The fourth wall of the Hollywood Bowl was broken last night by Benjamin Millepied and the LA Dance Project. They took us by surprise in so many different ways. But I remember Benjamin dancing through LA’s Moca museum many years ago and thinking to myself, “this man wants to take ballet out of its box.”
And so he has.
I know Benjamin has been working on a filmed version of Carmen. Last night he took on Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet. Dudamel was at the podium and my readers know that he comes first and foremost for me almost 100% of the time but, last night, Benjamin upstaged him—literally—and the orchestra. Though the LA Phil rendition of this piece was perfection, it was impossible for us not to follow the LA Dance Project as it performed. Much of the action was only available on the video screens as it was not taking place on the stage. More on that in a minute. I marvelled at the ability of the videographer who was as much a part of the action as the dancers on stage and off to keep up with the rapid pace.
Benjamin took some pages from Jerome Robbins and West Side Story, I can’t ignore that. When the dancers appear on stage in their Shark and Jet-y costumes and let it rip, there is kind of a Dance-at-the-Gym feel. One pas de deux even begins back to back the way Maria and Tony began a famous sequence. It’s hard to compete with that singular icon of American dance history—but truthfully last night it did not matter. Benjamin’s choreography is particularly suited to this story of young love gone wrong. Soon enough, Romeo (David Freeland Jr) and Juliet (Janie Taylor) break away from the pack and suddenly we find ourselves backstage, or in the parking lot (a valet attendant had to scramble out of the way), or in the wings, or a corridor or in the audience. The choreography is big as was warranted: lots of leaps, pirouettes, twirls. The exterior pas de deuxs were often on the pavement. The dancers gave it their all. (David and Janie, how are your bodies today?)
There were also elements of constructivist-ethic Parade—the famous collaboration between Picasso, Cocteau, Satie, and Massine for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe.
Of course the film LA Story also came to mind. But honestly, this was a heck of a lot better. The Bowl is more and more Art Moderne beautiful and Benjamin let us explore that aspect of the architecture as well. The moon was full—we felt like we were part of the show.
I was marvelling at the ability of the videographer but It wasn’t until the action shifted to the audience aisles that I realized that the videographer who had been on stage and part of the action was Benjamin himself! Benjamin is self-taught and has also been exploring filmmaking for some time. Of course you needed to be insanely fit to shoot this multi-location choreography—and who better than the choreographer? And why should cameras be hidden? If anything has become part of our daily life—another limb—it is the camera.
I’m so sorry it was a one off. All that work. I hope that there is more of this both from Benjamin and Gustavo—it was an impressive collaboration.
Photo Credit: Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging