For its Dallas debut with TITAS over the weekend, L.A. Dance Project performed a program that, if anything, was a showcase for the company’s extraordinarily agile and versatile dancers. The young group’s artistic director Benjamin Millepied has quite a résumé: artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, choreographer for the film Black Swan. LADP comes off as a powerhouse of talent, a multifaceted modern dance company with an incredibly strong ballet base.
The two-performance run at Moody Performance Hall featured a world premiere set by New York-based choreographer Kyle Abraham, a high-energy work that featured alluring eclecticism against a striking set. But almost more stunning was the first piece, Martha Graham Duets (a compilation of excerpts “White,” “Star,” and “Moon”), like a visual version of Erik Satie’s trio of pained piano compositions called Gymnopedie. Abstraction is part of the restraint in these duets. Barefoot in color-blocked costumes, the dancers succeed one another in series of pas de deux that grow progressively more intimate.
There’s a marionette-like play of the first duet, the playfulness of the second, and the last, which ends with an extraordinary vision, the two dancers’ bodies interlocking like a star. In these exquisite reinterpretations of classical Graham repertoire, the point is not so much about the individual dancers as about the shape they make.
Helix set the dancers in slate-grey unitards and blue socks, lost in time and space, but moving like sparked electrical wires. Justin Peck’s mathematically lush choreography plays on beautiful lines and sinuous entanglements. Muscular lifts like flicks or bursts form one part of the ballet-based piece’s concatenations of brisk, exquisitely executed movement that lend the fast-paced tour de force a lush texture. Engrossing and hypnotic.
The world premiere Ritalin Requiem takes the eclectic, high-paced energy of its name and applies it to a pastiche deeply rooted in the tradition of hip-hop. Abraham’s vignettes strike like animated calligraphy, from runway-model strut to the tongue-in-cheek sensuality of a pas de deux to OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean.” They blur the lines between breakdancing and hip-hop, and classical forms like ballet. With the sonic juxtapositions of the score, and the set— a light montage by Brooklyn-based projection artist Dan Scully— the experimental piece feels current, smart, and refreshing.
Millepied himself choreographed the finale On the Other Side, the lengthiest of the works at 43 minutes of dance set to Philip Glass piano etudes. To this background, Millepied creates lyrical and sensuous pas de deux, trios, and ensemble moments. A beautiful set by L.A. artist Mark Bradford undulates with colors that shift depending on the light designed by Lucy Carter. In jewel-tone costumes, the dancers shift into the emotional valences of the piece: faces more expressive, the lines more narrative in the ingress and egress of bodies whose weightlessness and grace are remarkable as they glide together, movements rippling. The piece includes an exquisite, spirited, light-footed solo for company dancer Patricia Zhou, both male-male and female-female pas de deux that are amongst the most intriguing I’ve seen, and an uncertain and contemplative ending.
As is the danger with pieces set to Philip Glass, Millepied risks being predictable and anesthetizing in his yearning to make beautiful work. Yet it is evocative. The possibilities of modern dance are on display with a company like LADP, which earns the mark of its international reputation.