Posted by: operatheaterink | October 29, 2014

Review: LA Dance Project, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel, Oct. 29, 2014

The Majestic Ace Hotel Played Host to a Modern Dance Extravaganza.
Dancers perform Benjamin Millepied's 'Untitled.'

Dancers perform Benjamin Millepied’s ‘Untitled.’


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I must thank my girlfriend for awakening within me the desire to explore the emerging dance scene in LA. Rekindling our friendship after many years, we have been reflecting on our youth when taking ballet lessons from the likes of David and Tania Lichine and Irina Kosmovska, who helped shape what is now considered to be the history of dance in LA. Although my focus remains on opera and theatre, for my birthday, I had a gay ol’ time discovering the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for starters. Why have I never been to this theatre? Why have I never heard of it? The former United Artists Theatre was built in 1927 in the Spanish Gothic tradition for United Artists, later to become part of the Texaco Building. Now part of the Ace Hotel, it is a vintage, majestic theatre that exudes historic old Hollywood charm. Think “Phantom of the Opera,” and you’ve got it.

But I wasn’t thinking “Phantom of the Opera” on Oct. 25. I was thinking about the LA Dance Project. I had heard that Benjamin Millepied, the new director of the Paris Opera Ballet, had started a modern dance company in LA. Although I generally prefer ballet to modern, I was curious because with his background, I hoped to see ballet movements laced with the unanticipated creative moves of modern.

I believe that ballet is the foundation for all of the genres in dance. The steps with their French names form the language of ballet. And the dancers’ bodies interpret the choreographed steps which are imposed over orchestrations. With modern dance, the choreography might be said to be even more creative than ballet because the steps are created by the choreographer, and the dancers, or athletes, must carry through the movements which are new inventions. In days of old, many modern dancers were not versed in ballet, and these newly invented positions often looked awkward. But in the case of the LA Dance Project, the invented movements are carried out by dancers who are versed in ballet and use their expertise to wield new creations that are well-oiled, smooth and unique, but remind us of what we have already seen. In ballet, the dancers’ seemingly jointless, flexible bodies and port de bras tell the story within the confines of the disciplined steps. The art of the dancers becomes the art of the dance. In modern dance, the creatively invented choreographed movements are duplicated by the athletes onstage. The choreography is more overtly visible as the art. The dancers, both athlete and artist, more readily facilitate the art.

The most balletic of the presentations was the 1993 “Quintett” choreographed by William Forsythe to the music of Gavin Bryars, where grand pliés, jetés, arabesque penchées and turned-out pirouettes were meshed with the modern unknown to create the themes of loss, hope, fear and joy.

With a similar flow of duets and solos, the first presentation, “Morgan’s Last Chug,” included staccato, syncopated and tumbling movements choreographed by Emanuel Gat to short excerpts of music by Bach, Purcell and others; movements to the spoken dialogue of Samuel Beckett; and a cappella dance with no music.

For actors, the text is the springboard for interpretation. In song, singers can draw from the text and musical composition. In dance, the dancer’s motivation comes from the music and choreography. The music incites motion and emotion. The presence of music in dance is significant.

The first presentation began without music. Then the music was interspersed at different volume levels throughout. Each selection’s style was unique. It was difficult to pinpoint what the piece was about. Neither I nor the person sitting next to me could, although we knew that the choreographer had given the piece meaning by abstractly infusing time and age. The music didn’t seem to be an integral part of the action. It didn’t seem to mold the presentation into a cohesive whole. The dance movements seemed to flip and flop. I wanted more creative patterning.

The third presentation, “Quintett,” had music set to Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” But one lyric was repeated over and over again until I felt like I wanted to get off the plane. After all, I wasn’t waiting for Godot. The fluid balletic movements enthralled, but the music failed to enhance.

Only the second presentation, which I like to call a modern ballet, proved memorable to meet the demands of repertoire longevity. Choreographed by Millepied to Philip Glass’s tonally significant and descriptive String Quartet No. 3 — part of the soundtrack to the 1985 film, “Mishima” — the music and choreography of each selection urged the dancers on to an excited pitch which aroused in each of us a stirring thrill. Mixing modern dance with ballet, black-and-white costuming on both men and women alike — bodies wrapped together in modern pas de deux styles and patterns that enthralled. Always tasteful, this presentation of Millepied’s “Untitled” defined what modern dance should be.

Music is an integral part of dance, especially with minimalistic sets and costumes. To take work out of the classroom or rehearsal studio onto the stage, the musical pulse must become a defining essential. Glass’s variations on a theme culminated on a pitch of urgent beauty. The music alone incited the mind to imagine visions as in a dream. Millepied seized the opportunity to create dance narrative for Glass’s movements which resulted in a perfect marriage between music and dance that sensitively benefited both genres.

In modern dance, movement must be elevated so that a performance becomes more than merely an acrobatic showcase. The first and third presentations wavered between gymnastic sketches and art whereas Millepied’s contribution was creative artistry fulfilled.

The LA Dance Project is at its beginning stages and promotes the work of established and emerging artists. The company has tours set throughout the world. Millepied will continue to serve those in Los Angeles a palette of visual delights. The performance at the Ace Hotel was only an introduction. The company is participating in the 50th anniversary celebration of the Los Angeles Music Center in December.

The able dancers included Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Randy Castillo, Charlie Hodges, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra and Rachelle Rafailedes. In addition to Millepied, the creative team includes founding producer Charles Fabius, composers Nicholas Britell and Nico Muhly, art consultant Matthieu Humery, and managing director James Fayette.

A benefit dinner at the Cooper Design Space in downtown LA took place after the performance. Those instrumental in lending support to the LA Dance Project include Millepied’s wife, actress Natalie Portman; Richard Mille, Catharine Soros, Eli and Edythe Broad, Lilly Tartikoff and many local organizations, radio stations, designers and supporters of the arts.

Modern dance is experimental in nature. I look forward to seeing the LA Dance Project expand as part of the growing cultural Renaissance occurring in the city of LA. It adds a vital contemporary dimension to the cultural landscape.

William Forsythe's 'Quintett'

William Forsythe’s ‘Quintett’

Choreographers: Benjamin Millepied, Emanuel Gat, William Forsythe
Ballet Masters: Sébastien Marcovici, Thomas McManus, Stephen Galloway, Jone San Martin
Costume Designers: Emanuel Gat, Janie Taylor, Stephen Galloway, Franco Martinez
Wardrobe Supervisor: Benita Elliott
Lighting Designers: Emanuel Gat, Roderick Murray, William Forsythe
Additional Lighting: Matt Philips, Ellie Rabinowitz
And others . . .
The performance included recorded music.
Photos of “Untitled” and “Quintett” by Rose Eichenbaum.

Theatre at the Ace Hotel

Theatre at the Ace Hotel