My Former Life as a Dancer and Why LA Dance Project is the Best Thing to Come to LA
For much of my young life, I was devoted to my first love: Dance. After fifteen years of classical ballet training, I auditioned and was accepted into a conservatory-style university BFA program. It was there that I lived and breathed dance, clad in a daily uniform of faded leotards, tights, cut-offs and ratty leg warmers. I spent hours perfecting technique, studying composition, critiquing performances, analyzing rhythm and scores, developing my choreographic voice.
Like any college student, I had grand visions of where life beyond university would take me. Youth provides a great sense of possibility, adventure, an excitement of the unknown. After graduation, I spent two months studying and performing with a troupe in Italy.
youth provides a great sense of possibility, adventure, an excitement of the unknown
I attended the American Dance Festival at Duke University, (founded by Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey,and Charles Weidman), under the direction of some of the country’s top choreographers. I spent a summer in Manhattan to attend intensives at both the Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham schools. As far as an aspiring professional dancer is concerned, I was on the right path. The trouble was the path that led me home ended in California. Not New York.
Dance is alive and well in NYC. Manhattanites seem to be well-versed in dance. Last night after attending dress rehearsal for LA Dance Project, I met a former NY-based bartender who asked me about the dance company. I used the word “contemporary” to describe the choreography. He said, “Is that different than modern?” I explained that contemporary dance is work being composed currently, and he immediately interrupted to confidently confirm, “So modern would be Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.” “Exactly.” I was impressed. I don’t know many Angelenos who might know the difference off-hand.
I love New York. I really do. I wanted to want to live in New York. There are so many wonderfully unique things about Manhattan, but in my heart,
It’s always troubled me that Los Angeles doesn’t have a proper dance company. I’ve always waited for the companies to come to town.
Los Angeles is home. I’ve lived in Southern California almost my entire life, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. The kind of dance that matters to me, the kind of dance I find to be rewarding and inspiring does not have a strong foothold in Los Angeles, but Los Angeles has a strong hold on me. Plus, my mother, who was battling cancer at the time, was in still in the LA area, and my boyfriend (now husband) was also in Los Angeles. I couldn’t find it in myself to make the move to the East Coast, even to chase my dance dream. Still, I chose LA over dance, and with that decision came the infinite deferral of a potential dance career.
It’s always troubled me that Los Angeles doesn’t have a proper dance company, not even a strong ballet presence to speak of. I’ve always waited for the companies to come to town. A vast imbalance lies between the coasts: New York alone has NYCB, ABT, Cunningham, Graham, Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey, Pina Bausch, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp. And those are just the heavy-hitters with large endowments–the list is long and goes on and on. Wikipedia shows one Los Angeles-based troupe on the List of Dance Companies page. That’s just plain sad. Enter LA Dance Project.
LA’s newest dance company, gaining much attention from Angelenos is LA Dance Project. Commissioned by dance philanthropist Glorya Kaufman, and founded by French choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, (most famous for his choreography and role in the film Black Swan, starring his now wife, Natalie Portman), LA Dance Project made it’s much-anticipated premiere at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in September 2012, with an inaugural performance of Merce Cunningham’s Winterbranch. The company has given performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, as well as in several countries across Europe. This past Janurary, LA Dance Project announced it would take up residency in the recently renovated and reopened Theater at the Ace Hotel. I couldn’t be more excited.
I am that girl who attends opening night of the ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a full-length gown. I believe in demonstrating my appreciation for the great art by treating ballet performances as the grand events that I believe them to be. It may sound pretentious, but let me go on to say that I know that I am in the minority. More often than not I see theater-goers donning blue jeans, and while that might make me cringe slightly, I immediately forgive them. What matters is that they’re supporting the arts by purchasing tickets and attending performances. Who cares what they’re wearing.
So, LA Dance Project is setting up shop in the kitschy Ace Hotel, reviving the 1927-built Spanish gothic theater that was formerly a United Artists movie house. The Ace Hotel notoriously draws a young, hipster party kind of crowd that will surely take note of the brightly-lit marquee hanging above the hotel entrance. It’s the perfect venue for the company. The historic theater doesn’t hold the kind of grandeur that the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion does, and that’s the point. It has a personality all its own. It’s not stuffy or pretentious, giving off an air of elite exclusivity as the Dorothy Chandler may seem to do. This unique venue makes dance more accessible to the people. There’s something truly beautiful of the juxtoposition of old and new. The choreography is innovative and current. Millepied and his company are breathing new life into the old theater. They’re reviving what’s been forgotten in Los Angeles, and are a vital part of the arts revolution that seems to be imminent downtown.
I had the great pleasure of attending dress rehearsal this week as LA Dance Project prepared to christen their new stage this weekend. If you’re in LA, you’ll want to see this show. Trust me. You won’t be disappointed. The highly skilled dancers move with grace and ferocity, the choreography is evocative and thoughtful. Dancer Julia Eichten is captivating, moving with precise intention and palpable emotion. (Read my interview with Julia here .)
The star of the program was Hiroaki Umeda’s Peripheral Stream. Scored and choreographed by Umeda, the piece is a smattering of high-frequency static-like audio coupled with white-noise-like snow and graphic striations video projection splashed across the the stage, casting an unsettling glow on the silhouetted dancers whose movements are both frenetic and frantic. It’s unlike any work I’ve seen and it alone is well worth the price of admission. The full piece will premiere in Paris next month at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Now if only airfare to Paris were on sale.
LA Dance Project will give three performances at the Theatre at Ace Hotel from February 20th-22nd. The program includes U.S. premieres of Reflections (choreographed by Benjamin Millepied with music by David Lang and visual concepts by Barbara Kruger); Murder Ballads (by Justin Peck with music by Bryce Dessner of The National and visual concepts by Sterling Ruby), and an exclusive sneak-peek of Peripheral Stream by Hiroaki Umeda in preparation for its upcoming premiere in Paris in March 2014.