Impressions of L.A. Dance Project at BAM
L.A. Dance Project: Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Randy Castillo, Julia Eichten, Charlie Hodges, Lugo Morgan, Nathan Makolandra, Rachelle Rafailedes
Choreography by Benjamin Millepied in collaboration with the dancers
Music by David Lang, performed by Andrew Zolinsky
Visual Concept by Barbara Kruger
Murder Ballades (2013)
Choreography by Justin Peck
Music by Bryce Dressner, performed by eighth blackbird
Choreography by William Forsythe
Music by Gavin Bryars
Welcome to the table, L.A.! For years, Los Angeles has lagged not just behind New York, but smaller cities like Seattle and Philadelphia, in the concert dance dialogue. As of late, this sprawling, sun-soaked Tinseltown has rocketed into the limelight as new-kids-in-town L.A. Dance Project and USC’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (professors include William Forsythe and D. Sabela Grimes) join veterans like BodyTraffic and Los Angeles Ballet to generate a cross-country buzz.
L.A. Dance Project bounded into BAM for their New York debut to show off their striking chops. Although the choreographers on the program made their mark in places other than California, there’s a definite west coast vibe to the evening.
The program opens with Benjamin Millepied's Reflections, set to selections from David Lang’s dreary piano score, “This was written by hand/memory pieces.” Commands on a stoplight-red backdrop (STAY) and floor (THINK OF ME THINKING OF YOU) engulf the five, gray-clad dancers who perform tweets of movement — whizzing turns and clever gesticulations — that hopscotch through their bodies. Tactile couplings and one buoyant solo transition into a collective push and pull of longing and desire. It’s romance millennial style: self-promotional, group-centered, and overtly restless.
Justin Peck’s Murder Ballades (named after the spiky original score by Bryce Dessner, which is performed live by eighth blackbird) zips with jumpy exuberance, declaring its friskiness in the opening as a septet laces up sneakers. Teeming with pirouettes that fling into volatile extensions, the dancers careen and chase and catch and clutch each other. Randy Castillo electrifies with a jiving solo, each action etched in flouncing vitality. The background of thick, blotchy stripes swathe the proceedings in a festive atmosphere at odds, but pleasingly so, with the sober source material of murder ballads.
William Forsythe’s Quintett caps the evening. Choreographed when his wife lay dying, five performers skitter and crumble as they hyperextend jagged limbs in thrusting kicks and saggy squats. The stark visual and sonic design, in the form of a black cyclorama and Gavin Bryars’ looping “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” contrasts with the whirring, dazzling kinetics. Like worker bees in a void, the dancers appear programmed; even when they touch, it’s mechanical, the physical restraining the emotional.
These pieces, three points of view on one theme — contemporary ballet — stress an edgy ethos, but one that’s west coast in its execution. With all of the shiny surfaces and nimble angularities, the feel is communal, youthful, and precocious. The dancers are great: technically agile but with a grounded swagger, and the ballet steps look like ballet but groovier, as if they’ve been stamped with a smirk. As a result, L.A. Dance Project is cool, too cool, which begins to feel like the problem: Is there a heart under that slick posturing?