In Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project program, the name to remember is Noé Soulier
By Laura Bleiberg
Nov 03, 2017 | 4:30 PM
L.A. Dance Project derives its cachet from its leader, celebrity artistic director Benjamin Millepied.
But it gets extra panache and diversity in its repertory from ballets made by others, and the 5-year-old troupe gave an intriguing U.S. premiere Thursday night at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, where it is the resident company this season.
The memorable introduction was “Second Quartet” by Noé Soulier, a Frenchman, barely 30. This quirky, a little-too-long piece (at 28 minutes) is a physically challenging, live-action cartoon. The dancers power through as though possessed by mischievous spirits, with pratfalls for levity. Experimental in its creation process (read the program notes), the result might appear random. But that’s deceptive. Soulier ties together all those odd arm and torso twists, the karate kicks, rolls and the rest of the brutal folderol through meticulous repetition, directional shifts and gestural phrases passed from one dancer to the next. He builds it all with the delicacy of adding another story to a house of cards.
In a tricky, mid-piece duet, Rachelle Rafailedes and Nathan Makolandra lean in, butting body parts and letting weight and gravity shift them from one odd sculptural pose to the next. Lighting designer Victor Burel subtly changes the scene from back-lighted dimness to full-house brightness. Tom De Cock created percussive sounds to match Soulier’s steps, enhancing the animation feel. Dancers David Adrian Freeland Jr. and Aaron Carr rounded out the outstanding cast.
“Orpheus Highway,” with recorded music from Steve Reich’s “Triple Quartet,” was the superior of two new works on the program choreographed by Millepied. He has made an energetic, Western-tinged retelling of the ancient love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, combining video (shot in Marfa, Texas) with live dancing. Sometimes the dancing onscreen mirrors the action onstage, other times not, such as when Freeland and Rafailedes, excellent as the mythic leads, leave the stage and reappear larger than life in the video. Six dancers serve as a stomping, hectoring, sympathetic Greek chorus. The video, directed by Millepied, makes a compelling visual, but in that slick and pretentious, perfume-advertisement style. Much of the time, the video overpowers the onstage dancing instead of working in sync with it.
An ode to love and friendship, “In Silence We Speak” (also new) featured the emotionally eloquent Janie Taylor and Rafailedes, performing to three pieces by David Lang, one of Millepied’s go-to composers. Clad in unflattering jumpsuits (Ermenegildo Zegna by Alessandro Sartori) and tennis shoes, the women expressed their devotion through twin moves, combined with caresses and hugs. It added up to little, unfortunately, unlike the night's opening pas de deux, Millepied’s “Closer.”
Though new to local audiences, this duet dates from 2006. Danced by Taylor and Freeland, it advanced patiently, bit by bit, to a live accompaniment of Philip Glass’ “Mad Rush for piano” playing by the excellent Richard Valitutto upstage.
The lovers here feel equal, though it’s the woman who has most of the action while her partner tenderly pulls, manipulates and carries her. Taylor, a former principal with New York City Ballet, performs with extraordinary lushness, a notch above the others. The white lighting (designs by Roderick Murray) and white flooring give the ballet an opalescent glow. At the very end, the couple sits center stage, and Taylor gently lifts Freeland and moves him — for the first time, I believe— to her opposite side, and that simple motion becomes something extraordinary.
L.A. Dance Project, which recently had a big changeover of dancers, will be back at the Wallis in April.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
L.A. Dance Project
Where: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills