L.A. Dance Project’s first local performance years ago may have been at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but the company’s identity now feels inseparable from its home at the scruffy opposite end of downtown, a space named after its street number, 2245.
At that East Washington Boulevard studio Saturday evening, L.A. Dance Project founder Benjamin Millepied presented his latest piece, “I fall, I flow, I melt.” The creation of this dance and the viewing experience of it are integrally tied to this bare converted warehouse with exposed brick walls and vaulted ceiling.
There’s no backstage, no curtain, no wings, nor much theatrical lighting. Millepied treats the deficits as advantages. An overhead light and four pliable lighted pads, which were folded into glowing cubes, did most of the scene-setting Saturday. Unreserved seating lined all four walls, and when not performing, the dancers waited in chairs beside the audience.
I chose a side viewing position and happened to end up for a time next to two of my favorite dancers, Daisy Jacobson and David Adrian Freeland Jr. During the full-evening piece, the spectacle unfolded just feet away.
The three-part work had some spacing issues and rough patches on opening night. Millepied sets out to explore formal movement structure and its opposite — freewheeling gestures untethered to narrative or musical cues. We see repeated dance patterns, some heroic, some with religious overtones, and full-stop sculptural holds. The juxtaposition comes with a slower middle section of mostly solos and duets that have an improvised flavor.
The score — excerpts from contemporary composer David Lang sandwiched between works by Bach — helps to guide us. (“St. Matthew” Passion and the Passacaglia in C minor for Organ were played from a recording, and violinist Etienne Gara majestically performed the Bach Partita for Violin No. 2 and the Lang selections.) During the Bach, driving action takes place in a circle and the dancers shift direction and the perspective, like a graceful flock of birds moving midflight.
The downside is that the piece’s thrust also wanders, so to speak. It’s as if the choreography hits a compositional roadblock, and the dancers abruptly start walking, or they run offstage to end it. Why does Patricia Zhou suddenly appear wearing toe shoes, making for an awkward duet with Nathan Makolandra? In one passage, couples embrace and shuffle together, unconvincingly in love or even like. There are voids where intention is lost and recognizable themes from other dances are recycled.
But “I flow, I fall, I melt” has blissful segments too. Aaron Carr is quietly riveting in a meditative solo. Millepied makes some of his most marvelous inventions during two same-sex duets; the one for Jacobson and the tireless Rachelle Rafailedes is particularly poignant and lovely. Anthony Lee Bryant comes on toward the piece’s end and wallops us with tightly wound floor work, a stomach-crunching headstand and rippling arms that are worthy of a dying swan.
The handsome black and white costumes (by Alessandro Sartori for Ermenegildo Zegna Couture) echo the binary construction of “I flow.” Mostly, though, this new piece benefits from our proximity to it and our ability to see its elements unfolding from a fresh vantage.
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L.A. Dance Project
Where: 2245 E. Washington Blvd., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday