Review: L.A. Dance Project Welcomes Back Founder at the Theatre at Ace Hotel

Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project held two triumphant shows at the Theatre at Ace Hotel Dec. 9 and 10.

Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project held two triumphant shows at the Theatre at Ace Hotel Dec. 9 and 10.

My connection to ballet goes way back to the 1970s when as a teenager my cousins and I would pull together some money to buy tickets to see NYC’s American Ballet Theater (ABT) perform at the Shrine Auditorium. A film that also pulled me into the ballet world back then was The Turning Point, which starred Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft and ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

A more recent film that also had a huge impact on popular culture around the world was Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder and in a supporting role, New York City Ballet star and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who not only got to dance with Ms. Portman but eventually married her.

After retiring from NYCB, Millepied established the L.A. Dance Project in 2012 with a mission “to create new work and to revive seminal collaborations from influential dance makers” and served as its director until 2014 when he accepted the job of Director of Dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. Luckily for dance enthusiasts in the City of Angels, Millepied is back after his short stint in his native France did not live up to expectations. He has now taken back the reins of L.A. Dance Project, and on Dec. 9 and 10 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, he presented the first performance of the company since his return.

The first piece presented was “II Acts for the Blind” by Israeli choreography Roy Assaf with musical piece “Svanur” by Icelandic music group Rökkurró. A drawn white square in the middle of the stage became the focal point where company dancers in flesh-colored leotards performed in group, duos or solos a series of what seemed like abstract, arbitrary dance movements to the slow, melancholy piano score. While not in the central square area, some of the dancers would also partake in other gestures around the perimeter, which brought a sense of interest as to why all this was happening. This became clear about halfway through the middle of the 20-minute piece when one of the female dancers sitting on a stool began a dialogue aimed at the audience while using a music triangle in order to break the spoken storyline.

Returning to the stage, the dancers re-enacted the exact same choreography, but this time with casual costumes and funny, sometimes poignant storylines, some likened to life in Los Angeles. Was this an ode to the City of Angels or a satirical statement on where some dance inspirations come from? Or both? Regardless, it was an enjoyable experiment on what we would expect in a more conventional dance piece.

Second on the program was the short but gorgeous piece, “After the Rain” by acclaimed English choreographer and ex-dancer Christopher Wheeldon with haunting music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The slow, sensual, romantic piece paired the beautiful and elegant Carla Körbes with the dashing and strong Batkhurel Bold. The simple, seamless series of elegant movements was executed so beautifully that it was hard to know when one stopped and the other began. Not sure if Wheeldon considered the flow of Korbes’ hair as part of the effect, but it sure was one of the visual highlights.

One of the elements of the announced program that drew my attention was the collaboration of Millepied and Canadian-born and LGBTQ singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright whom I have been a huge fan of since his breakthrough, self-titled recording in 1998. The title of the world-premiere piece was “Homecoming,” and it featured on stage Wainwright on solo piano with the talented Janie Taylor paired with Millepied as the male in the duo. With his signature passionate and expressive voice, Wainwright accompanied the dancers in a series of duo and solo segments that showcased each dancer’s strengths and techniques.

After intermission came the longer and most rewarding of the two choreographies by Millepied, titled “On The Other Side” with music by Philip Glass at the hands of the incredible pianist Richard Valitutto. An ensemble piece danced with a large, colorful painted art piece background by Mark Bradford, it brought single, duo and ensemble groupings to partake in some very complex, well-executed and engaging segments. The very colorful costumes by Alessandro Sartori seemed to pick up on the art’s primary colors while the lighting design by Lucy Carter added shadows of the dancers at certain moments which brought more movements to the stage.

After a very loud and enthusiastic round of applause and standing ovation for the well-deserved dancers, musicians and collaborators, the eclectic and very elegantly dressed crowd flowed out of the gorgeous and historical Theatre at Ace Hotel to busy South Broadway. It was quite the “Homecoming” for the man of the hour, Los Angeles’ favorite Frenchman and all-around talented artist, Mr. Benjamin Millepied. Welcome Back, Ben!

Humberto Capiro is a Contributing Writer for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter: @HumbertoCapiro

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