Review: LA Dance Project - Mixed Bill - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 & 25 June 2016
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Monday 27 June 2016

LA Dance Project 'Hearts & Arrows'.
Photo: Rose Eichenbaum

Performance reviewed: 24 June

Benjamin Millepied’s tumultuous time as Paris Opera Ballet’s Artistic Director ended abruptly earlier this year, when he unexpectedly resigned. One of his stated aims on leaving this most prestigious of roles was to devote more time to LA Dance Project, the collective he formed in 2012 when he first moved to Los Angeles with his new wife, the film star Natalie Portman. The company is devoted to new work and reviving seminal collaborations – for this second appearance at Sadler’s Wells (following a debut show in 2013) it stuck squarely with the former, with two of the three works created by Millepied himself.

Millepied the artist was formed by New York City Ballet, the company he remained with until his retirement as a dancer. His major creative project, the Gems trilogy, is inspired by the NYCB founder George Balanchine’s Jewels, the three-part 1967 ballet made in collaboration with Van Cleef & Arpels, which remains a glittering example of abstract dance.

Here, we got a British premiere of Hearts & Arrows, the second of Millepied’s pieces, and a world premiere of the final part, On the Other Side. The first has eight dancers in fashionable black and white checkered shorts and skirts and black jazz boots, performing on a bare set, whose backcloths are slowly withdrawn to reveal the stage’s industrial lighting rigs. Snatches of music from Philip Glass’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters soundtrack are used (lots of heavy strings), with the piece’s 17 minutes broken up into short staccato vignettes. Diamonds are, apparently, the inspiration for this work, which has an interesting, surging group dynamic that lets patterns form and splinter, but stutters when the movement is pared down to pas de deux. The motif of one or two dancers at the centre of the group recurs, as does one dancer spinning off from the rest. It’s vigorous and sometimes pretty, but has no real emotional impact.

Rather dismayingly, then, On the Other Side has little discernible difference in its movement ideas, but is more than twice as long. Nine dancers in bright colours perform in front of a large, loud abstract painting to extracts of Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. At times, it feels like a cheaper version of Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour but there is no sign of that work’s warmth and intensity, and the choreography simply doesn’t earn the emotional sway it really seems to be striving for. Strangely flaccid, underpowered arm movements underline its wan complexion. Millepied’s neoclassical meets contemporary style has been described as “urban ballet” – it’s nowhere near as gritty and exciting as that makes it sound, managing instead, on this showing, to be at once earnest and rather bland.

In other circumstances, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Harbor Me would have seemed a rather unremarkable piece from the inventive Belgian choreographer. Here, it was a highlight. The 20-minute work for three dancers (men on the first night, women on the second) blended solo and trio movement into an exploration of human connection, played out across three eastern-tinged nocturnes by Park Woojae. Counter-weighted movement and complex entanglements suggest mutual support enveloping and soothing individual struggles. An extended group mime sequence involving ‘invisible’ boxes was probably an idea too far but there was nonetheless something more genuine-feeling about Larbi’s piece, sandwiched between the surface glitter of Millepied’s Gems.

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Twitter @blacktigerlily

Photos: Rose Eichenbaum, courtesy LA Dance Project

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