Saturday, September 29, 2012

Falling for dance again....

For many of us, it takes very little to fall for concert dance. In fact, we've been goners for some time now. For everyone else--and, in America, that's a sizable number--the kind of rah-rah action on hand at New York City Center's annual Fall for Dance festival might be just the ticket. And a relatively cheap ticket at that ($15), if they can manage to get their hands on one, even with the newly-expanded--12 nights now!--Fall for Dance evenings. Really, all you sharpies who already love dance should step aside, at least for one year, and let some newbies get in the door.

Once in the door, they will discover a tossed salad of troupes and styles--everything from ballet to hula to contemporary dance out of Indonesia--designed to open their eyes to dance's fabulous diversity, its connection to their values, and the rock-star appeal of skilled, hard-working performers from celebrated troupes. They will thrill to an environment where they're free to applaud between sections of a dance and raise the roof with lusty, arena-ready cheering when it's all over. A fun night out, maybe even an enlightening one. That can be good for business at City Center and, ideally, elsewhere.
Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle (Photo © 2011 Erin Baiano)
Jared Grimes (Photo by Ernest Gregory)

For the most part, I had a good time with Program A, which featured choreography by Jared Grimes (Transformation in Tap); Christopher Wheeldon (Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists in Five Movements, Three Repeats); Sol León and Paul Lightfoot (Nederlands Dans Theater in Shutters Shut); and Jarek Cemerek (BalletBoyz in Void).

In Grimes' voice-over, he remembered himself, newly arrived in New York, as "a mad scientist" in the lab of the tap world. His world-premiered ensemble piece, Transformation in Tap, isn't nearly as "mad" as it might be--especially since one of the most delectable parts of it, a Grimes solo to "The Lady is A Tramp," reaches way back to pay homage to world-class, charismatic Sammy Davis, Jr. But younger viewers will find in Grimes' intense, muscular style some of the clean snap and acrobatic flourish of hip hop, keeping tap in the moment and ready for whatever's ahead.

To my eye, Wheeldon gave modern dancer Fang-Yi Sheu an elegant, lyrical backdrop--New York City Ballet dancers Tyler Angle, Craig Hall and Wendy Whelan. She is, to quote a superstar of baseball, "the straw that stirs the drink" in Five Movements, Three Repeats (2012), a being of almost inhuman ability to mold and re-mold her body, shape-shifting into new forms. Whelan and Angle--faithful, if less dazzling, in a somber, increasingly ethereal pas de deux--have the good fortune to have been paired not only with each other but with composer Max Richter's affecting remix of Dinah Washington singing "This Bitter Earth." (Listen to it here). What good is love.... What good am I.... But while a voice within me cries/I'm sure someone may answer my call...." It was hard to not feel a pang, even a foreboding chill, whenever Angle lifted Whelan just high enough for her toes to clear and skim the floor, just high enough to free her of the earth for a brief respite.

Shutters Shut (2003) is a sparkling duet performed by NDT's Astrid Boons and Quentin Roger with Gertrude Stein's "If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso" as score. Clad in costumes that seem to flash a succession of now white, now black signals--a secret language--these two jutting, wind-up dolls rapidly work through Stein's ear-tickling repetitions and variations.

In Void (2011), Britain's hunky BalletBoyz kick butt and will smack down anyone who hears "Dance is..." and thinks "...for sissies." I was reminded less of West Side Story (see the Macaulay review) than Fight Club, right down to the suggestion of a secluded, urban warehouse setting where bare-chested guys get into it, but a Fight Club choreographed to be sleek, slick and picturesque, where no blow lands with impact and people fly at one another but all you get is the idea of men fighting, over and over and over and over.... Cemerek carefully crafted every detail of this idea but quickly exhausts it, even if he never exhausts those ten amazing dancers.

Fall for Dance continues through October 13. If any tickets remain, you can find out here or by calling the City Center box office at 212-581-1212 (Monday-Saturday, Noon-8pm; Sunday, Noon-7:30pm).

New York City Center
55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, Manhattan

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