Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project finds home: 1927 downtown theater

The bid to revive the stately old theaters of downtown L.A. has intersected with hopes for boosting the city’s chronically undernourished scene for major resident dance companies.

L.A. Dance Project, launched in 2012 by star choreographer Benjamin Millepied, announced Monday that its new home venue will be the Theatre at Ace Hotel, an ornate, Spanish gothic-style auditorium that’s at the base of a newly-opened boutique hotel in a 1927 structure built by Hollywood royalty.

The 1,600-seat auditorium at 929 Broadway, a movie house during the building’s initial incarnation as the headquarters of United Artists, will debut as a dance venue Feb. 20-22, when L.A. Dance Project presents a program featuring the U.S. premiere of “Reflections,” choreographed by Millepied to music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, with costumes and visuals by L.A. artist Barbara Kruger.


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“Nothing makes me happier than bringing back to life something that is such a landmark, architecturally, and seeing all [the development] that’s going on downtown,” Millepied said from Tel Aviv, where his wife, Natalie Portman, is directing and acting in “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” adapted from a memoir by Amos Oz. “It was an attractive offer, and it’s such an important part of L.A. history.”

The February program, which will be danced to recorded music, also includes “Murder Ballads,” choreographed by Justin Peck with music by Bryce Dessner of the rock band the National and visuals by L.A. artist Sterling Ruby. Also on tap is a “sneak peek” at a new dance by Hiroaki Umeda that’s scheduled for a March premiere at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, part of what Millepied forecasts will be another year of busy international touring for L.A. Dance Project.

Millepied said L.A. Dance Project plans to mount a second major program this fall at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Meanwhile, he said, it will maintain its office and studio a few blocks away at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street -- a downtown venue with four spaces ranging from 90 to 480 seats where Millepied also hopes L.A. Dance Project will eventually perform.

The dance company’s 2014 schedule also includes multiple dates in France starting in March, and a May appearance in Moscow, with additional touring expected in China and Japan.

L.A. Dance Project is “directly in line with the artist-driven mix of film, music, art and cultural programming we are envisioning for the space,” Kelly Sawdon, an Ace Hotel partner, said in a written statement.

Starting Nov. 1, Millepied officially will begin his new primary job directing Paris Opera Ballet, one of the world’s foremost companies. But the native of Bordeaux, France, expects to remain active in the artistic development of L.A. Dance Project, which bills itself as an artists’ collective.

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“Yes, I’m going to Paris and will be working there full time, but I will of course keep an eye on something I’ve spent a lot of time creating and growing” in Los Angeles, he said. “I’ll now have a chance to see more, to have a bigger reach in dance than ever before, and L.A. Dance Project will benefit from this. I will continue to be a force, and very much a presence, in how the company moves forward.”

Millepied, the former New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer of the film “Black Swan” that starred Portman, said the L.A. collective’s accomplishments so far include keeping a corps of eight dancers fully employed throughout 2013, when the main focus was international touring.

He said a ninth dancer will be hired soon, and that Sebastien Marcovici will become L.A. Dance Project’s new ballet master following his upcoming retirement as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet.

Charlie Hodges, the current ballet master, will become the rehearsal director, and Millepied said that James Fayette, another former New York City Ballet member, will become L.A. Dance Project’s company manager.

He said Ace Hotel will help promote the dance programs, and that the affiliation could lead to performing opportunities at its other venues. The chain, which also has outlets in Portland, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York City and London, opened its L.A. hotel Jan. 6.

The theater occupies three floors of the 13-story building, with 182 guest rooms above and bathrooms and a screening room in the basement. The Ace chain takes its conceptual cues from co-founder Alex Calderwood, who died three months ago in London at 47. He described himself as a “cultural engineer” who wanted to entice travelers attuned to art, music and design, and rooms are furnished with distinctive arrays of offbeat objects and adornments, sometimes including graffiti art and musical instruments.

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The theater will open Feb. 14-15 with concerts by the British rock band Spiritualized that already have sold out, according to the hotel’s website.

Film star Mary Pickford’s fondness for the gothic castles and cathedrals of Spain is said to have given the theater its architectural theme, which was carried out by architect C. Howard Crane. Pickford was a co-founder of United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith.

L.A. Dance Project debuted in September 2012 at Walt Disney Concert Hall with a program that was part of the Music Center’s Glorya Kaufman Presents dance series.

The focus through most of 2013 was touring -- Millepied said overseas engagements help boost the company’s finances, unlike U.S. performances. Last year’s main L.A. engagement was a collaboration with the Industry, a Los Angeles experimental performance company, on “Invisible Cities,” an unorthodox opera by Christopher Cerrone that was staged at Union Station, where opera-goers heard the music over headphones.

“More than ever the goal is to start performing in L.A. more and more,” Millepied said. “That takes the support of Los Angeles. Things of quality are happening” in L.A.’s overall dance scene, he said, but community support is needed to nurture it.

L.A. Dance Project will use pricing as one way to maximize its audience: More than 2,000 of the 4,800 tickets for the February performances will cost $20, said Charles Fabius, a veteran arts producer who’s one of the collective’s co-founders.

L.A. has successfully maintained major nonprofit companies for classical music, theater and opera. But when it comes to indigenous big-venue dance organizations, it has been an inhospitable climate, owing to failures such as the Joffrey Ballet’s financially-motivated departure after a 1983 to 1991 run as the Music Center’s resident dance company.


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