Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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In Living Color

April 14, 2012


From Les Sylphides choreographed by Benjamin Millepied Photo: GTG/Vincent Lepresle
It was a particularly bad weekend to be colorblind at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which welcomed Ballet du Grand Théatre de Genève for three performances under the auspices of Dance at the Music Center. General Director Tobias Richter and Ballet Director Philippe Cohen toured a program of works dear to the company’s heart – three collaborations with Benjamin Millepied, arguably one of the world’s best known living choreographers and one who’s had a strong working relationship with the Swiss company. Millepied has a long and very successful career as both a dancer and choreographer particularly during his time with the New York City Ballet, even though his marriage to Natalie Portman, and his work with her on the Darren Aronofsky film Black Swan, may be the thing that most Americans associate him with. But none of that was a concern on Friday when love, or at least the choreographed version of it, was in the air. All three works on the program featured scenic and costume design from frequent Millepied collaborator Paul Cox who repeatedly contrasted minimal geometric patterned sets with eye-scalding bright primary colors on his dancers. And all three works dealt more or less with young love of the whimsical beautiful variety at the expense of the tortured and dark kind.

Most of the evening was also a nod to staples and classics of ballet history. But first the company offered perhaps the most completely modern work on the program with Amoveo which premiered in Paris in 2009. The overriding influence here was the music of Philip Glass. Several prerecorded snippets from Einstein on the Beach were paired with a geometric and slowly modulating video backdrop to set the mood. But as late 20th century as this felt, the movement Millepied contributed to the performance was definitely half a century earlier in the New York of Jerome Robbins. A young couple meets and falls and love and then proceeds to find their place again in the larger community of their peers. All the while they fly and burst open arms spread or zip across the ground like latter day Jets and Sharks.

This not unpleasant opening was followed by two works where Millepied’s choreography provided reworkings of legendary ballet works. Le Spectre de la Rose, a short piece best known as a staple of the Ballets Russes. In it a young woman falls asleep and dreams that the spirit of the rose she was given earlier in the evening has transformed into a man that enters her bedroom window and dances with her. Millepied alters this purely romantic version of the tale into a more jocular one with the young woman, performed by Sarawanee Tanatanit, pursued by three suited and Zorro-masked Don Juans. The men arrive all pelvic thrusts and comic poses until they animate the sleeping woman with assisted movement until she awakes and continues the dance.

The genteel humor of the Rose was a harbinger of the other modern update that followed, a reworking of the Paris Opera Ballet’s 1832 Les Sylphides. Ten women, each in a different radioactively hued dressed chase and are chased by an ensemble of suited, sometimes befuddled young men. There are a number of small subtle narratives here including a sequence where a set of movements is repeated again and again with several more dances being added with each repetition in a Rube Goldberg-inspired bit of zaniness that answers the question of how many dancers it takes to screw in a light bulb. Again the feeling overall was light and romantic, which more likely made for memorable dates than it did for memorable dance or theater. And while the sampling may not have been Millepied at his best, it did offer a number of virtuoso showcases for the members of the traveling Geneva troupe. The show repeats both Saturday and Sunday in downtown L.A.


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