News > Spoleto 2016 Review: L.A.Dance Project

by Elizabeth Bulwinkle

They had me at the clothes. It was clear from the moment the curtains opened to six shiny, happy people in outfits that I’d describe as mid-century hipster, dancing in shorts and sneakers, that this was not you’re typical dance performance.


The L.A. Dance Project is an artist collective which began in Los Angeles by well-known dancer and choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, known most famously for starring and choreographing the film, Black Swan. The project was only expected to last two years, but five years later, this diverse collection of works continues to grow and the group has toured from its home base in Los Angeles, to Paris, Istanbul, Edinburg, and many cities in between – thankfully including our own for Spoleto Festival USA.

The first piece, Murder Ballades, by highly sought after choreographer Justin Peck, was an exciting juxtaposition of colorful optimism contrasted with dark undertones.

The stage is set with three men and three women, often paired together in duets, dressed in bright, casual clothing with bouncing ponytails and an unspoken innocence. The backdrop caught my eye from the beginning, carrying subtle modern art era themes, with Pollock-esque splatters and sprays.

The choreography was fast paced and featured frequent jumps, spins, and chops. At times, they danced with sharp, staccato movements, flipping from front to back like a deck of cards. Duets were loving and more fluid, then suddenly turning aggressive, sparring with one another, as if they were painting a picture of the couples’ tumultuous relationship.

As the show progressed, what seemed innocent at first became sinister. As the lights cast dark shadows and red tones over the scene, the backdrop’s sprays and splatters now hinted at a disturbing murder scene. The music became more ominous, the movements choppier, and the overall tone seemed reminiscent of the opening sequence of an Alfred Hitchcock film.

As we moved into the second section of the show, if we thought we had their dance style figured out, we quickly learned that was not so. Harbor Me, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, was so highly contrasted to the first, it highlighted the dynamic nature of the L.A. Dance Project and the results of being a collaborative movement.

The piece opens slowly with light rays piercing through a dark scene. Long, low tones like a fog horn sound, and a single dancer is heaped on the floor. He begins flowing across the stage as if he were being pushed and pulled by a wave.

Korean composer Park Woojae brought an eastern vibe with the slow notes of a geomungo (a six-stringed Korean zither instrument). The clothes were primitive and tattered, like a shipwrecked islander, and the movements were slower, dripping and dancing like a flickering fire.

Three dancers often moved as one, seemingly attached at the head or hands. At times they seemed to defy gravity as they pushed and pulled across the stage, beautifully tumbling together, sometimes upside down and sideways, but almost always connected.

The last song had them holding an invisible box, sliding and rotating it together like a Rubix cube. As the music trickled down to the final note, the last dancer plunged into a watery backdrop.


la-dance-project_23503285753_o copyThe final piece, Hearts and Arrows was by Millepied himself. Eight dancers in black and white check danced across a solid black backdrop.

Dancers lined up shooting imaginary arrows across the stage. The choreography was fast paced and unexpected, with dancers often running backwards across stage, catapulting into each others arms, and at times featuring one running against the flow of the others. The music slowed and dancing became more fluid as the backdrop transitioning from black to white.

In the last dramatic scene, all eight dancers were spread across the stage, each in a different stage of falling, like a stop-motion sequence.

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Posted on June 5, 2016 by liz.

Categories: Performing Arts, Review

Tags: Benjamin Millepied, Harbor Me, Hearts And Arrows, Justin Peck, Murder Ballades, Park Woojae, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

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