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A Gala Affair

Since its founding in 2012 by Benjamin Millepied, L.A. Dance Project has not been lacking in talent, ideas, or, fortunately for them, funding, something that most dance troupes desperately need. Indeed, having entered a collaboration with Van Cleef & Arpels the same year the troupe began, LADP not only moved into its own rehearsal and performance space in 2017, but has also been privy to performing around the world in such exclusive locales as the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, where Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661.

Performance

L.A. Dance Project Gala

Place

Vibiana, Los Angeles, California, November 11, 2023

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Benjamin Millepied and Daphne Fernberger in a duet choreographed by Millepied. Photograph by Nina Fernandez

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It was no surprise, then, that LADP’s gala should be held in one of the City of Angels’ most iconic locales, the Cathedral of St. Vibiana. Built in 1876, the church, which was in dire disrepair after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, was restored, retrofitted and converted into a glorious event venue, its grand Main Hall and Courtyard, the scene of dancing, dining and dedications on a November weekend night.

The festivities began with cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, where prominent folks in the art, fashion and entertainment arenas did their “Step and Repeat” thing. Included were actors Jane Fonda and Alicia Silverstone, the former looking fabulous at 85, producer Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction), fashion model Jasmine Daniels, and multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken. 

Once in the Main Hall, LADP’s executive director, Lucinda Lent, and chairman of the board Mark Terbeek had some big news: The LADP studio would undergo a major expansion, one providing greater audience capacity and additional rehearsal space to enhance access, efficiency, and sustainability. Most notable, the expansion will double LADP’s seating capacity, from 100-200 seats, as well as adding a dance library and research room that will be accessible to the public.

Daphne Fernberger in Bobbi Jene Smith + Or Schraiber’s “The Missing Mountain.” Photograph by Nina Fernandez

The expanded new spaces will not only accommodate larger audiences while still retaining its up-close-and-personal intimacy, but also bring further resources to LADP’s support of world-class dance in L.A. though residencies, educational outreach, and other collaborative programs. It’s precisely this kind of thinking that brings artists of all stripes together, something continually needed in L.A.’s so-called, “car culture,” where makers can sometimes be siloed. 

Far from being isolated, award-winning choreographer, dancer and director, Debbie Allen, took to the stage to introduce superstar and L.A. native, Misty Copeland. Allen also announced Dance Pass, a new initiative offering members of the Boys & Girls Club of Los Angeles the chance to attend LADP performances at their studio space free of cost. 

It was Copeland, Allen pointed out, who was introduced to dance through the Boys & Girls Club when she was 13. In addition, Dance Pass will continue to demonstrate LADP’s dedication to the next generation of dancers in L.A., a concept that aligns with Copeland’s ongoing efforts to build a more inclusive artistic community through access to dance. The ballerina noted that a mere twenty-five years ago, “L.A. did not have a company of this caliber and few professional opportunities for [concert] dance,” before thanking Millepied for his passion and continuing efforts to push the art form forward.

And pushing the art form forward were a number of LADP dancers. Beginning with an excerpt from Bobbi Jene Smith + Or Schraiber’s “The Missing Mountain,” performers Lorrin Brubaker, Jeremy Coachman, Courtney Conovan and Daphne Fernberger rocked to the music of Bach, notably his Chaconne BWV 1004. The perfect complement to the cathedral’s high ceiling, the movers exulted in jaw-droppingly gorgeous backbends (hello, Ms. Fernberger!), articulated footwork and unison groupings, as if called upon by Bach himself to revel in his own musical splendor.

Courtney Conovan at L.A. Dance Project's Gala, staged at Cathedral of St. Vibiana. Photograph by Nina Fernandez

After a toast led by Millepied and Lent—a nod to Balanchine’s 1972 shot-sharing with Stravinsky—a film was shown honoring Everybody Dance LA! (EDLA!), a local nonprofit that LADP has partnered with since 2019. Serving more than 4,000 students annually, the organization transforms lives and communities through dance education in low-income areas. 

The energy and enthusiasm of the students’ onstage was contagious, and proved the perfect segue to the premiere of a Millepied duet. Danced by him and Fernberger—herself heart-wrenchingly beautiful in this romance on the brink—the work was set to Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.”

Having been absent from the stage for several years—but proving that he’s absolutely still up to terpsichorean snuff—the now 46-year old was agile, authoritative and a brilliant partner. Whether on his knees yet still supporting Fernberger, or having his head cradled in her able, beseeching hands, Millepied showed his mettle, and the audience was there for it. 

Benjamin Millepied and Daphne Fernberger in a duet choreographed by Millepied. Photograph by Nina Fernandez

Closing the performance portion was an excerpt from “Be Here Now,” Millepied’s opus that premiered at the Théatre du Châtelet in 2022 and is testament to the Frenchman’s evolution as a choreographer. Set to Andy Akiho’s propulsive, “Pillar IV: from his album, “Seven Pillars” (a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Akiho was recently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category), the work featured the quartet of dancers from “Mountain,” as well as the always stellar Shu Kinouchi, Peter Mazurowski, Hope Spears and Nayomi Van Brunt.

The snippet, a non-stop movement spree, featured the dancers in high-athleticism mode, their brio and sheer dedication to craft a perfect marriage to Akiho’s score. Whether in couples, deploying gasp-worthy solos, or spectacularly daring jetés, the dancers were the true highlights of the evening.

Thanks, also, to Van Cleef & Arpels, who, along with support from Lanvin, CAA, C Magazine and Zadig & Voltaire, made the 2023 gala the highest grossing fundraiser in LADP’s history, with more than $1 million banked. And many congratulations, to LADP, who really knows how to throw a bash. Even the menu, which included a supper of pear salad, salmon with artichokes and a salted chocolate tart, got things right, with the last line reading, “Art is the highest form of hope.”

We couldn’t agree more!

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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