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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 14 MAY 2014 — Founded in 2012 by choreographer Benjamin Millepied, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet until 2011, and future  Director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, the L. A. Dance Project is  less a conventional company of dancers than a group of young creators ready to experiment and take risks to promote dance as a living art. Based in Los Angeles and set resolutely in the American tradition, the dancers, full of vitality and energy, interpreted an eclectic programme of works by Israeli-born Emanuel Gat, by the Japanese choreographer, Hiroaki Umeda, followed by the promising young Justin Peck, soloist with New York City Ballet, as well as a duo by Benjamin Millepied.

The all-American cast began with Gat’s Morgan’s Last Chug, an abstract 2013 creation dealing with the passing of time, a series of variations set to an unusual score of a monologue of Samuel Beckett taken from Krapp’s Last Tape, spoken, or rather wheezed over a soundtrack of Bach and Purcell.

The intentions might have been good, but the five dancers, in jeans and brightly coloured T-shirts, marching on and off stage, twisting and spiraling around each other showed empathy neither with themselves nor with the audience. Fortunately one could watch Charlie Hodges, a superb dancer but with little to say in this particular work. Lasting 20 minutes, it seemed a rather aimless exercise.

Morgan’s Last Chug
Choreography: Emanuel Gat

In contrast, Peripheral Stream, created for the troupe by 35 year-old Hiroaki Umeda, proved to be a hypnotic display of complex optical illusions which captured one’s interest from the start. But the four black-clad dancers, silhouetted against the luminous screen behind them seemed to take second place to the goings on behind. Shifting black and white vertical lines, concertina-like, came together, moved apart, and overlapped, giving place to differing sizes of squares which in turn transformed into wavy lines. Try as they might, the dancers, obscure figures in the dark, were out-shined by the brilliant visual technology.

Peripheral Stream,
Choreography: Hiroaki Umeda

The jewel of the evening, indeed the jewel of these past few years, came with the sublime duo, Closer, created by Benjamin Millepied in 2006 which he has since reworked. With effective costumes by Lydia Harmon, and lighting by Roderick Murray, it was set to a piano score by Philip Glass, Mad Rush.

It was a breathtaking sequence of dance for two interpreters who moved as one. They held hands, lovingly enlaced each other, rarely if ever, breaking physical contact, moving and breathing with lightness and grace. Each step, each delicate movement and gesture flowed into the next in a seamless whole.

Man and woman became as one; music and movement were as one. Time stopped still for this exquisite pas de deux, or duo for two dancers, where, almost secondary to the beautiful visual images was the emotion that emanated from the work and touched your heart. It was a moment of grace, when the world went away.

Choreography: Benjamin Millepied

Essentially classical, it was interpreted by guest artists, French-born Céline Cassone, and Alexander Hille, an exceptional partner, both from Ballets Jazz of Montreal. They interpreted the work to perfection, and the fact that Closer was created by a choreographer who will take over the Paris Opéra Ballet at the end of the year augurs only good.

It was obviously not an easy ballet to follow, and Justin Peck’s otherwise attractive piece, Murder Ballads, paled by comparison. When the women arrived on stage in their T-shirts, shorts and sneakers, kicking their legs in the air, no matter how joyously they danced, the comparison was there.

Fortunately there was again the inimitable Charlie Hodges, giving the work all he’d got.

Set to Bryce Dessner’s 20-minute Murder Ballads against a vivid backcloth of multi-coloured , paint-sploshed rectangles by the artist, Stirling Baker, this was an all-American piece, more concerned with the joy of living than with any violent murders. Fast-moving and fun, more contemporary than classical, this athletic and energetic dance piece brought a note of youth, freshness and gaiety to the end of the evening.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque

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