By any measure Los Angeles Dance Project’s ongoing festival, aka L.A. Dances, has been a huge success. Begun at the end of September, the programming just concluded at the company’s downtown performance space after a hiatus of two weeks of globe-trotting performances in Paris and at the Abu Dhabi Louvre extension.  Envisioned as a snap shot of dance in Los Angeles these collaborative works with local artists, a 2018 residency at the Luma Arles arts complex in France which produced Split Step from earlier programs, and the accomplished multi-dimensional dancer’s in Benjamin Millepied’s company, the festival makes a big statement for this innovative company’s influential contributions to dance in Los Angeles and a growing international reputation.

The title suggests flux, a direction or journey, but not an arrival.

Bookending the final program were two works by Millepied, Homeward (Aheym) and Hearts and Arrows (2014), one work from the trilogy, Gems. They have some similarities in content including the backing music played by the ever-restless, Kronos Quartet. Homeward uses music by Bryce Dessner who also composed music for an earlier LADP collaboration, Murder Ballads. Homeward is a musical evocation of personal memory and migration told through Dessner’s family who were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. The title suggests flux, a direction or peregrination, but not an arrival, and you see it both in the constant motion and the accompanying black and white projections of James Buckhouse which flicker across a rear projection screen with a sense of inner animation. Homeward’s six dancers interact in observable traditional patterns of partnering with dance that has a clear debt to neo classical movement. There is not so much a story here as a feeling of connecting with Dessner’s agitated score and Buckhouse’s abstract, linear patterns and magnified brushstrokes.  Aheym may look to the past and a bygone, restless era but there are now 70 million people worldwide locked in family odyessys of migration and displacement. The theme never goes away and while we may not be able to dance our way out our social crises works like Homeward keep memory and our social and political contexts alive.

LA Dance Project performing: one dancer facing back standing surrounded by group kneeled around facing out
Hearts and Arrows − Photo: Laurent Philippe

Though envisioned as part of a trilogy Hearts and Arrows can clearly stand alone as a vibrant piece of dancemaking. It creates its own world of restless, entwined energy within a scrum of dancers who are always making deep connection with the dark undulations of the Phillip Glass quartet which underpins the choreography.  The music now often played as a concert work was originally composed as the sound track for the documentary film, Mishima. At its root Hearts and Arrows embraces a deep sense of community.  The term itself comes from the patterns visible in cut precious stones. We see a central couple in conflict, people trying to escape, others being harbored, then abandoned.  Overall there is a feeling of a hard-nosed camaraderie. The excellent film version of the work shot in the cemented canyons of the L.A. River channel (you can see all of it on the LADP Instagram account) casts the dancers as a post urban community.  In both versions the dancing comes across with inner warmth. The film version replaces Janie Taylor’s smart concert version costuming which was used in this performance with street clothes. The camera work gives us even more of a feeling of being among them when they dance and the informal street wear brings forward an almost tribal feeling. Ultimately Hearts and Arrows is a hopeful work. The dancers hang together whatever the distractions and forces that pull at them.  The best part of this work, visible both on stage and in the film, is the way Millepied captures an unnamed sense of pure dance, something beyond formal techniques, where unfiltered expression and raw engagement create the ties that bind.

Bella Lewitzky’s  Kinaesonata (1970) debuted earlier on Program 2 in October. Repeated performances have delivered much more confident dancing. Where the movement from earlier performances felt studied the Saturday performance had a natural and authentic groove. Set to one of Alberto Ginastera’s piano sonatas, the music deploys many of the same irregular and percussive rhythms from the composer’s Argentine nationalistic repertory but here they have been put into the service of classic American dance modernism. Particularly good this time around was the up and down, whirlwind floor work of the final movement expressed superbly by company dancer, Daisy Jacobson.  Janie Taylor’s solo set against the third movement adagio molto appassionato made a miraculous job of making time stand still. That music feels marooned amidst the fleet and hyperactive tempos of the rest of the sonata while the inward looking movement itself hearkens back to turn of the century ballet modernism.

2 dancers in a stag leap in opposite direction, background of a projected music sheet
Kinaesonata − Photo: Laurent Philippe

Madeline Hollander’s 5 Live Calibrations seemed Cunninghamesque with its dedication to embedded chance elements. It had a memorable third section with waves of eight dancers moving forward in a line repeating sharp jetés while their arms were raised overhead.  The music, a computer generated score, was composed by Celia Hollander. While it was easy to see how the cells of repeated movements were passed around via individuals and groups of dancers the bigger picture of how chance elements affected the final content was less clear. Aleatoric principles often seem to favor primary actors over observers. What we see may not be exactly repeatable but it’s likely to look identifiable. 5 Live Calibrations shares sensibilities with Split Step from earlier LADP programs and Tino Sehgal’s untitled dance exhibit which opened the program in the lobby. Sehgal’s work makes a point looking at the differences that arise from watching individual dancers dancing the same movements. Built on a repeating set of different kinds of turns drawn from classical, contemporary, and folk idioms the dancers interact briefly before handing off the movement as if in a relay. The three works exist at an intersection of installation, performance art, and movement.

...the inward looking movement itself hearkens back to turn of the century ballet modernism.

Finally it seems important to mention the generosity of these programs. Here we have a whole dance company made available to a mixed compliment of choreographers and artists to have a go at making new dance of whatever stripe. Let me mention also Loïc Noisette and the production staff for months of beautifully produced programs. The technical improvements in the performance space have made it possible to show these works off to their best advantage. Here’s hoping the festival or some version of it can become a permanent part of the L.A. Dance Project presence in Los Angeles.

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