was focused on the playfulness and facial mugging between the dancers and it did not go along with the movement statement. Peck puts together very kinetic, complex and exciting phrases but the movement vocabulary in Murder Ballads was limited. It was, I admit, a crowd pleaser and there is validity in that. As a work of art; it was lacking. The performers (Stephanie Amurao, Aaron Carr, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra and Rachelle Rafailedes) indeed were giving it their best and deserve mention

Harbor Me premiered in Paris, France in 2015. It is a dark and angst ridden work by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and, here too, the dancers outshone the choreographer. The movement required of these three women is intense and physically challenging. They become knotted and entangled. They rapidly and precisely create geometric figures with their hands, arms and fingertips. In each solo they are asked to become acrobats by performing flips, chest rolls and lifts that at times seem dangerous. Julia Eichten’s solo was the strongest example of this. She was rarely upright. The program note for Harbor Me is misleading and offers expectations that are not realized. The elements fire, water and air are familiar to us all and were not represented well here, nor did the world created onstage feel welcoming or like a safe haven. It is Lighting Designer Fabiana Piccioli who provides the atmosphere for Harbor Me and his floor design was wonderful. He managed to create the look of old and much worn floorboards as the surface of this dark, hazy world; giving it an almost ancient look.

Aaron Carr, Charlie Hodges and Morgan Lugo in <i>Harbor Me</i> © Laurent Philippe
Aaron Carr, Charlie Hodges and Morgan Lugo in Harbor Me
© Laurent Philippe
 Benjamin Millepied proved again that he is the master of his craft for this company. Hearts and Arrows was breathtaking and a wonderful visualization of Philip Glass’s music. Pure movement triumphed as there were no false emotions or situations heaped upon it. Suffering just a bit from the overuse of blackouts, the performing space changed right along with the dance. Millepied’s choreography followed in the vein of Glass’s composition in that movement was repeated, built upon to create complexity and as a result made richer. One section reminded me of peering into a kaleidoscope and the final section was physically fulfilling. Millepied’s movement is kinetic and very Balanchine-like in its complexity. Millepied does not copy the master, however. He learned and created his own voice. Hearts & Arrows is definitely a dance to view again and again. It looks like it is fun to dance and the dancers (Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra, Robbie Moore and Lilja Rúriksdóttir) shone from the delight in this. Lighting Designer Roderick Murray added brilliance to the choreography but, for this reviewer, the costumes by Janie Taylor were too busy for an already very active dance.

***11