The Dance Beat
Written by Bwog Staff
With the Dance Beat, Bwog correspondent Siobhan Burke regales us with a weekly round-up of one of New York’s least discussed art forms.
Making my way from the 1 train to the L at 14th street last weekend–somewhere along that hopelessly grim walkway–an uplifting image, in billboard form, caught my eye. You may have seen this one around; it pictures an exuberant dancer airborne over the Manhattan skyline, spine arched, chest lifted, head thrown back with a kind of there’s-no-stoppin’-me abandon. “What makes her feel this way?!” you marvel. Seeking the answer, your eyes land on the text below her. “Fall in love,” it reads, “Fall for Dance.”
I was already running late for a vegan brunch in Williamsburg, but a wave of nostalgia gave me pause. Thanks to City Center’s annual Fall for Dance festival–which brings a glorious variety of dance to a single stage for ten days each September–I had fallen desperately in love/for dance three years ago for the first real time. Some ingenious presenter had managed to get Merce Cunningham’s How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run and Bill T. Jones’s Continuous Replay on the same program, and I had witnessed it, in a state of humble awe, from the rear mezzanine. A new world of dance had revealed itself to me—one of non-linearity (Cunningham) and full-frontal nudity (Jones). In those days, when Fosse-style jazz seemed, to me, the height of artistic achievement, I would not have sought out these performances on my own. But this, as all Fall for Dance-goers know, is what’s great about the festival: it throws you a mixed bag filled with unexpected treasures, and more often than not, you fall in love with a few.
Forgive the sentimentality, but I feel strongly about this event. At this year’s festival, which continues through this Saturday, I’ve already made some startling discoveries. Last Friday, for example, I showed up mainly to see Doug Varone’s Lux (for the second time), but I came away with a new obsession: the break-dancing, boundary-defying Compagnie Kafig from Lyon, France. I never knew that such tall, lanky dancers could pop and lock so smoothly, or that hip hop had the witty, expressive potential that choreographer Mourad Merzouki has tapped in the scenes of Terrain Vague. (Maybe I’m just behind the times, though. The kind old German woman sitting next to me, who lent me her program, told me she had recently seen a break-dancing opera in Berlin.)
Ballet Hispanico appeared on the same program, and in the words of my elderly neighbor, “What fun!” When their Club Havana opened on a lone, spotlighted man lighting a cigar to the sounds of “Chan Chan” by Buena Vista Social Club, I cringed at the potential for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights cliché. There was definitely some of that in the sensuous Latin dancing that followed, but for me, the skill of the performers—their seamless weaving of Latin and ballet and their impeccable command of both techniques—outweighed the trite factor. In fact, there was something sort of refreshing about the spectacle of couples dancing close, coaxing each other in and casting each other aside, or simply melting into each other. As I lapped it up, I felt like I was indulging in some sort of guilty pleasure, but that’s the other thing about Fall for Dance—it lets you luxuriate in the light-hearted.
I don’t want to tarnish this glittering account of the festival, but I do want to tell you the truth about what I saw on Wednesday night. Don’t get me wrong—most of it was up to FFD standards, running the gamut from stark contemporary ballet (Cornered from the Royal Ballet of Flanders) to boisterous, passionate modern-jazz (Keigwin and Company’s Love Songs). But Jerome Robbins’s A Suite of Dances, performed by New York City Ballet’s Damien Woetzel, simply did not belong. Prancing lightly about to Bach’s “Suite for Solo Cello” (performed live), Woetzel interpreted each and every note to the point of dull predictability. Occasionally, he would forget his classical poise, overcome by a contrived, giddy “loss of control:” a jaunty skip here, a click of the heels there, and even a couple of somersaults! Add to this his slinky, velvet burgundy shirt–with matching pants–and you can see why it made me a little nauseous.
Unfortunately, the invitation to Fall in Love, Fall for Dance is complicated by the overwhelming demand for tickets—all ten nights have been sold out for weeks. But if you want to catch one of the last two shows (tonight 8pm), there is still a way in: last-minute ticket releases go on sale at 6:30 the night of the performance. Show up a little earlier, and you have a good chance of getting one. I recommend giving it a try; the final program—featuring Camille Brown, Elisa Monte, and Boston Ballet—is sure to make you fall hard.