Saturday, October 1, 2016

Who's falling for dance?

I attended two dance shows yesterday: Fridays@Noon at 92nd Street Y and New York City Center's Fall for Dance. I haven't been to Fridays@Noon in a long while, largely due to time and energy factors, but I'm glad I found my way to this one. Over the years, I have never taken in too many of the extremely popular Fall for Dance shows either, and that's because I've already fallen and I can't get up.

Who's falling for dance? And who's spending lunch break catching some dance on the Upper East Side?

It was a small, mainly "insider" dance audience at 92Y yesterday afternoon for Words and Images: Trebien Pollard, A Future Vision. Pretty much everyone voiced some version of these words: "I wish more people could have seen this program." Well, actually more people can, since 92Y has a recorded livestream, thanks to Paul Galando and his dance and new media fellows from NYU Tisch. So you don't have to take it from me, but curator Pollard and his colleagues Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Aimee Rials and Brother(hood) Dance! (Orlando Zane Hunter, Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine) killed it.

Pollard's dance artists step up and acknowledge that dance, while maintaining rigorous craft, can make powerful contributions to the current discourse on race, gender, sexuality and justice. I greatly admire Hunter and Valentine's work. In the video and dance excerpt they showed from Black Jones, they continue to set a high bar for exploring facets of Black gay identity and threats to Black life and well-being. They get me with accomplished performance technique as well as with humor and tenderness. Pollard, draped in a long, black gown, approaches his solo, Never Not Broken, like a ritual priest. Inspired by Martin Buber's I and Thou and Claudia Rankine's Citizen, the work makes use of Rankine's text and stark, solemn imagery to establish a space where hard questions can be asked about the cost of living as one's true self in oppressive society.

Mercer and Rials were discoveries for me. The only white and only female artist on the program, Rials is a New York-based Tisch grad raised in Alabama. Her solo, Modif(her), draws from her sense of crossing strict borders whenever she goes home, adjusting her appearance to conform, not out of shame but out of genuine concern for her and her family's safety. Modif(her) crackles with tension, obsessiveness and watchfulness, all sharply contained and restrained in space. Mercer's performance (with "drifter and assistant" Johnny Chatman II) impressed me for the opposite reason: Despite also alluding to societal strictures and dangers, Mercer seemed voracious in his imaginative reach and energy.

For a schedule of upcoming Fridays@Noon events, click here.

The Friday night Fall for Dance show featured France's CCN de la Rochelle/Cie Accrorap (acrobatic hip hop), Australia's Bangarra Dance Theatre and Hong Kong Ballet, all bringing big, crowd-pleasing US premieres. Oh...and among those unfurling ensembles, one more act, a solo: New York's Ayodele Casel, holding down the City Center stage with her assertive and nimble tap style. ("I feel like Ray Barreto on the timbales!") But maybe I should look at this a different way, because no tap dancer ever dances alone. Casel may have appeared to be up there by herself, but she showed up with her tribe--the ancestral women tap dancers, like Jeni Le Gon and Marion Coles, who she honors in While I Have the Floor. Every other act on Friday's program sprawled out in time, maybe too much so. (Dance sampler programs aimed at new audiences should give us samples, not productions almost lengthy enough to serve as their own evening.) But, if I had my wish, it would be for more Casel and a broader sample of her musical powers. It has been a long time since I've seen her dance, and While I Have the Floor, with its outward focus on others and heritage, though admirable, was not satisfying.

Fall for Dance's affordability is a great deal for dance artists and dance fans on a budget. Its omnibus programming enables established dance fans to easily try out companies or genres of dance they've never before considered or to catch up with a production they might have missed. I hope it really does inspire folks to explore and support other shows. For the hardcore dance-goer, though--okay, for me, I will own it--the evening can seem long while devoid of meaningful context for each company's presentation. It feels like both too much and not enough. But here's one sure thing: The folks in the seats throw a lot of love back at that stage.

This Fall for Dance program continues tonight at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here. For information and tickets for programs running October 5-8, click here.

New York City Center
131 W 55th St (between 6th and 7th Avenues), Manhattan

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