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Summary: Millepied and Muhly, partners in space and sound

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The choreographer Benjamin Millepied is a protean figure. Founder of the LA Dance Project, he was principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, director of the Paris Opera Ballet, filmmaker and catalyst for adventurous collaborations with figures from the world of fashion, cinema, music and dance.

Recently moved from Los Angeles to Paris, Millepied has – thank goodness – not remained inactive. With Solenne du Haÿs Mascré, he launched the Paris Dance Project, not a company, but a federator of choreographic and educational initiatives; he continues to direct the LA Dance Project; and he didn’t stop choreographing.

His new work, “Me. You. We. They” — in which he made a surprise appearance as a dancer — is the seventh he has created with composer Nico Muhly, and is the final piece of the program “Benjamin Millepied & Nico Muhly,” performed by LA Dance Project, which opened Friday at the Philharmonie de Paris.

Millepied’s first theatrical proposal since his return to France, the program is a judicious choice for the Philharmonie. The concert hall, designed by Jean Nouvel, opened in 2015 in a traditionally working-class neighborhood, amid heated debate over its location — Would classical music fans go to the outskirts of Paris? Would a new audience come? – as well as cost overruns and Nouvel’s very public dissatisfaction with the completed building.

But the Philharmonic is generally considered a success, in part because it attempted to appeal to a diverse audience with an offering beyond the sphere of classical music. The Muhly-Millepied program lends itself perfectly to this: Muhly writes serious, accessible and young contemporary music, and it doesn’t hurt that Millepied is a big name in his native France. (The large hall, with 2,400 seats, was almost sold out for the four-show series, which ended Sunday.)

The acoustics of the room are fabulous for Muhly’s scores, performed with emotion by the Le Balcon ensemble and sensitively conducted by Maxime Pascal. The surprise is how well the space works for dancing despite the lack of a proscenium from which to hang lights or wings into which dancers can disappear.

At least it works for this kind of minimally accessorized dance, an aspect that Millepied emphasized by keeping the performers in the same eclectically relaxed costumes (by Camille Assaf) across the three pieces on the program: “Triade” (2008), “ Moving Parts” (2012) and the new work. The costume lends unity to the evening, but also similarity, especially since both “Triad” and “Moving Parts” have a playfulness and brief meet-and-greet interactions.

“Triade,” produced for the Paris Opera Ballet, was commissioned as a tribute to Jérôme Robbins, a strong influence in Millepied’s ballet career. It’s full of deliberate references: the four dancers (Naomi Van Brunt, Lorrin Brubaker, Daphne Fernberger and David Adrian Freeland Jr.) enter casually, like the marching crowd in “Glass Pieces,” brush past each other playfully and teasing. from “Interplay” or “Fancy Free”, and separate after swapping partners, as in “In the Night”.

But the work has its own inner world, although the dramatic intensity I remember at the Opera has modulated into a more neutral suggestion of stories and possibilities as the dancers jump, turn and skid on the floor, feinting around each other, testing each other’s abilities. boundaries.

“Moving Parts,” performed by six dancers in front of and between moving panels with bold calligraphic flourishes by artist Christopher Wool, features some choreographic and compositional highlights (notably Muhly’s use of the organ, played here by Alexis Grizard). But it falls between the remarkable opening solo of high-speed turns and sudden slowdowns for the quicksilver Shou Kinouchi, and a tender male duet near the end.

Millepied feels like a freer, more exploratory choreographer in “Me. You. ,” which features 10 dancers and a 15-person musical ensemble performing Muhly’s new “One Speed, Many Shapes,” an array of pulsing soundscapes.

The choreographic DNA remains coherent. There’s lots of high, diving, circling legs as the dancers spin around each other, as well as loose, throwing limbs, nimble footwork, and complex reflexive interactions between fast-moving bodies. (Millepied’s movement is much more difficult than these wonderful dancers make it out to be.) Fast movement often clashes with slow music, and vice versa.

But in the new piece, essentially a series of solos, duets and trios, the often gestural and fresh quality of the dance seems more personal to the dancers than the vocabulary of the first two works, and less filled with movement. Here, bodies wrap around each other with magnetic attraction in an opening duet; a man and a woman slowly reach space; a virtuoso male trio sculpts shapes in the air.

Millepied’s duet with Eva Galmel, set to low chimes and flute, is charming, all rapid reactive alertness, limbs flailing between tight arrows, testing balance and momentum, embracing and pushing back .

The personal, idiosyncratic quality of movement does not always work; a brief ensemble section halfway through just seems incoherent. But I. You.” is especially compelling both musically and choreographically, with a wonderful final sequence in which individual dancers take turns remaining still while the others move with radical intensity to propulsive music. The final moment echoes the beginning of the piece: a lone dancer faces the audience, while the others face the musicians – an appropriate image for sound and spatial partners.

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