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Spring Dances

It was a tri-polar night—but in a good way—last weekend, with a trio of high-energy, beautifully crafted works performed by the spectacular members of L.A. Dance Project. Program B of “Spring Dances,” seen at the troupe’s black box, in-your-face studio, featured a world premiere by erstwhile member, Janie Taylor (currently LADP’s rehearsal director), and a pair of works by the troupe’s founder, Benjamin Millepied, who recently decamped to the French capital, where he and Solenne du Haÿs Mascré created the Paris Dance Project last year.

Performance

L.A. Dance Project: “Spring Dances,” choreography by Janie Taylor and Benjamin Millepied

Place

L.A. Dance Project Space, Los Angeles, CA, May 2 – May 12, 2024

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Daphne Fernberger and Jeremy Coachman in “Sleepwalker’s Encyclopedia” by Janie Taylor. Photograph by Brian Hashimoto

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And while Millepied’s starry presence was missed—last month he returned to the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage in a fabulous program with pianist Alexandre Tharaud—his latest work, “Me.You.We.They,” which premiered in the City of Lights in March, featured the choreographer’s signature moves: articulated footwork, wildly flowing limbs and ooh-so-pliant, lightning-fast figures gamboling through space.

Set to an original Nico Muhly score (Millepied’s seventh collaboration with the composer who first discovered Philip Glass as a college freshman and later worked for him as a copyist and sequencer for his film scores, meaning Muhly’s minimalistic “One Speed, Many Shapes,” throbs to the max), and heard on a recording by the ensemble Le Balcon, the 23-minute work featured nine exquisite dancers, clad in Camille Assaf’s casual, yet flowy costumes, in full-throttle mode.

Leading the terpsichorean pack in a sensuous duet in the piece mainly comprised of solos, duets and trios, were Lorrin Brubaker and Nayomi Van Brunt, she with the most beautiful back-bending this side of Cirque du Soleil; he the ever-stalwart partner who also moves like the wind. The canonic-like choreography continued as Hope Spears and Jeremy Coachman sliced through the air in a pas de deux that also saw him spinning on his knees one moment, and providing a resting place for Spears’ nimble frame the next: This was next level “So You Think You Can Dance” stuff.

Hope Spears and Jeremy Coachman in “You.Me.We.They” by Benjamin Millepied. Photograph by Brian Hashimoto

A quasi-breakdancing segment featured Coachman and David Adrian Freeland, Jr. lunging in unison, sporting smiles as they kept pace to Muhly’s pulsing score. Always a scene stealer, the firecracker that is Shu Kinouchi, his loose, wide-legged black pants giving him the air of a Zen master, bounded onstage, able, it seemed, like a metaphorical Superman, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or, perhaps he, like a Tesla, has his own Insane Mode: the ability to go from 0 to 60 in three seconds. Seriously, Kinouchi’s small-but-mighty magnetic presence oozed technique and commitment, while partnering with Sides, the couple was a study in contrasts: she, on the floor, slightly bent at the waist with a leg extended, watched him in superlative motion.

A kind of movable feast—or, “A Chorus Line” on speed, if you will—the number was rife with unisons, frenzied pirouetting, buoyant leaps and quirky combinations. One particularly intriguing segment had the dancers, including a rapturous Daphne Fernberger, the pliant Courtney Conovan, a lovely Audrey Sides, Freeland, Jr., and Kinouchi in a circle, wherein each appeared to be one of Nijinsky’s “chosen” ones.

Athletes all, these performers, with the addition of Aidan Tyssee, opened the program with Taylor’s enticing 23-minute new work, “Sleepwalker’s Encyclopedia,” her fifth for the troupe. With a riotously colorful mural by Benjamin Styer serving as backdrop, the piece, which was cleverly lit by Brandon Stirling Baker, proved a delicious romp set to an array of recorded music. Included were, among other tunes, Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1, as orchestrated by Debussy (the fatty, impressionistic version of the über-hit), an organ work by Charles-Marie Widor, and “Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part,” by Caroline Shaw and performed by Sō Percussion.

David Adrian Freeland Jr in Janie Taylor's “Sleepwalker's Encyclopedia.” Photograph by Brian Hashimoto

As if to embody the frisky spirit of the mural, dancers entered tumbling, whirling, even walking . . . in silence. And to compare the women to sylphs is not giving the gals their due: Indeed, the quintet of LADP women is breathtaking, whether moving in unison or unspooling through turns like a string of pearls, they command attention. And no matter that Taylor’s costume design (pale green t-shirts, black dance shorts and/or pants; construction by Annie Ulrich), left something to be desired, it was the body beautiful that spoke loudest.

As Styer’s lighting morphed from bluish to spotlighting different aspects of the mural—trees, fruit, Domino sugar—the cadre of movers seemed to be dream-walking through the space. Male/male duets are always welcome, and Kinouchi and Brubaker made for an ebullient pair, their gorgeous lifts adding to the testosterone factor.

Conovan and Spears made the most of their duet, whether deploying picture-perfect pliés or rising on the balls of their feet. There was also a falling backwards motif, with raucous, disco-like music accompanying Freeland, Jr. and Van Brunt, their coupling smooth as satin with high kicks tossed in for good measure, before other dancers joined in the merriment with head-bobbing prowess.

Decidedly wistful, yet teeming with a neo-balletic vocabulary—Taylor was a principal with New York City Ballet until 2014, joining LADP two years later—the piece was a study in luxuriating figures, whether soaring solo or as a group posing proudly against Styer’s backdrop, the sense of devotion to the art form was ever prevalent.

The same could be said of Millepied’s 21-minute “Triade,” which completed the bill (and is replaced on Program A by the choreographer’s 2012, “Moving Parts”). A Paris Opera Ballet commission that premiered in 2008 as a tribute to Jerome Robbins, and also set to a Muhly composition (heard on tape and again performed by Le Balcon), the dance featured two couples—Van Brunt and Brubaker and Fernberger and Freeland, Jr. on a bare stage, with Masha Tsimring’s dusky lighting design adapted by Caleb Wildman.

Arriving with an air of nonchalance, the quartet, once more clad in Assaf’s simple, yet affective satiny, sparkly, mesh-like attire, suggested fleeting, if cryptic vignettes as they initially moved, pedestrian-like, to the cadenced sounds of Muhly’s score. Slinky and muscular, Millepied’s vocabulary also featured his gravity-defying leaps and pirouettes, with the couples switching partners in a round-robin type funfest. Freeland, Jr. offered entrechats interspersed with powerful jetés, while Brubaker wasn’t shy in showing off his propulsive barrel turns.

The up-close-and-personal space made for viewing even the smallest details—an outstretched hand, a slight turning of the body—a thrill, while the wizardry of these performers, even when running or skidding across the floor, was both otherworldly and human, their occasional beaming faces speaking to the beauty of the art form, the sheer joy of dance.

More, please!

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

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