Benjamin Millepied has been dubbed as “the biggest dancer to cross over into pop culture since Mikhail Baryshnikov” by the New York Times. Some have even coined him “the David Beckham of dance.” These are big shoes to fill, most certainly in relation to Baryshnikov. With his recently formed collective of artists and dancers based out of Los Angeles, Millepied strives to live up to these esteemed titles with a piece of his own along with two others from American-born/German-based William Forsythe and “outstanding emerging choreographer” Justin Peck in L.A. Dance Project’s Mixed Bill, now finishing its international tour at Sadler’s Wells.
Beginning with Peck’s sporty, American Apparel-esque piece Murder Ballads, the group of American dancers strut their way across stage wearing shorts, trainers and bright coloured T-shirts. Their movements are playful and bouncy, often working together in fun, shooby-do partner sequences. The music also assists the all-American theme, surmounting to heightened chords that play like a popular TV theme song. Ending with the death of one performer makes for a surprisingly fresh twist in an otherwise bubble-gum dance set.
Millepied’s Reflections is up next, changing direction entirely, with intimately staged duets where the dancers lightly push and pull each other to haunting piano compositions courtesy of prolific composer David Lang and award-winning British pianist Andrew Zolinsky. If it weren’t for the bright, bold backdrops with the words ‘Stay’ and ‘Go’, one might think this was a re-versioning of Millepied’s choreography in the film Black Swan. Performers Julia Echtein and Morgan Lugo share a similar chemistry as Natalie Portman (now wife to Millepied) and Vincent Cassel did, folding and bending their bodies as if they were one. It’s a shame, however, the remaining performances in the set feel void of this magic, as if they were forgotten and left to direct themselves.
Finishing the show is Forsyth’s Quintet utilising Gavin Bryars’ melancholic song The Sinking of the Titanic that bellows out the lyrics "Jesus' blood never failed me yet/ There's one thing I know, for he loves me so” referring to the last hours on board the sinking ship. Both the dance and song begin slow, with a repetition of the vocals whispered out via a scratchy record player - eventually building to an entire orchestra of sounds and combustive movement representing loss, leaving and memories. While the repetition of the track may cancel out its emotional tug on the heartstrings after a while, Forsyth’s piece ultimately excels in its eclectic format.
These highly touted choreographers raise high hopes for greatness, and for many, judging by the partial standing ovation at the show’s conclusion, it succeeds. Yet for others, something along the way falls short, as if the three collaborators never had the chance to actually collaborate, or the final rehearsals where the nuts and bolts are tightened were skipped – a tad too free-form for its own good. Millepied’s efforts to increase dance in a very celluloid-focused town is encouraging and should be applauded. But judging by this mixed bag, he will have to continue to work hard to make a name for the troupe of seven dancers both in Los Angeles and abroad.
LA Dance Project - Mixed Bill is running through tonight, Friday 4 October. Show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are between £12 - £38 (group discounts are available). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.