Benjamin Millepied kicks off the evening with a homage to the late choreographer, Martha Graham. His company, L.A. Dance Project present three similar duets from the documentary, A Dancer’s world: Martha Graham; and urge the audience to pay attention and be aware of detail. The dance is linear, and the faces are neutral – looking even emotionless at times while bringing the focus to the shape of the body – typical of 60’s modern dance. But the game is about to change. In bare feet and, easygoing pastel costumes, two dancers accent the hight notes from Cameron McCosh’s musical composition with sharp wrist twists – prolonging the line of the arms until the next unexpected lift. The excitement is yet to arise, as we set off on a twilight of surprises in this quadruple bill: this repertoire is versatile, assertive and technically demanding.
Closer, by Benjamin Millepied, shines a light on the arresting performance of Janie Taylor – in this duet, she twirls and jumps into the arms of David Adrian Freeland Jr to land in an arabesque to freedom. It’s packed with emotion, and my eyes follow Taylor’s hands repetitively hugging Jr in a quest for more. Millepied repeats the same motif through this enchanting duet to the absorbing and sad Mad Rush for piano by Philip Glass. It has the excitement of a child dancing and continuously returning to the arms of an older brother. It feels fresh – it looks poignant and demonstrates performance and expression taking over dance technique.
Murder Ballades, by Justin Peck, follows up. Contrasting the previous piece with a light-hearted start, dancers walk on stage to tight their shoes and ready themselves for a dynamic group performance. There is no clear narrative in the evening, but we are here to marvel on the intricate dance pieces that raise ballet vocabulary to 21st-century performance. The body expression is sufficient. The twisted design of the ensemble choreography brings out the best of the night, set against a dark blue, black and red canvas overshadowing Murder Ballades. The backdrop transfers light into the stage, and the ballet vocabulary discovers a new identity. Peck joins this with a folk feeling in the dance: lightening up the atmosphere with cheeky smiles and happy dance phrasing.
Hearts & Arrows closes the evening revealing an extraordinary space and dance composition. Visuals by conceptual artist, Liam Gillick gradually transform the stage into an endless tunnel-warehouse-theatre. But, the choreography for eight dancers reflects light on costumes while the performers busy themselves with an electrifying dance. Sharp passé’s link to triple turns finishing in arabesque. In the nearly dangerous chaos of movement, the ensemble falls to the ground leaving a soloist standing up. The energy bounces back and forward from a dancer to the group, and this privileged position of attack is shared later by other soloists repeating the wave of power and demolishing the team down. Only to recover as the black curtain-wall rises to reveal further depth in the space. Narrow stage drapes rise above the floor to announce a naked theatre and eight dancers chassé turn in two parallel lines, to merge in the centre as a long human centipede. Swinging sharp arms overhead, they split into individual solos, widening the distance between themselves nearing the edge of the stage – lights beam further into what seems infinity.
Benjamin Millepied sets the stage from the outset with dance chronicles of Martha Graham. At this point, everyone is ready for an evening of incredible dancing. Ballet is no longer a classical or traditional form but rather a transforming dance technique which empowers dancers and choreographers with 21st-century dance composition.