A collaborative approach is at the heart of choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s creative process. Widely known for choreographing and starring in Darren Aronofsky’s film Black Swan, the former New York City Ballet principal dancer founded L.A. Dance Project in 2012. Since then, he has collaborated with art-makers from a variety of fields, including renowned visual artists Barbara Kruger and Christopher Wool, as well as composers David Lang and Philip Glass. For Chris Lorway, executive director of Stanford Live and Bing Concert Hall, “[Millepied’s] approach to collaborative creation harkens back to the days of the Ballets Russes” and fosters the innovative spirit at play in the three works that the company will perform on campus Jan. 26 and 27 (tickets $15 to $80, live.stanford.edu).
The Stanford program includes “Second Quartet,” a new commission by French choreographer Noé Soulier. Drawing from the dancers’ input, Soulier’s creative process included improvisational tasks based on the simple actions of throwing, avoiding and hitting. Millepied’s “Hearts and Arrows,” also on the program, is part of the trilogy Gems and constitutes both a nod and a parting from George Balanchine’s classic triptych ballet, Jewels. According to dancer Nathan Makolandra, the piece delineates “many geometric structures with dancers weaving and reconfiguring, all at a rather thrilling pace.”
“Murder Ballades” by soloist and resident choreographer of New York City Ballet Justin Peck, is inspired by American folk murder ballads from the 1930s and 1940s. Vivacious group sequences alternating with exuberant solos and duets unfold in the foreground of a beautifully haunting piece by visual artist Sterling Ruby. With its fiery reds and brush marks reminiscent of traces of movements captured digitally, Ruby’s artwork functions as an ominous presence. “Although the piece may not be as outwardly morbid as the title may suggest, there is definitely a sense through both choreography and music that something unsettling is boiling just below the surface,” dancer Rachelle Rafailedes notes.
None of the company’s current dancers are from California, and most have trained in New York, but for Rafailedes, dancing in Los Angeles participates in giving the work its groundbreaking air: “In other cities that have established histories in dance, things can start to feel predictable. In Los Angeles, there is a feeling of spontaneity and risk-taking that is refreshing. I think that vibrant energy finds itself into the work.” With current online dance broadcasts and projects on the way, Millepied also draws from Los Angeles’ long-standing resources to continue pushing dance into new territories.
Originally published in the January/February issue of Silicon Valley