Above: Stephanie Amurao and Aaron Carr of L.A. Dance Project in Justin Peck's HELIX; photo by Rose Eichenbaum
Wednesday July 27th, 2016 - First off, I must heap praise on the dancers of L.A. Dance Project: throughout this long, uneven program at The Joyce, their energy, commitment, sexiness, and spirit kept us engaged, even when the choreography lapsed. Some of these dancers are familiar to me: Stephanie Amurao (she danced briefly with TAKE Dance), Morgan Lugo (he danced in Luca Veggetti's BACCHAE for Morphoses in 2011); and Aaron Carr (formerly of Keigwin & Co); then there's Anthony Bryant, a lovely guy I've known via Facebook and who I have now met as both a dancer and friend.
The Joyce was packed - so nice to run into Denise Vale of the Martha Graham Dance Company! - as works by Sidi Labri Cherkaoui, Martha Graham, Justin Peck, and The Project's director Benjamin Millepied were offered up.
Mr. Cherkaoui - whose ORBO NOVO for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in 2009, and SUTRA, seen at the White Lights Festival in 2010, linger in the memory - gives us HARBOR ME, a darkish piece set to music by Park Woojae. This work may be danced by three men or three women: tonight, it was the female trio: Stephanie Amurao, Julia Eichten, and Lilja Rúriksdóttir. The music features poignant cello passages; each of the three women has a solo, then trios develop in which they form languid structures. The music pulses up, with a mid-Eastern feel. The women dance a trio in a pool of light, conversing in gestures. The ballet starts to feel overly drawn-out: the alternation of solos and trios becomes repetitive, and there's a bit too much floorwork. In the end, it's the compelling dancing that saves it.
After the first interval, MARTHA GRAHAM DUETS proved a welcome change of pace. The three pas de deux were culled from a 1957 Graham documentary, A Dancer's World, and are performed to piano music by Cameron McCosh from the film's soundtrack. White Duet is now familiar to Graham devotees in its incarnation as part of Diversion of Angels; Star Duet and Moon Duet have not been seen since the 1960s.
Developing the Graham style takes years for a dancer, and so one could not expect tonight's sextet of dancers to look like the members of the current Graham company - people who are deeply invested in the Graham technique. Instead, a beautiful fusion has been achieved, and it's simply wonderful to be seeing these duets performed with such lustre: Rachelle Rafailedes and Nathan Makolandra looked divine in the stylized White Duet, here danced in Janie Taylor's sleek costumes, recalling the Balanchine black-and-whites.
The delights of Star Duet were served up by Stephanie Amurao and Anthony Bryant. There are kick-lifts and arabesque balances, and then things get playful: Stephanie stands on Anthony's thighs as he revolves in a gentle plié. In Moon Duet, Morgan Lugo looks like a young god. He and Julia Eichten gorgeously conveyed a sense of wonderment and quiet ecstasy as their duet unfolds.
Justin Peck's HELIX was far and away the most impressive of the program's three new works. In her costume designs for this ballet, Janie Taylor puts the dancers in grey but playfully adds powder-blue socks. Esa-Pekka Salonen's score is eminently dance-worthy and Justin's choreography evolves naturally from the music. But for the lack of toe shoes, this piece is brilliantly balletic...with a contemporary twinge.
At curtain-rise, three couples stand back-to-back. Then movement bursts forth: tricky footwork and complex partnering mark the three duets that Justin has created, and the dancers dive right in, vibrant and assured. When the music gets big, the dancers go still and then strike poses. A series of exuberant solos follows. Urgent comings and goings engage the eye, and then: everyone collapses. The crowd went wild, showering the dancers with applause. Kudos to all: Laura Bachman, Anthony Bryant, Nathan Makolandra, Robbie Moore, Rachelle Rafailedes, and Lilja Rúriksdóttir.
Following a second intermission, Benjamin Millepied's ON THE OTHER SIDE brought the full Company on in a colour-filled dancework set to piano music by Philip Glass. The ballet was premiered about a month ago at Sadler's Wells, and perhaps it was scheduled for its Joyce performances without sufficient thought as to how it would fit in the program. Basically, it's fatally over-extended.
ON THE OTHER SIDE starts more than promisingly - and it's danced superbly from start to finish - but it simply goes on and on. Each segment, and the music that supports it, is more than pleasing to watch and hear, but after a while one could sense the audience's impatience and desire for an ending. The dancers labored valiantly and never for a moment let the choreographer down; eventually my companion and I were feeling numb.
When the curtain finally fell, the dancers were warmly applauded but the rabble-rousing ovation they so deserved was dampened by the fatigue that had set in watching this last ballet. With judicious cutting, ON THE OTHER SIDE could still be a viable work; as it stands now, it's as exhausting to watch as some of Twyla Tharp's over-extended creations.