L.A. Dance Project makes its Philadelphia debut

By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

The L.A. Dance Project made a bold statement this past weekend with its eclectic repertoire during its Philadelphia debut at The Annenberg Center. Three extremely contrasting works by world renowned choreographers Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied, and Ohad Naharin were featured in the program. Millepied is also the company’s Founder and Artistic Director. Prior to this, he was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and gained further recognition when he choreographed and starred in the 2010 film Black Swan (which also included 14 dancers from The Pennsylvania Ballet.)

Peck’s Murder Ballades was the program opener. The curtained lifted to reveal a striking backdrop by American contemporary artist Sterling Ruby. The abstract piece had black, brown and gray tones which emphasized two bold red streaks. It worked well for the theme of the piece which was inspired and set to early 20th Century murder ballads that were reworked into chamber music. The choreography had large sweeping arm movements and a great variety of turns. The six featured dancers displayed remarkable individual execution but struggled to stay in sync during the group variations.  A duet with David Adrian Freeland Jr. and Kaitlyn Gilliland was a strong moment in the dance and highlighted their strength and athleticism.

Millepied’s Sarabande beautifully showcased four male company dancers.  The piece was set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Millepied used the flute and violin solos to play with the musical dynamics.  The ensemble work here was strong but it was the duets and solos that were stand out moments. Aaron Carr and Axel Ibot were carefree and seemingly playful dancing together, despite the challenging choreography. Carr also excelled during his solo work which contained dynamic allegro work and lightning quick directional changes. Francisco Mungamba’s solo was high energy and showcased his powerful jumping ability.

Ending the program was Naharin’s  intense family drama Yag. Naharin is the creator of the movement vocabulary Gaga.  Gaga employs dancer’s to explore their physical hyperawareness through concepts such as gravity, timing, tension and release. Naharin seemed to utilize his Gaga language throughout the piece offering both synchronized and individual movement phrases. The piece centered around a dysfunctional family of three siblings and their deceased parents and grandfather. Naharin switched between past and present to give each family member’s perspective. By incorporating dialogue and symbolism within the dance, we were left to interpret the narrative in what came across as a dark and sinister familial relationship. The symbolism was complex and thought provoking. The audience seemed tentative in their response to the piece as the dancers took their bows. Yet if Naharin was trying to engage the audience in his narrative, he proved successful. Whatever their perception, there was certainly a lot of talk and interpretation as patrons left the theatre.


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