Last Wednesday, the Kahilu Theatre was graced with an evening of dance by world-class performers under the artistic direction of the extremely accomplished Benjamin Millepied. A former professional dancer with the New York City Ballet, Millepied has extensive experience in the professional dance world, mileage that is reflected in the intentionality of his choreography. As a company, the L.A. dance project encompassed all the expectations one would have of a contemporary dance company; graceful, strong, purposeful, connected, powerful, and relevant, as well as humble.
After each piece the dancers formed a straight line, gently bowed their heads in unison, stepped forward, and again, as a unit, let their torso’s fall, then quietly stepped back and let their heads fall again. After such exquisite detailed movement, this simple bow struck me as particularly beautiful – an acknowledgment, or even honoring, of both the audience, and the art of dance and storytelling. In the master class taught by rehearsal director and dancer Rachelle Rafailedes this same grace and humility was present. In the master class Rachelle explained the importance of music in their work, and how Millepied creates movement out of each note. This intricate call and response between music and dancer was exquisitely executed in the third piece of the evening, entitled ‘Bach Studies’, which spanned the entire second act. Featuring all the dancers of the company, this piece explored the ‘depth and complexity of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music’ through a network of phrases that wove in and out of one another as if spinning a web – within which the audience was caught. The movement was layered, difficult, and intricate, yet the dancers executed the piece effortlessly, and as an audience member I felt the 4thwall collapse as we became a part of the web. The dancers were not only ‘technically sophisticated’, as the program description relays, but also ‘emotionally compelling’. That is to say that while their depth of dance training is clear, the performers were also connected to the story, as if each movement was an entire scene passing through their eyes and expressions.
The synergy of costumes, lighting, music, and choreography in the last piece left theatre patrons buzzing as they left the building, however the first two pieces were also lovely. The first piece, ‘Martha Graham Duets’ were taken directly from Martha Graham’s choreography, celebrating one of the 20thcenturies most influential choreographers, and were beautiful in the way only classical ballet can achieve. The second piece, ‘Second Quartet’, choreographed by Noe Soulier, was a contemporary piece that explored the motivation behind movement, and the capacity of physical movement. This piece was almost like a play between the dancers, a pushing of limits, and the boundaries of space and function. I appreciate when a dance piece is very clearly choreographed with the objective of giving the spectator and opportunity to see through their perspective – when there is no wrong answer about how to interpret what’s being said. This piece achieved that, not only technically, but also through the openness of the dancers themselves. It was the type of piece that leaves you sitting for a solid few minutes at intermission, simply digesting, long after the house lights have lifted.
The entire performance, in fact, was the type that leaves you reflecting. Here I am, a few days later, still contemplating the evening, making discoveries. Benjamin Millipied’s choreography certainly stood out, however his overall artistic direction was beautiful as well, gifting the audience and evening that incorporated all the elements of a wonderful dance performance, and more. The dancers were flawless, the lighting was superb, the music pulled at the heartstrings, and as a company, the L.A. Dance Project exuded an air of kindness, humility, and grace – a genuine recipe for inspiration.
Noelani Isabella Anderson is from the Hamakua Coast, studied Theatre at Chapman University, and teaches Musical Theatre and Acting Technique for Prince Dance Institute, North Hawaii’s performing Arts School, where she is also Managing Director.
Photos: Steve Roby
For more info on the L.A. Dance Project, Please visit their site: http://ladanceproject.org