Fall for Dance at New York City Center

New York City Center hosts a series called ‘Fall for Dance’, punning on autumnal performance dates and its intent to lure new audiences into a love affair with dance. Of course all the die-hard dance fans in the city also flock to this series which features a wide assortment of companies.

There are certain challenges to programming a dance festival of so many different styles. It would seem sensible to provide a variety over the course of an evening’s offerings, but does one do a disservice to groups like Madhavi Mudgal’s troupe of classical Indian dancers by putting them next to Miami City Ballet doing Twyla Tharp’s Golden Section? It seems akin to offering a child a choice between a nature walk or going to Disney World. Both have value, but smaller joys can seem unfairly overshadowed by big, shiny ones. On the other hand, if you set Mudgal next to a group like Company Rafaela Carrasco, a Flamenco troupe, would there be so much parity that the evening as a whole would lack a sense of culmination? How best to programme a mixed bill will probably always be up for debate, so let’s put that aside for now and consider what was presented in this series—for this festival is one of the reasons New York is still considered a cultural center in the world.

Assessing two Balanchine-based companies is an opportunity rarely presented, and may have provided a more exacting comparison had they each been doing Balanchine works, but they were at least in synch insofar as they both presented contemporary ballets. On a Wednesday night, Miami City Ballet presented Twyla Tharp’s Golden Section and might have come off all right were they not followed on Thursday by New York City Ballet which presented Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels. Some of the Miami men had trouble pointing their feet, and I noticed only two of their women with the flair to compete with NYCB’s Maria Kowroski and Teresa Reichlen. Miami’s talent came off as regional by comparison, though in all fairness there is a discrepancy in the talent pool each city has to draw from and the choreography was a mismatch, too. Miami was tasked with a formerly exhilarating work which, while it was a cutting-edge example of hybrid contemporary dance in its time (1983), the dazzling Red Angels, done in 1994, is a fresher, more evolved example of what the genre has become. Dove’s pushing of ballet’s limits felt like a more mature effort than Tharp’s earlier work where the juxtaposing of different dance and partnering styles showed its seams. There were parts where Tharp cast aside technique and had the performers shake out a lot of crazy energy. Unfortunately, on the same evening, we had just seen Andrea Miller’s company, Gallim, perform her I can see myself in your pupil where her choreography and her performers do the same sort of thing, but so much better. Assessing New York City Ballet apart from any comparisons, this was an electric performance. Kowroski and Reichlen were joined by Adrian Danchig-Waring and the always wonderful Tyler Angle. This foursome, along with the literally electric violinist Cenovia Cummins, gave an inspiring rendition of Dove’s work, one which will certainly convince newcomers to dance that getting out to a concert is better than staying at home with a DVD.

As mentioned earlier, Mudgal and Carrasco both gave presentations which, though respectable, felt subdued by the other works on the programme. The Merce Cunningham company performed XOVER. Robert Rauschenberg’s backdrop was an interesting diversion when the dance failed to engage, though for the most part I found the performers’ technical clarity extremely enjoyable to watch. Alas, I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate the music John Cage devised to accompany the piece. I found the vocals irritating though I’m sure they were rendered with skill and exactitude.

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company presented Jones’s Duet which—in spite of able performances by Shayla-Vie Jenkins and LaMichael Leonard, Jr.—still looked like every other mediocre modern dance you’ve ever seen. I saw little originality in his material. The steps for the opening solo by Jenkins became unbearably repetitious until, finally, Leonard Jr. was brought on whereupon they continued to repeat a lot of the same steps but at least now there were two bodies to watch. The music and sound collages that accompanied the movement seemed unrelated, particularly in the closing section where snippets from two unrelated conversations were played alternately, ultimately concluding with the repeated phrase “No one could hear each other” as though there had been some development leading up to this as a logical final point. Jones may be a choreographer of some reputation but I suspect this entry will send dance newcomers back to whence they came.

The expression ‘too much of a good thing’ sums up ID:Entidades, the work assembled by Sonia Destri and her company, the members of Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Dança. This was fascinating work, it just went on for too long. As a Hip Hop aficionado, I’ve seen a lot of concert-style performances which draw upon breaking and popping styles, but many of them shoehorn the individualistic movements into a forced unison where the spontaneity of the steps is lost. Somehow, Destri and her group worked in unison and made it look natural. Each dancer brought something of himself to his role and this authenticity made for some captivating performances. There were a number of sections to the work but there was no overarching climax to the piece as a whole—but nothing that some good editing wouldn’t solve.

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