Fall for Dance: New York City Center 27 September 2012

Last night violaleeblue and I attended the first of five programs for this year’s Fall for Dance Festival. Fall for Dance is an inexpensive way (only $15 per ticket) to see major dance companies perform. It is a great introduction to dance or a wonderful way to see the best when you’re on a budget. Each program has four dance companies and the dances could be classical ballet, tap, modern, regional, etc.

Before the show we wanted to get a quick bite somewhere but the neighborhood doesn’t really have that type of place. We ended up at Pazze Notte, which is just around the corner from the theater. It was crowded and noisy and had a bar crowd and the food was surprisingly good. I had a butternut squash ravioli with a veal ragout.

For the rest of the performances, there will be dinner and drink specials in the theater that are also very inexpensive. Unfortunately it was not available on opening night.

violaleeblue had never been to New York City Center before so she was wowed by the neo-Moorish architecture. And even though it wasn’t my first trip, I was equally wowed. I had to look up the history again because I’d forgotten it – it used to be a Shriner’s temple.

We had great seats – center first row balcony. I’ve bought seats for some of the other programs and I’ll be sitting in the orchestra for the first time for at least one of them. It will be interesting to see the dances from that perspective because I’m so used to seeing them from above.

Program one began with the world premiere of Transformation in Tap with choreography and lead dancing by Jared Grimes. It starts with Grimes in a tank undershirt and jeans on a wooden board and his words – talking about a young boy coming to NYC to tap. After the monologue a melody plays over and over and Grimes taps out a rhythm – changing it and refining the percussion. Behind him were four dancers (DeWitt Fleming Jr., Karida Griffith, Luke Hawkins, and Robyn Baltzer) in white jackets and black pants first listening and then later dancing – more jazz/ballet than tap at first but later they came out and did some great traditional tap, especially Fleming. The last part was Grimes in white shirt, vest, and tie dancing and then he comes across a fedora and we hear Sammy Davis Jr. and the verse to “The Lady is a Tramp” and Grimes smiles and taps slowly and when the full song starts he joyfully taps around the entire stage. I loved that Grimes used Davis’ singing – Davis was a great singer and dancer and it was a wonderful way to show respect and show some modern athletic tap.

Next was Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists and the New York premiere of Five Movements, Three Repeats (choreography by Christopher Wheeldon). The artists were New York City Ballet dancers Tyler Angle, Craig Hall, and Wendy Whelan. The piece began with one of the repeats – Sheu in the stage right corner in a chiffon shorts jumpsuit, Hall upstage center with his arms up, and Angle stage left with his arms out. Sheu begins with modern moves in silence and then starts moving to Max Richter’s music. Whelan enters en pointe in a chiffon skirt. While Sheu continues with a more modern dance, the other three dance more traditional ballet. The first pas de deux was Angle and Whelan – he would spin her while she was standing and also roll her around on his thigh. They would lightly touch cheeks. They would separate and come together. It was all very sensual. Sheu and Hall’s pas de deux was almost a translation from the classical ballet to modern of the same dance – Hall twisted Sheu around by her foot while she was on the floor and there were also the sensual cheek brushes. Whether performing to Richter’s music or Dinah Washington singing “This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight” you could see how they were focusing and showcasing each dancers’ strength.

After intermission the Nederlands Dance Theater performed Shutters Shut (choreography by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot). Astrid Boons is standing in front of the curtain and begins the dance to Gertrude Stein reading her poem “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” Quentin Roger soon joins her. They’re limited by being in front of the curtain as they hilariously act out the poem. Both are in black and white costumes that look like exaggerated 1920s bathing suits. Also their hair and make-up look like exaggerated 1920s style. The exaggerations and the hand and leg movements make them look like a Picasso painting come to life.

The last piece is the US premiere of Void (choreography by Jerek Cemerek) by Balletboyz. First there’s a film explaining how two former Royal Ballet dancers founded the all male company. Then the film went on a little too long showing parts of some dances performed in the streets of London by dancers wearing heavy jackets. Later, when the dancers came out, I saw them performing those same dances on stage – so what felt wrong on film looked beautiful on stage especially since they lost the heavy jackets and were now in t-shirts or shirtless. When the screen lifted, we had a bare stage – no back curtain, no side curtains. We could see the lighting on either side of the stage and films of the London streets were projected onto the back wall. A back wall that had a door, pipes, and wrapped cables hanging from it. The dancers (Taylor Benjamin, Andrea Carrucciu, Flavien Esmieu, Adam Kirkham, Alexander Loxton, Jordon Olpherts, Edward Pearce, Leon Poulton, Matthew Rees, and Matthew Sandiford) use the entire stage. Dressed in t-shirts, hoodies, and jeans they would leap together and street fight. All I could think of was West Side Story. And as beautiful as their dancing and athleticism were, Jerome Robbins did it first and did it best. There are a lot of possibilities for a company like this but I don’t think this was the best choice.

By Carene Lydia Lopez