Benjamin Millepied, actor and choreographer of the 2010 film, "Black Swan," has been turning heads for over ten years. His diverse and eclectic projects range from creating and directing films, dancing with New York City Ballet, directing the Paris Opera Ballet and, first and foremost, creating the fresh, contemporary dance company, LA Dance Project for which he choreographs and collaborates.
In a much anticipated and hyped performance, LADP will be making its Miami debut on Friday, Feb. 16 at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet Opera House.
Millepied, who married "Black Swan" actress Natalie Portman in 2012, and has two children with her, started choreographing while still dancing with the NYC Ballet. Seeking alternative ways to explore dance and the creative arts, he has pushed the envelope in what a dance performance could offer, collaborating with such composers as David Lang, Nico Muhly, Thierry Escaich, Daniel Ott, and Philip Glass, using visual design by painter Christopher Wool and working with Rodarte, Barbara Kruger, and Alex Israel, a contemporary California painter and video artist. He started the LADP to realize this vision. With the Miami performance, three powerful pieces will be shown, including the world premier of Millepied’s latest creation.
In a short lunch break during a long rehearsal day, five year veteran LADP company member, Rachelle Rafailedes spoke about what makes the company unique, dancing in LA, working with Millepied, and what to look for in the upcoming Miami performance.
Rafailedes has been dancing her entire life, starting at the age of three in her local studio and culminating in dance studies at the renown Juilliard School for the Arts in New York. Graduating in 2009, she was hired by choreographer, Kyle Abraham, to be a part of his dance company.
“I loved Kyle’s work, but I’ve always been the type of dancer who wants to do everything, and that is really what drew me to LADP. We have such a wide variety of repertory. For me that was a dream opportunity.”
“I actually followed Benjamin on Facebook.” She laughed. “I knew he was looking for a woman. This sounded like a place that I really wanted to work.”
LADP does contemporary dance; movement that is current with classically trained dancers. Looking at the bios of each dancer, these are highly trained artists.
“We have current new creations and we also do revivals from really established older works from Merce Cunningham or Martha Graham. We have an Ohad Naharin piece. We’re really asked to cover the spectrum of dance styles and techniques. It’s a challenge, but something I’ve always been drawn to.”
Working with the company has had its transitions. Millepied, himself, has carried a number of roles, one of which was directing the Paris Opera Ballet for two years while the LADP was continuing its existence in Los Angeles. Even though he was in Paris the majority of the time, Rafailedes said he still made major decisions for the company and made his presence felt. Many of the same players who helped with the long distance relationship have continued their roles with the current company.
“We definitely feel a burst of new energy now that Ben is here full time. He has such great ideas and he comes in with this energy and exuberance of things he wants to happen for LADP.”
With a growing dance scene in the City of Angels, LADP has been embraced by the Hollywood-influenced city to that tends to focuses mostly on music videos and film.
“I think we, kind of, bridge the gap between very classical and very contemporary dance. We’ve had great response in terms of the people and the audiences. They seem hungry for dance. It’s also a young crowd, which is nice. It is sometimes harder to reach a younger audience for dance.”
“Bach Studies” is the new premier by Millepied that was in the process of being workshopped. Rafailedes describes the movement and the music as being very beautiful and lush. She has worked with Millepied before and while each piece is very different, feels that he does have a style that he prefers.
“Ben likes effortlessness and ease, he is always telling us to relax to move fast. Clean but easy. Don’t push too much. That seems to be a running theme throughout his work.”
Along with the Millepied premier, the single Miami program includes, resident choreographer of NYC Ballet, Justin Peck’s “Murder Ballades.” This was a piece created for LADP to dance in 2013, a very lively and energetic work with some dark undertones. It was also Peck’s first piece that was not danced in pointe shoes.
“We swapped pointe shoes for sneakers.” After seeing Peck’s work for Miami City Ballet, his work for LADP in tennis shoes will be quite a curious switch.
Also on the program is Noé Soulier's exploration for four dancers that just premiered in 2017. Rafailedes and her colleagues were given tasks of creating movement of various modalities; throwing, hitting, avoiding. Then, they each created some improv that Soulier morphed all together to create “Second Quartet.” It’s a personal work that is very specific to each dancer.
“We’ve been working closely for very long hours since this season started in September. I think what is unique about LADP is that Ben wants us to be people dancing with each other on the stage. Everyone is so different. I think it’s important for him that it’s just us dancing, enjoying the space, the movement, and the piece with each other.”
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, 1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33132. Friday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. Tickets: $35-$90; (305) 949-6722, or online at www.arshtcenter.org.