Split Step © Josh Rose

Benjamin Millepied has always said his Los Angeles Dance Project was not going to be a one choreographer kind of company. While he has continued making works for the company regularly since its inception the heart of the company remains a loose, sometimes travelling, conglomerate of artists, choreographers, and dancers with a broad base of participation and an affinity for collaboration and experimenting.  With the company’s current  festival at their downtown performance space--they’re on East Washington in the heart of the industrial zone-- running through November expect well produced programs  with shifting attitudes about what makes dance, lots of premieres, mostly local contributors, and a revival of historic modern dance from L.A. icon, Bella Lewitzky.

Walking into the performance space on Saturday night, the opening piece, Split Step by Los Angeles performance artist Emily Mast and the multi-disciplinary artist Zack Winokur, seemed already a work in progress with a hazed stage ringed by a set of light trees. It’s the kind of set that points in the direction of art galleries and hard-edged dance and indeed most of what followed was. But it also felt opaque in the way a conceptually driven collaboration (which this was) may sometimes be.  Organized around seven sections of ensembles of varying sizes, the dancers fling themselves at one another, and hurtle through the air only to be caught at the last moment. A pseudo-military drill team marches in one section, locked in a kind group, fascist salute. Suited up in mottled grey outfits this seems a grim, aggressive world where togetherness and going solo both seem tough choices. At its center Split Step is an essay on the boundaries between individuals and explores group belonging and interaction. The piece concludes with the dancers pulling the plugs on their own lighting leaving one dancer lying in the center of the stage.

Chapter Song © Josh Rose
Chapter Song © Josh Rose

The other full company work on the program, Kyle Abraham’s Chapter Song made in “close collaboration” with the dancers, is a fleet, multi-section piece that makes the most out of deft transitions and shifting ensembles of dancers as they tick their way through a crowded playlist of Glass, Streisand, Kendrick Lamar, Outkast, and others. Abraham cribs heavily (and sometimes superficially) on ballet moves which don’t always look crafted for a unique fit with the music. The piece has humor and  appealing costumes (also by Abraham) with the women in white pants with one striped leg, and the men in a kind of Hawaiian shirt. A flickering assortment of lighting cues by lighting designer Dan Scully makes busy business of the action on onstage where there is already plenty to watch. Both Split Step and Chapter Song made the most of the accomplished crew of LADP dancers who looked like unified ensembles in two very different dance domains. 

Between these two bookends smaller scale works by company members Janie Taylor and Gianna Reisen focused on narrative and relationships. Taylor’s Adagio in B Minor comes from the Mozart stand-alone keyboard miniature of the same name. Set for two dancers, Taylor and David Adrian Freeland Jr., Taylor finds a modified classical aesthetic that feels at home against small scale operatic content of the music. There is a drama here and it’s close to the surface, but by using only the first half of the music as written Adagio comes to an incomplete end before it really gets rolling.

Rising Water © Alice Mathis
Rising Water © Alice Mathis

Gianna Reisen’s Rising Water made the most lasting impression of the four works on the program. With an emotional performance from Daisy Kate Jacobson and excellent supporting performances from David Adrian Freeland Jr. and Anthony Lee Bryant, Reisen’s adventurous but quiet choreography felt ideally suited to Andrew Bird’s looped violin playing and vocalizations. He manages to create the feeling of a small ensemble in these solo improvisations from the short film score for Echolocations. Here is a refined story well told. Within are hints of old ballets, but not the accompanying anonymity, in Jacobson’s white dress designed by Katherine Tsina. François-Pierre Couture’s lighting brings a measure of warmth in designs that surround the dancers in an intimate glow. The mixed movement vocabulary Rising Water remains a well-blended affair. It is clear the choreographer and Jacobson have ballet in their bones but that familiarity doesn’t overwhelm the intricate partnering or solo dancing. In the end Reisen leaves behind the romantic push and shove. Seated alone on the floor in the glow of a single light, she acknowledges a pause more than a determination to go it alone. Completing the metaphor in the titling, Rising Water peacefully subsides rather than ends.

Programs continue through November with works by Millepied included in Program C. You can see Rising Water later this month when Program A returns during the week of October 10th.  For schedules and tickets see the LADP website.

main photo: Split Step © Josh Rose

About the author

Steven Woodruff lives in Los Angeles where he is a professional musician, dancer, educator, and writer. His writing includes original poetry and translations as well articles on film, stage, television, and culture. He reviews dance and music covering national and international touring concert programs as well as local companies for DancePlug, DanceChannelTV, and BachTrack in the UK.