Even if Benjamin Millepied never creates a dance worth seeing more than once, his L.A. Dance Project deserves high praise for attracting young audiences with contemporary works that challenge perceptions as much for their accompaniments as their choreographies.
At the imposing Theatre at Ace Hotel (a.k.a. the United Artists Theatre) downtown on Friday, Millepied's company explored three facets of what you might call flyaway dance — swirling interdisciplinary group movement that continually broke free from the floor, from restrictive patterning, from any force other than each dancer's own inner dynamic.
Afflicted with an impenetrable program note, "Morgan's Last Chug" (2013) by Israeli choreographer Emanuel Gat proved the fiercest, freest piece — flyaway dance without a net. Set to (or against) recorded pieces by Bach layered with fitfully audible excerpts from Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape," it owed allegiance to no formal movement system or narrative agenda but often looked so wild, willful and spontaneous that you'd guess the five dancers in casual streetwear made it up on the spot.
Pausing for occasional stage blackouts and getting together for a few cooperative unisons or moments of intimacy, Gat's cast members spent most of the 20-minute performance individually displaying their mastery of nondance motion, high-speed virtuosity, passionate gesticulation and body-surfing across the floor before simply walking away into the dark. What's Hebrew for wow?
In Millepied's new "Untitled" octet, everyone wore Janie Taylor's silver-and-black checkerboard shorts or skirts over white tank tops, but high-flying togetherness quickly splintered into a series of dramatic vignettes setting individuals or a couple against the majority. Philip Glass' third-string quartet provided the surging impetus for each section and each sudden-death termination as well.
Early on, mass assaults upon Stephanie Amurao and Aaron Carr led to a rueful romantic interlude. But as usual with Millepied, there was no love in this love-duet — just dexterity and gymnastic manipulation — despite the dancers' impressive skill and intensity. A breezier encounter between Morgan Lugo and Randy Castillo fared better: No emotion here other than shared bravado.
And Millepied certainly knew what he was doing when he asked the commanding Nathan B. Makolandra to dominate the finale, perhaps as a crypto-Assad or Putin. Seen solely as a company showpiece, "Untitled" sold itself successfully. But the theme of holding your own against a mob or a tyrant is too resonant right now to make such a lightweight statement satisfying.
The company's familiar production of William Forsythe's 1993 '"Quintett" again used Gavin Bryars' evolving vocal/orchestral score "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" to fuel astonishing gambits that either blossomed from or flowed into ballet steps and positions. No matter how experimental their technique, the Dance Project cast members remained insatiable ballet-junkies who, in pursuit of their fix, showed us a brilliant way of dancing that seemed to assimilate virtually every kind of movement and still reaffirm classicism as its base.
Forsythe was once considered the unholy terror of ballet, a dangerous enemy of tradition. Now, at the dawn of his new relationship with the Glorya Kaufman-funded dance academy at USC, he increasingly looks like the torchbearer for post-Balanchine classicism. Go figure.
Besides the dancers previously mentioned, the company included Anthony Bryant, Julia Eichten, Charlie Hodges and Rachelle Rafailedes.