It’s the start of fall, which means it’s the start of the Fall for Dance Festival at the beautiful New York City Center. Fall for Dance is an opportunity to see different types of dance from all over the world for five nights – all for just $15 a night. Before most of the programs there is either a dance lesson or an interview in the lobby. I look forward to this series every year.
Each program is repeated for two nights. rtb and her sister saw the first program the night before and I was surprised when I saw photos on Facebook. rtb said that one of the companies encouraged the audience to take pictures. On my night the pre-show was a lesson in flamenco dancing by Farruquito, who would be dancing for us later that evening. Farruquito was all smiles as he clapped out the impossible rhythms (3, 6, 8, 10, 12) and showed us the steps we were to repeat. He mostly spoke Spanish and when we got the steps right he would smile and yell out, “¡Eso es!” (“That’s it!”). Most important was for us to stand with shoulders back and chest out. I am a good dancer and can get steps if I walk them slowly first but between the strange rhythm and new steps I was flustered and lost. As always, I wasn’t the only one who was lost but there were those who seemed to pick up the steps quickly and naturally. In the crowd there were two women who I guess wanted to dress for the occasion – one was wearing a gaucho hat and bolero jacket with pants and boots and the other had a small crown of flowers in her hair while wearing a skirt. Both I associate with certain Latin American countries but they’re not unheard of in flamenco dancing also. We never did get to dance to any music. We were just taught the steps and then sent on our merry way.
When I got to my seat in the Grand Tier (yay! the best section in the house) I was, as always, blown away by the beauty of the space. As I sat down I noticed that STREB Extreme Action were already on stage warming up and practicing. In front was a mat on an incline and behind that was a big ladder and scaffolding/monkey bars across the top. Off to the side there was a DJ set-up and “Glamorous Life” was playing. Other songs during their warm-ups were “Upside Down,” “Street Life,” and “I Would Die 4 U.” I remember hearing a Bowie song also. Since rtb had told me that photos were permitted during their show, I was excited to start taking photos. But no announcement had been made yet and most of the audience were checking their phones but no one was taking photos and I didn’t want to be the only one. Resident DJ/music producer Zaire Baptiste came bounding out and said that for the STREB Company from Williamsburg’s performance (and for their performance only) we should take photos and we were encouraged to make a lot of noise. The world premiere of Airslice began with several of the dancers bouncing on and off the inclined mat. They rolled over each other and fell on the mat with full force, hands at their sides. It sounded a bit like a wrestling match with the bodies hitting the mat. One person would shout commands and some were funny like, “Watch the hair!” when one of the men had to flip over one of the women with long hair. When three of the dancers did a headstand and then moved up the incline, one of the dancers was having difficulty and was behind the other two. The audience kept encouraging her by clapping and yelling until she had made it to the top of the incline. One of the positions was held for minute with all the dancers in a row but with arms and/or legs extended. For that the same dancer had the side of her face planted into the mat and you could see how difficult it was to hold that position. Then while those dancers sat on the edge of the stage and put on their shoes, Baptiste talked while two other dancers shot a t-shirt cannon into the audience. Now it was time for the Silver Bullet. Dancers climbed up the monkey bars or the ladder as the ladder spun around. They jumped off and on. They ducked under the ladder (How many times during rehearsals did people get bonked with the ladder?) They stood on the ladder and went through the slots and climbed up and down. The acrobatics were thrilling. When the stage crew started rolling the set off the stage the audience applauded them also. Artistic director Elizabeth Streb was the action architect and choreographer and was helped by associate artistic director Fabio Tavares da Silva. Scenery and lighting was by Matthew McAdon and production and stage manager was Anne McDougall. The action engineers were Loganne Bond, Jackie Carlson, Felix Hess, Cassandre Joseph, Matthew McEwen, Daniel Rysak, Jamarious Stewart, da Silva, and Leonardo Giron Torres.
After the stage was cleared and the curtain came down, the disembodied voice reminded us that to turn off our cellphones. The audience broke out in laughter.
From Johannesburg, was Dada Masilo/The Dance Factory. Masilo joined The Dance Factory at 11 years old and is now the artistic director (artist-in-residence). Dancers Thami Majela, Masilo, Refiloe Mogoje, Khaya Ndlovu, and Lebo Seodigeng began the world premiere of Spring at the stage’s edge, all moving their bodies as if they were antelopes or gazelles drinking at the watering hole. They were all wearing white shorts with white material draped over their bodies. And all had small brown, yellow, and white things on top of their heads that kind of looked like pipe cleaner horns. The description of the dance said that it “explores the practice of human sacrifice in all its violence and beauty. The work is influenced by the movements of animals, which are traditionally employed by the people of Botswana as a way of communicating with Ancestors.” The dancers used the full stage and there was some sleeping and then at one point everyone surrounded one of the dancers and when she emerged she was naked (I admit I drifted off for a bit – either daydreaming or actually napping and was surprised to suddenly see a naked body in front of me). Except for the dancers moving the one dancer towards the back of the stage while they were on their backs and carrying her on their feet and the nakedness, I didn’t really see the sacrifice. There were some animal-type movements. Choreography was by Masilo and music was by Max Richter (“Four Seasons”), Igor Stravinsky(“The Rite of Spring”), and Arvo Pärt (“Fur Alina”). Costumes were by Suzette Le Sueur and Masilo and lighting and production management was by Le Sueur.
After intermission we saw the American Ballet Theatre peform Monotones II. The music was Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopédies,” which will sound very familiar to just about anyone (orchestrations by Claude Debussy and Alexis Roland-Manuel). If you’ve ever seen any western classical ballet, then the moves will be familiar to you. It looked like those scenes in a bigger ballet where each of the dancers is given the opportunity to show off their abilities, sometimes solo and sometimes together. Dancers Veronika Part, Thomas Forster, and Cory Stearns did a beautiful job. They were dressed in white bodysuits and white caps with a few small glitter balls. Kevin McKenzie is the artistic director of ABT, choreography was by Frederick Ashton, staging by Lynn Wallis, designs by Ashton, and lighting by Brad Fields. The piece premiered in London in 1965. I wonder how it was received by audiences then.
The last dance in the program was Farruquito and, for me, he was well worth the wait. The audience had been very enthusiastic all evening (especially when encouraged by STREB) and for Farruquito’s performance there were shouts and applause throughout. This was the NY premiere of Mi Soledad (Solea), which had its 2001 premiere in Seville. “Juan Manuel Fernandez Montoya aka Farruquito encounters his people: the legendary Farruco flamenco dynasty. This work is a return to the path created by his ancestors, a display of their power, and a celebration of flamenco puro.” This time there were no smiles – Farruquito’s face was all business. Vocals by Encarna Anillo, Antonio Villar, and Mary Vizarraga were otherworldly – so good. Accompanying them on guitar was Roman Vicenti performing popular “Cantes por Solea” (soleá category – a cante (or palo) is a form of flamenco music, of which the most basic type is the soleá – the rhythm that we had been taught earlier). Farruquito’s moves were so fast that you couldn’t see his feet. I could see some of the moves he had taught us but, of course, they were done faster and with more flourish. At the end after he said, “Muchos thank you,” he invited each member of the group to perform. The guitarist was okay but made up for his lack of dancing skills with humor. The younger woman took off her spike heels and danced up a storm. But most impressive was the older woman who not only danced well but did it in spike heels. All of them danced off stage. The choreography was by Farruquito and I don’t know how much of it is planned and thought out and rehearsed and how much of it is in the moment. His skill and enthusiasm make it difficult to tell.
By Carene Lydia Lopez