Fall for Dance Festival
With any luck, about a year from now there will be another New York City Center Fall for Dance Festival, so here's a heads up: Go every night. See it all. You'll probably discover a company or two you didn't know about before, and find correspondences, whether vital or novel, among the various entries you already knew. You will be invigorated by the festival crowd, who come early and hang around late in the disco bar set up in the adjacent pass-through from 55th to 56th Streets. If you've spend years of nights in dance audiences, you'll run into practically everyone you know and haven't seen in ages at the intermission. You'll catch up. If you're a naysayer, you'll find fellow naysayers, and have your own kind of fun. (If you're lucky, you'll find yourself seated next to an enthusiastic Barnard student, or a shrewd novice writer, or a perceptive Bucknell graduate studying arts marketing, and gain some new perspective.) Over six nights, your life will pass before your eyes on stage and in the lobby, and you will know that people love to see dance.
Some of it will drive you nuts, because, as the festival producer, City Center President and CEO Arlene Shuler writes in her program welcome, the "programs have been created so there will be something for everyone—dance aficionados and first-time dance goers alike." Obviously, no one person is everyone, and some of the thirty works won't be your thing. ( I, for example, have no interest whatsoever in dance as social anthropology, though formal excellence of any kind appeals to me, and thus I adored Parul Shah and Dancers, whose work is based on Kathak dance.) Actually, despite the credo, it felt more as if there were something from everyone, and from everywhere, than something for everyone on these programs. (And anyway, I would demur from the notion that neophytes must be appealed to with what's obvious.) There also was a boiler-plate-ish-ness to the evenings which was altogether understandable, but did suggest a truly dedicated political correctness as a driving force in the programming.
Still, over time various overarching dance themes suggested themselves, and various engaging through lines. For instance, on the first night of the festival, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company danced "How To Pass, Fall, Kick and Run," in which Gus Solomons happened to originate a role in 1965. On the last night, Solomons was on stage appearing with Paradigm, the group he now directs. Still the same, lanky, long limbed, improbable figure; and forty years later, still dancing.
Over several nights, you could see the Martha Graham Dance Company, and see the companies of Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor, both of whom danced with Graham and thence rebelled, to form their own companies. Talk about connections! Further, Taylor danced for Cunningham, and exists in interesting fraternal opposition to him, as Cain to Abel.
Or, you could see Balanchine's "Agon," danced by the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Then you could see the New York City Ballet principal Peter Boal dance an excerpt from "Episodes" made by Balanchine for Paul Taylor, on an evening's collaboration with Graham. (Taylor was with Graham at the time; Balanchine was to subsequently invite him to join New York City Ballet, an invitation he declined.) Then, you could see the Paul Taylor Dance Company dance "Promethean Fire." Again, a through line.
Or, you could focus on form—for instance, several dances involving trapezes, harnesses, and the like. Susan Marshall's was a male-female duet, centered on embracing. Elizabeth Streb's group piece was about female-male equality and strength: all in the troupe are equal, and do the same moves. Sara East Johnson duet for two women on one trapeze deployed the inner thighs as gripping devices, and had the women popping up and down in almost gynecological perspective, albeit clothed. Bill T. Jones presented nudity as a kind of costume, with his own fantastically carved physique making him the best dressed man on stage. Later, clothes seemed like artifice.
After Elizabeth Streb presented dancers on trampolines, the Merce Cunningham dancers seemed gripped by the gravity of the unsprung floor. Trisha Brown and Garth Fagan each choreographed to jazz, one in cool remove, one in hot pursuit. Eiko and Koma and Yin Mei presented dreamscapes.
There was some rather faux ethnicity, and there was the real deal. On two different nights, two different dancers in different African dance companies lost their tribal skirts—one of grass, one of peacock feathers. PEARSONWIDRIG DANCETHEATER employed real oranges in a mock-Italian entertainment that had moments of rapture. The Sufi tribal dancers from the troupe called Sidi Goma, who are African-Indians from Gujarat, broke coconuts open by bouncing them off their heads.
American Ballet Theatre sent over Paloma Herrera and Jose Manuel Correño, who, being one of the hottest men in town and then some, disabused anyone of the notion that ballet was for wussies. Even hotter, there being a lot of them, were the testosterone-fueled breakers of Rennie Harris PUREMOVEMENT. (Too bad they weren't in the Bill T. Jones!)
RUBBERBANDDANCE surprisingly and effectively merged ballet and break dance. Still, it was the Boston Ballet that was the revelation. Under the direction of Mikko Nissinen, they have morphed into a company post-modern and modern and classical all at once, as evidenced by the six dancers in the excellent chamber work "Plan to B," choreographed by Jorma Elo. In formal yet sleek grey velvet, on a set composed of a light box like the ones on which doctors read x-rays, to music by Heinrich Ignaz Franx von Biber, the Boston Ballet was cool, elegant, understated, clean, and clear, clear, clear. Elo has seen—or so it would seem— everything, but he has made something.
"The Boston Ballet," I said to Arlene Shuler at intermission. "Who knew?" "I did," she said triumphantly. And so she did.