Los Angeles Dance Review: L.A. DANCE PROJECT (Theater at Ace Hotel)

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by Tony Frankel on October 30, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

COOL AS A CUCUMBER BUT NOT AS REFRESHING

In Boys in the Band, the character of Harold states: “Although I’ve never seen my soul, I understand from my mother’s Rabbi that it’s a knock-out. I, however, cannot seem to locate it for a gander. And if I could, I’d sell it in a flash, for some skin-deep, transitory, meaningless beauty.”

Anthony Bryant, Morgan Lugo, Randy Castillo, Nathan Makolandra, and Julia Eichten in Benjamin Millepied's UNTITLED. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

Somewhere lurking behind the cool, edgy, jagged exterior of this company’s work is a soul, but it was tough to locate last weekend when L.A. Dance Project offered an untitled fall program at the Theater at Ace Hotel (formerly United Artists Theatre). The definitive result is all about the nine dancers, not the skin-deep, transitory, and meaningless beauty of the works. The three pieces by different choreographers were dismayingly similar, containing what is better known as dancing for dance’s sake.

But what dancers! With all of their gleaming façades and dexterous sharpness, this collective is brash, bright, and technically swift and nimble. They execute modern dance with one toe shoe firmly set in a brash foundation of ballet. But like L.A. itself, it all feels slick with a glossy bravado, which gives us nothing to hold onto.

Aaron Carr and Julia Eichten in William Forsythe’s QUINTETT by L.A. Dance Project. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.If you’re into watching amazing dancers strut their stuff on a superficial level, read no further and sign on to L.A. Dance Project’s mailing list. For those who want to be moved or touched by dance, this company ain’t there yet—if they ever will be. The brand here is “cool,” not cutting edge. In fact, even before one step was executed years ago, Benjamin Millepied’s brainchild was so cool that they deemed themselves a major company right out of the gate. But the globe-trotting, well-connected Millepied (now Director of Dance at the Paris Opera Ballet) named his company after a city which has rarely seen any work from this chill outfit—four times to be precise since the founding in 2011. It’s frustrating that the notoriety (Millepied is married to Natalie Portman) and financial support this company receives has not been used to create and show off their work in the City of Angels, but has allowed our native company to travel the world with all the glitz and glamour of a world-class outfit.

Anthony Bryant and Stephanie Amurao in William Forsythe’s QUINTETT by L.A. Dance Project. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.Accompanied by taped renditions of Purcell, Bach, and Jim Norton reciting sections of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, the dazzling diplomats of dance opened with Emanuel Gat’s “Morgan’s Last Chug.” The Israeli choreographer’s frisky but disjointed and disconnected 20-minute piece has dancers disseminate and vie for positions like otters in a swimming hole. Charlie Hodges—one of my favorite dancers anywhere and sorely missed in the night’s other pieces—is a brawny and fast-paced livewire who seamlessly merges classical with modern, infusing the athleticism he gleaned from his years with Twyla Tharp. After slamming an awesome combination, he would fall to one knee and freeze with a knowing grin, chin in palm, as if to dare the others to do better. There’s tumbling, suspension, popping, copy-catting, and slapping of thighs, but ultimately the piece felt as choppy as the audio selections. And who is Morgan? And if anyone can tell me what “a study in layered temporality” means (per the program), I will forever stop using the word “pretentious.”

Rachelle Rafailedes and company in Benjamin Millepied's UNTITLED. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.“Untitled” is the aptly pretentious title of Millepied’s piece, but his choreography was the least enervating of the night, mostly because his unspecified and seemingly unmotivated movement had all those fabulously flailing bodies be as one symmetrical unit before rupturing into a series of affected vignettes—all set to movements from Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 3 (Mishima). Millepied fits squarely into modern dance, but there is a foundation in classical ballet and especially Robbins and Balanchine. This is the sixth work I have seen of his, and they seem sporadically organized with no signature style. As usual, his work is either strangely unemotional, meandering, or lacking in clarity. The first few times I saw his work, I thought there’s nothing wrong with watching an interesting series of fluctuating bodies seemingly used for nothing more than visual effect (especially here in Janie Taylor’s cute black-and-white checkered outfits). But even with the gloriously hard-working octet at hand, the variations-on-no-theme is getting old pretty quick.

Stephanie Amurao (in front) with Julia Eichten and Randy Castillo in William Forsythe’s QUINTETT by L.A. Dance Project. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.Set to Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”— looping and ever-increasing in volume—is William Forsythe’s “Quintett” (1993), which was created as a final love letter to his terminally-ill wife, who never lived to see the work. There’s nothing maudlin in the piece: “I think if you saw it and didn’t know the background, you’d never guess,” said Forsythe in an interview. “There’s no attempt to create any pathos. The message comes from the dancers in it, a message about living and dancing.” Yes, the dancers are living and dancing. But for all the slinky, sexy movement—whether solo, duet, or group—watching the dancers fly in and out of the picture in a showy manner becomes as tedious as watching alphabet letters swimming in a bowl of soup. And could someone explain that mechanical contraption downstage left, which looked something like a gigantic Panavision camera? Only one dancer referenced it with a soft touch, but am I the only person who feels bemused, bothered, and bewildered?

The company has set up shop at the Theater at Ace Hotel, a Spanish Rococo theater next to a trendy hotel, but the sightlines in the orchestra are impracticable. Because of the blocked view, patrons’ heads were seen swaying with the ferocity of the dancers just to espy bodies from the knee down. Equally stultifying was the so-called after-party in the lobby: originally requiring separate paid admission, this suddenly-free, overloud nothing-of-an-event was as soul-free as the company’s program. But the small crowd that stayed sure looked swell.

All of the cool vibe from this company may get a younger crowd in the door, but will it keep them coming back? Even if they did want to return, L.A. Dance Project will most often be performing somewhere other than its name suggests.

(left to right) Anthony Bryant, Morgan Lugo, Randy Castillo, Nathan Makolandra, and Julia Eichten in Benjamin Millepied's UNTITLED. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

photos by Rose Eichenbaum
poster artwork by David Salazar

L.A. Dance Project
The Theatre at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway
ended on October 26, 2014
for future tickets, call (213) 628-2772 or visit Ace Hotel
for more info, visit www.LADanceProject.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Toni Scinocca May 24, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Great photos! This company has really grown since the time I lived in L.A.

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