From the man who choreographed an Oscar-winning New York film, married an A-list movie star and uprooted to LA, Benjamin Millepied’s hipster ballet, Moving Parts – the first piece on this triple bill – is all that you would expect. Backed by huge square billboards covered in voguish fonts, Millepied’s team dance lavish gestures in flesh-toned and black Rodarte costumes, like the glamorous urban angels of their hometown.
There’s a fashion magazine aesthetic to it and it feels romantic with both capital and small ‘r’s. While some of the group dance doesn’t set the stage on fire, Millepied’s duets – both same sex and opposite – are lush and exciting, full of chase, asymmetrical and staggered mirroring and chemistry. As pairs emerge and subside from the ensemble to Nico Muhly’s score, it feels like snippets of an evolving, many-sided love story from a 21st century choreographer.
If there’s one thing Merce Cunningham’s Winterbranch is not, it’s predictable. There seems to be a certain mischief in the programming of this polemical piece – a big fat finger-up to anyone who came out for a nice evening at the ballet. During and after its thirty or so minutes, it draws walk-outs, boos and even prompts a woman to leap the back of the stalls and interrogate an usher, “Will there be screeching in the next one too?”
In 1964 Cunningham teamed up with composer La Monte Young and designer Robert Rauschenberg to create a piece which distracted and unsettled, challenging the boundaries of beauty. A creepy atmosphere pervades the stage even before Young’s brutal score has started up. We see flashes of dismembered hands and feet, the rest of the dancers obscured in black body-stockings. Cunningham’s moves are slow and his angles hard – at one point a dancer forms a narrowing triangle with her body that eventually folds shut as she falls sideways. Flashes of sudden speed ramp-up the unease, as do dancers scurrying on with a body held flat or dragging another with sackcloth. When a sweep of light passes upstage, we see a grimy warehouse wall with an open cavity leading further away from the light. Deliberately provoking, it is also deeply thrilling.
But it isn’t until William Forsythe’s Quintett that we see the dancers of this new ensemble – formed in 2012 – at their full power. Forsythe’s piece was created as a tribute to his terminally ill wife, and thrums with life at every turn, curve and wiggle. Gavin Bryars’s score – a recording of a homeless man singing Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet with gradual orchestration – is soulful and calm, sometimes carrying the movement, sometimes providing counterpoint for its punctuating slaps; slaps that seem to come as wake-up calls, sirens of vitality. Charlie Hodges treads a line between gawky and graceful, tempering silken frolics with awkward flourishes. Even the shades of the costumes look soft and bright enough to taste. Poignantly, the dance doesn’t stop, even as the curtain is falling.