The L.A. Dance Project is on tour and swung into Philadelphia for two performances at the Annenberg Center January 12-13 and even though they didn’t fill the theater, it was obvious from the reception they got they have many new devotees in Philly. Founded in 2014 by choreographer Benjamin Millepied, this company’s roster of a dozen dancers are exemplars of a contemporary and ballet fusion, and for such a young company, they have also cast an ensemble x-factor allure. Their program showcased their artistic range and their esprit in works by Millepied, Justin Peck and in the case of Ohad Nararin ‘Yag’ the daring of the choreographer’s Gaga aesthetic of somatic improv.
Justin Peck’s Murder Ballade (2013) set to an original score Bryce Dessner, inspired by a noir musical genre of the 30s and recorded for the ballet by the chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird. Framing those ballades is a backdrop by artist Sterling Ruby. Peck’s engaging stage composition showcasing his contemporary vernacular, with squared off dance lines advancing over the stage, backward and forward, with one dancer etched out in a flash solos during each pass Peck’s breezy chasses and sudden leaps, group turns and leaps that don’t have to hit razor sharp ensemble unison, but allow for the dancers to define their personas with wily charm.
The street clothes and the attitude seemed to spell L.A. breezy and driven. As in-demand as Peck is, many of his duets, wavy bodylocks and flashy releases, look generic. The strong central duet, though, as danced by Axel Ibot and Kaitlin Gilliland, giving it more indelible edge. Peck’s final section riveting and accelerated in more dynamic ways, the phrases sharp and inventive, the six dancers igniting Peck’s sharp and inventive silver bullet tempos.
Next, Millepied’s Sarabande (2009) for male quartet opens with a solo by Aaron Carr, a most hypnotic lyrical dancer with clarion technical artistry. Francisco Mungamba offered air-slicing jete variations and steel center turns. Millepied also crowds some of his choreography, and however ingenious the body puzzles and interlocks, there can be a mechanical quality. Meanwhile, this quartet sustained both steely precision and suppleness. All of the solos were distinctive from the severe angularity of Nathan Makolandra’s solo- to Ibot’s jete battu classicism.
Ohad Naharin’s Yag was, created in 1996 for Batsheva Dance Company, restaged in 2016, with LADP premiere at the Joyce Theater in 2017. Naharin just grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go even if you don’t know what’s going on, starting with the red monolith on the stage seems could be to a portal to surreal scenes de action or just abstract prop.
A few random catch as catch can images
– Four dancers moving forward in slo-mo menace ala the droogs in Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange scored to Donizetti’s Una Furtiva lagrima (fr. L’Elisir D’Amore) and the soundtrack careens to Ran Slavins Bum Carib (Thermo Swing-1999); John Zorn Absinthe (Naked City). Nathan Makolandra, representing the father, writhes on floor, his body in a severe yogic arc. Fortune cookies placed in a line by while the men crush them under their bare feet in a ritualized processional as and Rachelle Rafailades and Patricia Zhou dance a tender familial duet.
The troupe swarms together and buzzes around the stage as someone laughs maniacally. Dancers talk about relatives in emotionally charged ways. Each with the ending refrain that this was “a family that used to love to dance” as they dance disparately and sometimes with desperately expressive solos. Nathan Makolandra ends up behind that red door and commences removing his dark brown suit which his wife, played by Rafiledes, puts on over her silk dress. Now nude, Makolandra discretely ends up with the panel on top of him before he flips over and uses his torso to undulate across the stage, his buttock muscles the fulcrum of a sculptural crawl.
Naharin’s movement language called ‘Gaga’ is, in part, developed through the concept of individual ‘somatic’ hyperawareness by the dancers. Gaga moves past intellectualizing and shared codified movement, even as it is applied in the parameters of theatrical dance. In the bodies of L.A. Dance Project this ignites a liberating artistry. Visceral, wry, poetic and however cryptic, choreographically cohesive, Naharin and The L.A.Dance Project are making explosive art together.