New York City Center’s Fall for Dance returns for a thirteenth season with its usual fascinating programming
By Joel Benjamin
The thirteenth season of the New York City Center’s Fall for Dance began not with a bang but with a thud—in fact, many, many thuds as the performers in Streb Extreme Action went through their violent, but good natured, paces, flinging themselves onto padded slabs, flying high on a huge rotating ladder held up by an erector set construction (designed by Matthew McAdon) and otherwise rolling, somersaulting, flipping, flopping, swinging and jumping like no other dancers.
The result was a cross between Olympic gymnastics, Cirque du Soleil acrobatics (but with a decidedly easygoing American feel), a rock concert (complete with asking the audience members to clap along, take cell phone photos and scream their heads off) and touches of modern dance. Elizabeth Streb, the troupe’s artistic director, has made a handful of works that go beyond physical display, works that touched on the stresses of modern times and explored psychological pathologies, but this work, “Airslice,” commissioned by Fall For Dance, wasn’t one of them. No matter how good these performers are—and they are superbly muscular and daring—“Airslice” became repetitious and empty.
South African Dada Masilo/The Dance Factory, most recently in NYC at the Joyce Theater in a surprising version of Swan Lake, performed Ms. Masilo’s “Spring” to excerpts from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” plus music by Max Richter and Arvo Pärt, a dreamy work that combined African dance forms with modern dance. The five dancers—Ms. Masilo, Thami Majela, Refiloe Mogoje, Khaya Ndlovu and Lebo Seodigeng—wore loose, white African-inspired tunics and head pieces made of twigs and flowers (designed by Ms. Masilo and Suzette Le Sueur) and performed in front of a constantly changing backdrop of bright forms (stars, squiggles, branches) designed by Ms. Le Sueur.
The dancers at first moved warily, stomping and gently pulsating until the gigantic musical climax of Stravinsky’s music forced them into more primal, savagely flailing movements. They bounced off each other, breaking off into small, ever-changing groupings. Finally, Ms. Masilo, stark naked, exposed both figuratively and physically, morphed into a frightened, yet passionately strong-willed woman. This unexpected, poignant image of the one against the many was true to the original intent of Stravinsky’s explosive score and made for a disturbing, but dramatically satisfying ballet.
I’ve seen Frederick Ashton’s “Monotones I & II”—both parts and each part individually—at least ten times and have admired its calmness and simplicity, but, frankly, it just doesn’t hold up, especially coming on the program after two kinetically exciting works. As performed by three fine American Ballet Theatre dancers—Veronika Part, Thomas Forster and Cory Stearns—“Monotones II,” set to Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopédies,” now looks like an exercise in coolly and deliberately stretching out a female dancer between two stalwart male dancers, all dressed in Ashton’s white unitards and dated bejeweled headwear. From the first moment—the two men lifting Ms. Part up from a full split—she is choreographed to keep a leg raised and out of the way of her partners as they rotated her, lifted her and partnered her in pirouettes. They moved slowly, sometimes in unison, stylized walks and sometimes taking separate paths only to form a tight line en route to more slow motion stretching. The three dancers were close to perfect, all beautiful to look at and impeccably rehearsed in the Ashton style.
The flamenco dancer, Farruquito presented the New York premiere of his “Mi Soledad (Solea)” backed by vocalists Encarna Anillo, Antonio Villar and Mary Vizarraga and guitarist Roman Vicenti, each brilliant and passionate. With his slim build and long hair flying about, he exhibited the usual swaggering machismo of his Spanish dance colleagues. Mr. Farruquito’s secret weapon is that he doesn’t take himself all that seriously. He’s so on top of his fabulous technique and so intimate with the music of his musicians that he can afford to smile and wink at his audience all the while dancing up a storm. And, when Farruquito relinquished the stage so that each member of his musical backup clan could take a turn at showing off their flamenco stylings, the warmth that emanates from the stage was delightful. Seeing the two rather statuesque women do their stuff was to witness the transformation of human beings into goddesses.
Fall For Dance continues through October 8th.
Fall For Dance 2016 (September 26 – October 8, 2016)
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues
New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit www.NYCityCenter.org