Not many dance companies get to perform at a palace—let alone the glamorous Palace of Versailles outside Paris, the former home of Marie Antoinette and ballet enthusiast King Louis XIV. But L.A. Dance Project isn't your average dance company. They like unique spaces, unexpected collaborations and performances with a twist. Last spring, LADP danced at Versailles with a special guest: Lil Buck, who twirled around the majestic grounds in a gold coat.
The performance—an edgy mix of contemporary dance, classical ballet and street styles at a one-of-a-kind location—perfectly represents the adventurous spirit that has been attracting new and younger audiences since LADP was founded in 2012. Other examples of their out-of-the-box thinking include a site-specific work with an experimental opera company at L.A.'s Union Station, partnerships with the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. near the company's studios and vibrant, dramatic films on the fashion and culture site Nowness.
LADP in Justin Peck's Murder Ballades (Photo by Rose Eichenbaum, courtesy LADP)
From the beginning, LADP generated a lot of buzz, thanks to its ambitious vision and its big-name founding partners, including Benjamin Millepied, the former New York City Ballet principal and choreographer, and composers Nico Muhly and Nicholas Britell. But just a few months after LADP's first performance, Millepied was announced as the new artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, a position he began this fall, leading everyone to wonder: Would he stay involved? And what would become of LADP?
To answer the first question: Absolutely. His initial mission was to build a strong administrative team—including James Fayette, the company's managing director. Fayette, also a former dancer with New York City Ballet, is part of a large family of former NYCB-ers that has relocated to L.A. to be part of Millepied's vision. Other members include Fayette's wife and former NYCB principal, Jenifer Ringer, who runs the affiliated Colburn Dance Academy; and another husband-and-wife pair, Sébastien Marcovici (now LADP's ballet master) and Janie Taylor, who designs some of the company's costumes and FOR LADP, a fashion collection inspired by LADP's chic onstage outfits.
Millepied also recruited Carla Körbes, the recently retired star of Pacific Northwest Ballet, as associate artistic director. Just two weeks after her last performance in Seattle, Körbes resettled in L.A., drawn to the LADP by its entrepreneurial spirit and impressive repertory. “It's really a 21st-century company," she says. “I've never seen a company like this before."
It's an exciting time for LADP: The group now boasts nine dancers, up from the original six. And Millepied frequently invites his dancers to be part of the creative process. “Benjamin has these amazing ideas and lets us help bring them to life," says Julia Eichten, a founding LADP dancer who's had several opportunities to choreograph. “To have that acknowledgment is amazing."
LADP is also eager to focus more energy on its hometown. “We've been touring and building rep over the last three years," Eichten says. “Now it feels like we can sink our toes in the sand a bit more in L.A." Part of that effort includes crossing paths with L.A.'s commercial-dance community. Eichten and fellow dancer Nathan Makolandra come from a competition background. Eichten is friendly with the Shaping Sound guys (she and Kyle Robinson attended Juilliard together); Makolandra has taught class at Edge Performing Arts Center, and a few of his solo creations have appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance."
Given these successful projects, an expanding team of new talent and more innovative performances ahead—like a collaboration with the avant-garde dance and visual art duo Gerard and Kelly—it's now easy to answer the question, “What will become of L.A. Dance Project?" The answer: It'll thrive.
The Colburn Connection
Several years ago, Benjamin Millepied invited Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette to envision a dance program for students ages 14 to 19. The result is the new Colburn Dance Academy in downtown L.A., designed to match the high standards of the Colburn School's famous music program. Its curriculum demands strong classical technique but also offers classes by top-notch commercial choreographers, like Galen Hooks. And the school takes advantage of its connection to L.A. Dance Project.
Each Saturday over the past year, in addition to rigorous daily training with some of the top ballet teachers in the world, the 13 students of the new academy took a contemporary dance class from then–L.A. Dance Project rehearsal director Charlie Hodges. Classes were held in the LADP studios, and Colburn Dance Academy students frequently observed company rehearsals, too. “We wanted to get them out of the ballet studio mind-set," says Ringer, the former New York City Ballet principal dancer who now heads the school with her husband, fellow former NYCB dancer and LADP managing director James Fayette.
In addition to classes at LADP, students frequently get the chance to visit neighboring institutions, like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“We want dancers that are willing to throw themselves into other experiences, like going to the museum and taking music lessons," Ringer says. “Those experiences will give new layers to their dancing."