Dancers Focus on Movement and the Space Around

 Dessner/Peck,  Lang/Millepied, Bryars/Forsythe L. A. Dance Project, Sadler’s Wells, London, 3.10.2013 (JO’D)

Dancers: Aaron Carr, Julia Eichten, Charlie Hodges, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra, Rachelle Rafailedes, Amanda Wells

Murder Ballads
Choreography: Justin Peck
Music: Bryce Dessner,
Lighting Design: Brandon Stirling Baker
Costume Design: Justin Peck

Choreography: Benjamin Millepied in collaboration with Julia Eichten, Charlie Hodges, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra and Amanda Wells
Music: David Lang, This was written by hand/memory pieces (selections).
Piano: Andrew Zolinsky
Visual Installation and Costume Design: Barbara Kruger
Lighting Design: Roderick Murray

Choreography: William Forsythe in collaboration with Dana Caspersen, Stephen Galloway, Jacopo Godani, Thomas McManus, Jone San Martin
Music: Gavin Bryars, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
Lighting Design: William Forsythe
Costume Design: Stephen Galloway
Staging: William Forsythe, Stephen Galloway, Thomas McManus, Jone San Martin

The cover photograph to the programme for this triple bill by the L.A. Dance Project shows three of its dancers in mid-pas de poisson jump in a sports field (with the Hollywood sign visible in the background). It is an appropriate image for a company that focuses as much on the space around movement as on movement itself. The space of the empty, Sadler’s Wells stage is what the curtain goes up on for Justin Peck’s Murder Ballads. Running on to it from all directions to put on the sneakers that are waiting for them on the floor, the six dancers are also running into the bright but softly-lit space that the stage supports. It is a space on which (dressed almost for the street) they stake a bold and exuberant claim, exploring it both horizontally (through short, circular runs) and vertically (through pirouettes and tours en l’air). They give each other space, too. Every rapid movement of arm or leg is performed freely and to its full extent. Despite the title, nothing murderous happens during this piece. The recorded (wordless) music refers to the ‘American murder ballad tradition’. There is a hint, though, especially in the second duet, that the future for these bright young things might have its darker side.

Benjamin Millepied’s Reflections could even be a representation of that future. In grey costumes with touches of red, and against a backdrop of the word ‘Stay’ then the word ‘Go’ in giant, white-on-red lettering, the dancers move in a way that is now more tentative and troubled. The live music, for piano, adds to the tension. A man catches a woman who runs towards him, then immediately pushes her away. He swings her in the air, her head at his waist in a position that looks as if it must be a mistake, or improvised, until it is repeated a second time. Two men move around each other in complete silence. A woman uses her foot, twice, to prod a man from lying to standing position. Here, too, the stage is completely clear. It gives one pair of dancers the space they need to perform a duet in which they barely touch, and one of the men all that he requires to execute a series of jetés, fouttés and arabesques en tournant. For much of the time, though, the space this piece explores is not the air but the floor. As such, it is challenging to perform and intellectually demanding to watch. The applause it received was warm, but there was a pause before it came.

William Forsythe’s Quintett, the last piece to be performed, seems to act as a synthesis of the other two. The backdrop is now black, but a softly curtained blackness. The colour that was present in the street clothes of Murder Ballads returns, this time in the form of sumptuous shades of purple, green, mustard, orange and black that are assigned to each dancer. Intentionally or not, the colours and the clothes suggest an increase of maturity and experience. To a soundtrack of endlessly repeated voice and orchestra that is both soothing and annoying, the dancers, upright once more, move alone or in groups in sequences of whirling gestures that are like leitmotif or language. The space around them now recedes into an almost infinite darkness. The dancers themselves, in this work that is increasingly ‘rich and strange’, disappear into the darkness and reappear from it. That is what one of the men is repeatedly doing, to catch one of the women who repeatedly runs towards him, as the curtain falls.

John O’Dwyer