L.A. Dance Project makes its UK debut as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, with a brave but uneven programme. Company founder Benjamin Millepied’s new Moving Parts is slight; the bite comes from two major choreographers, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe.
Millepied founded L.A. Dance Project last year, as an artists’ collective. Millepied’s career has soared since he choreographed the film Black Swan (where he met his wife, the film star Natalie Portman). In 2014, he takes over as director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, one of the biggest companies in the world. L.A. Dance Project shows him working at the other extreme, with a small group of strong, individual dancers. The barn-like Playhouse is a tough setting for dance, but the company project boldly.
Millepied’s Moving Parts has music by company co-founder Nico Muhly, layering jazzy live clarinet and violin over recorded organ. The panels of Christopher Wool’s set, decorated with letters, slide in and out. The excellent Charlie Hodges dances the opening solo with vivid momentum, but the ballet’s drive fades. Millepied’s choreography is fluent but vague. There are plenty of steps, but they don’t go anywhere much, despite a sleek, muscular performance by the six dancers.
The rest of the programme is stranger and stronger. Cunningham’s Winterbranch is aggressively weird, danced in near darkness. Robert Rauschenberg’s lighting is full of night-time spotlights, like car headlamps flashing over the dancers as they wriggle across the floor, fall and rise. La Monte Young’s music is a distorted wail of drilling, to restless response from some of the audience.
Whether you find it gripping or alienating, Winterbranch has the focus that Millepied lacked. Whatever these people are doing, falling with infinite slowness or scurrying about the stage, has its own purpose: it’s ambiguous but never adrift.
Forsythe’s Quintett is an intimate image of grief, created during the terminal illness of his wife, dancer Tracy-Kai Maier. It’s danced to Gavin Bryars’ Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, built around looped recording of a homeless man singing.
Forsythe’s nervy, sinewy extensions of classical ballet have unusual tenderness here. Dancers wind around each other or turn away. A woman rests her forehead against her partner’s shoulder with a fond bump. The looped, sad, dignified voice keeps going, and they keep going too, until the curtain falls.
L.A. Dance Project tours to Sadler’s Wells on 2-4 October. Box office 0844 412 4300.