Artistry at its best – Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project review

LADP_OntheOtherSide_2_Laurent Philippe
L.A. Dance Project in Benjamin Millepied’s ‘On the Other Side’. Photograph: Laurent Philippe

Last week, Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project performed three pieces from their repertoire, including Millepied’s brand new creation ‘Bach studies part 1’.

The evening began with Justin Peck’s ‘Murder Ballads’. The curtain opened to six pairs of shoes set out neatly across the stage, ready for the dancers, dressed in typical street wear, to run onstage and put them on. This began a series of cleverly used exits and re-entries through the wings, setting a fast pace, with lots happening simultaneously.

The mood was set by the background, an interesting and beautiful art piece, which altered in colour as the lighting changed. A sweet, light-hearted duet at the beginning of the piece might remind you of a romantic walk taken by two happy lovers without a care in the world. After that, the music became increasingly frantic, and the dance gradually more intense – a great crescendo commenced, and its growth was relentless throughout the performance. The choreography, dense in its number of complicated and rapid steps, had the brilliant dancers creating an explosion of energy near the end.

LADP_Murder Ballades_1_RoseEichenbaum
L.A. Dance Project in Justin Peck’s ‘Murder Ballads’. Photograph: Rose Eichenbaum

‘Bach studies part 1’, Millepied’s 2018 production, was austere in its scenery, but certainly not in its choreography. Apart from the chairs, which were moved to different configurations during the piece, the stage was completely bare, without so much as the curtain that usually covers the back wall. This gave a completely new depth to the stage, and very different scenery to what we are used to. With its bright lights hanging from the ceiling, the scene resembled a studio, and the costumes, like the décor, followed a monochromatic theme.

Bach’s music was composed of lots of little piano notes – and to almost every note, there was a step. The dancers moved quickly, gracefully, effortlessly from one step to the next, linking everything into what became almost a frenzy. It was ecstatic, looked exhausting, and never stopped moving – the piece was brimming with tireless energy. The dancers, sometimes leaping and twirling impressively around the stage, created a magnificent whirlwind.

Millepied may be heading down a more classical road with ‘Bach Studies’, but this new piece is as impressive as ever.

His earlier creation, ‘On the Other Side’, also quite classical, closed the performance, and brought back an art background. The art once again transformed beautifully according to the light, often to match the dancers’ primary-coloured costumes, meaning they could sometimes become part of the huge painting behind them. The piece portrayed various interactions and connections between the dancers, very much like in everyday life – a group of friends met, a couple formed .… In our interview, dancers Patricia Zhou and Axel Ibot explained to me that the piece is part of a trilogy Benjamin Millepied created inspired by George Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’ – ‘On the Other Side’ is based on ‘Emeralds’.

LADP_OntheOtherSide_1_Laurent Philippe
L.A. Dance Project in Benjamin Millepied’s ‘On the Other Side’. Photograph: Laurent Philippe

A memorable highlight of the piece was Axel Ibot and Nathan Makolandra’s duet, an emotional and stunning performance, refreshing because it pictured a wonderful romance between two men.

‘On the Other Side’ is a masterpiece and demonstrates incredible artistry – the whole audience was absorbed in the beauty and transported to another world.

All of the evening’s performances involved greatly complex and demanding choreography, in which the dancers were step-perfect, and somehow remained effortlessly graceful in the frenzy.

You can find out more about the L.A. Dance Project here, and you can read my interview with dancers Patricia Zhou and Axel Ibot here.

You could also read my review of the company’s performance last season, and my interview with dancer Nathan Makolandra.

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