L.A. Dance Project San Francisco Debut

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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“Closer” (2009)
“Hearts & Arrows” Film (2014)
“Sarabande” (2009)

Benjamin Milliepied’s, L.A. Dance Project not only made its San Francisco debut this week, but also launched the Bay Area’s new Pivot performance series that promises “innovative, creativity and artistic excellence.” Produced by SF Performances, Pivot is geared for adventurous audiences in search of the avant garde, works that push the boundaries of traditional concert and dance experiences. Which is why the first dance, “Closer” seemed surprisingly traditional and tentatively danced, as if it were a new piece being danced for the first time by Janie Taylor and David Adrian Freeland Jr. Yet, “Closer” has been around for nearly a decade and even Phillip Glass’, “Mad Rush for Piano” doesn’t push any edges, as his music has been a mainstay for contemporary dance since the 70s. Yes, “Mad Rush for Piano” is a delight to listen to, especially when played live by the illustrious Timo Andres (a contemporary composer and pianist who will have a solo Pivot performance Friday night,) but the duet that danced in front of his piano lacked chemistry for the many sensual lifts, and damsel-in-distress clinging holds. Taylor danced in a slip and ballet shoes, her long blonde back-length hair streaming all over the two of them as both repeated sinewy long arm extensions with the piece ending without much conclusion. The stripped bare white stage with harsh white lighting called for more impersonal minimalistic movement yet the dance waivered between intimate relationship and a quasi ballet connection where intimacy is mimicked rather than actualized.

“Hearts and Arrows”, Milliepied’s film of a site-specific dance, shot in the industrial region of downtown Los Angeles, was a much better match for the far-reaching vision of the Pivot series. Milliepied, who is known as a film director as much as a successful choreographer and dancer, used this impressively overpowering urban landscape–primarily the dry canals of the Los Angeles river–to capture the energetic youth generation of LA. Much in the same way that Jerome Robbins choreographed the Jets and Sharks in “Westside Story,” who danced on the streets and fire escapes of New York City as an anthem to its street life and the young and restless. In Milliepied’s concrete setting, nine spry dancers rumbled and soared, clad in the t-shirts and sneakers of street fashion. Here the choreography was vibrant and circular, surprisingly buoyant atop this bleak unforgiving terrain. Enhancing this spirited flight were overhead camera angles and footage shot with a Steadicam that allowed for a seamless sweeping perspectives of the dance, making it also appear as if we are viewing the dance through the eyes of the dancers. Solos and duets emerged out of this circulating ensemble that often ran, teased and collapsed, or held still for portraits and close up details, as they danced to Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” which had more relevance with this particular dance. Segments were distinguished either in silence or with the camera sweeping across concrete structures, framing one segment from the next.

“Hearts and Arrows” takes its name from a rare type of flawlessly cut, optically perfect diamond and was commissioned by prestigious jewelers Van Cleef & Arpels as part of a jewel-inspired trilogy. Van Cleef & Arpels’ last such commission was for Balanchine-50 years ago. The video clip with this article is a portion of the stage version of the dance and not from the site-specific film, which is lengthier. Having the film separate two live performances by the same company is definitely a novel way of breaking up the theater experience and is a departure from choreographers who use film and video as another dimension or as an element to interact with.

“Sarabande” was a delightfully wispy ballet inspired by Bach’s solo flute and solo violin and superbly, proudly, danced by four equally talented male dancers; Aaron Carr, Axel Ibot, Nathan Makrolandra, and Francisco Mungamba. Again, there is nothing revolutionary about a fouetté, chasse, or an avant sissonne but the choreography moved swiftly, effortlessly, and again, expressed a youthful vigor that made it fresh and current, as did the brightly colored, bold checkered shirts and fashionable trousers that clad the men as they glided briskly across the stage.

David E. Moreno

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