VERSAILLES, France – Past and future collided in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles on Monday, as virtuoso dancer Lil Buck riffed on Baroque dance steps in a performance celebrating the glory days of France’s Sun King.
The Los Angeles-based dancer, dressed in gold, was performing with choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s dance company L.A. Dance Project at the official inauguration of the palace’s Water Theater Grove.
“This is such an immersive place, and the energy here is just amazing,” a sweat-drenched Lil Buck said after performing under the glaring midday sun. “I really feel like we were the reincarnation of, you know, this echo from deep, deep down in history.”
Designed by André Le Nôtre in the 17th century, the Water Theater Grove was originally the setting for spectacular parties under King Louis XIV. Long dormant, the space has been revived by gardener Louis Benech and contemporary artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, who created three fountain sculptures as its centerpiece.
“It’s a historic event, because it’s the first time a contemporary work has found a permanent home in a grove in the gardens of Versailles,” said Versailles president Catherine Pégard.
Made from 1,751 Murano glass beads, the artist’s signature material, the sculptures are inspired by the abstract designs in an old book describing the ballets danced by Louis XIV. This in turn informed “O’de,” the brief ballet created by L.A. Dance Project choreographer Julia Eichten with the support of jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels.
“Baroque dance is the central theme of the project devised by Jean-Michel Othoniel with Louis Benech for this grove, and we thought it was a nice homage to extend this reference to Baroque dance with a contemporary dance creation,” said Nicolas Bos, chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels.
He noted the Place Vendôme house previously worked with Benech on its 2008 high jewelry collection Les Jardins, and has separately commissioned Millepied — who is director of dance at the Paris National Opera — to create “Gems,” a trilogy of ballets inspired by jewels.
Eichten first performed her piece with Lil Buck and seven dancers from the L.A. Dance Project on Sunday evening, in front of guests including Catherine Deneuve, Millepied and his wife, Natalie Portman, Peter Marino, Alexis Mabille, Marie-Agnès Gillot, Xavier Veilhan, Olivier Widmaier Picasso and Sophie Calle.
At Monday’s performance, Eichten said she hoped to work again with the dance prodigy. “He really has encompassed the Sun King, I think, in such a wonderful way, and it’s been an interesting exchange for both of us, because I think he’s seen how much he’s influenced by the Baroque era and didn’t even know it,” she noted.
Lil Buck, whose real name is Charles Riley, agreed there were a lot of similarities between his specialty, the style of Memphis street dance known as Jookin or Gangsta Walking, and Baroque dance steps.
“This feels so familiar for me, but at the same time it feels so brand new and fresh,” he remarked. “It’s not surprising, but it’s just amazing to know this and you know, after research, I could actually analyze the Baroque style and learn how to really create this fusion of Jookin and Baroque.”
Lil Buck will perform next at the opening gala of the Dresden Music Festival on May 14, followed by the Command Performance Gala at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on May 16. After that, he will be back on the road for Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” tour, which kicks off in Miami in August.