For the second program of Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center I was joining rtb and her sister. This time we were in the back mezzanine so the seats weren’t as good. Also not good was the big guy in the seat in front of me with his head blocking a huge portion of the stage. I spent a lot of the night leaning all the way into the aisle so that I could see the entire stage.
Our dance teacher that evening was Jonathan “Jojo” Emanuell Alsberry of the Aszure Barton & Artists company. Jojo was short and seemed delighted to be with us. He joined us on the floor to teach us some of the steps. We started by beating out the rhythms on our body. As steps were added – lifting legs up and down, swinging arms back and forth, and switching legs in a different rhythm than we were swinging our arms – and no matter how badly we were doing, Jojo was always encouraging. At one point he told me I had a step and, of course, I had been doing it without thinking and once I started thinking about it, I lost it. That’s the thing about dancing. The steps and rhythm have to become part of your DNA so you’re not constantly thinking about it but just doing it. He mentioned that dance was our first method of communication and wanted us to feel the earth below us while stepping.
The program started with the Richard Alston Dance Company (Richard Alston, artistic director) performing the New York premiere of Rejoice in the Lamb. The dance premiered in 2014 in Canterbury. At the back of the stage was the Montclair State University Vocal Accord and I loved hearing a live choir. Benjamin Britten’s music “Rejoice in the Lamb” was very religious sounding – a perfect complement to the text, which was Christopher Smart’s 18th century religious poem “Jubliate Agno.” “Smart is confined to an asylum because of his exaggerated religious fervor. His cat Jeoffrey is with him. He gathers his fellow inmates round him who join in innocent adoration of all God’s creatures.” All dancers start by lying on the stage with Nicholas Bodych (Christopher Smart) separate from the rest. All the men have their pants rolled up to their knees and are wearing blousy-sleeved shirts. The women have on circle skirts and tank tops with flowers painted on them. Ihsaan de Banya (Joeffry the Cat) has a duet with Bodych and then he appears to play with another dancer as if she’s a mouse but eventually the mouse points off-stage and Banya leaves with his head bowed down. Then there’s more dancing about and I lost the creature adoration or religious significance of the dance. The other dancers were Elly Braund, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Jenny Hayes, Monique Jonas, James Muller, Nancy Nerantzi, Liam Riddick, and Nicholas Shikkis. The dance was choreographed by Alston with costumes by Peter Todd, lighting by Zeynep Kepekli, production manager Karl Oskar Sørdal, and rehearsal director Martin Lawrance. The choir was beautifully conducted by Heather J. Buchanan and accompanied by Vincent Carr on the organ. Steven W. Ryan is the accompanist. The singers were (soloists have asterisk) Angel Baker, Gabrianna Boomer, Gabrielle Guridys, Nicole Jodoin, Christine Rauschenbach*, Demetria Sardo, and Haley Teicher (sopranos); Krystle Lee Avinger, Apryl Chanco, Zachary Delcamp*, Kirsten Gorsak, Rachael Jacobs, and Andria Kwasnicki (altos); Anthony Chillari, Alexander Marrone, Zachary Morehouse, Ngqibeko Peter Ncanywa, Michael Rivera, Joseph Schnorrbusch*, and David Tarantino (tenors); and Michael Alworth, Gabriel Baseman, Evan Fleming, Aaron Kurtz, Charles Lemaire, and Jason Zacher* (basses). Delcamp had an especially beautiful voice. It’s always nice to see an alto take a solo – I just wish it had been one of the women.
In the Playbill it was noted that the last dance of the evening was going to be performed on a white stage (the stage at City Center is black). But they brought out the white stage for the second dance and kept it out for the rest of the night. Aszure Barton & Artists performed an adaptation of Awáa, which was “adapted from an evening-length work and translates to ‘one who is a mother’ in the language of the Haida, an aboriginal people living on the west coast of Canada.” The premiere was in 2012 in Ottawa. The work starts with one dancer with arms around a giant glowing red ball and the white stage. The men were in pants and t-shirts or bare-chested. The beginning music sounded similar to Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopédies” that we had heard in the ballet in the first program but it was not the same. There were water sounds and images projected onto a screen in front of the stage. The dance was just beautiful to watch – it was fun to see the steps we had been taught but executed so gracefully and in sync. You could also see the homage to the aboriginal dance and the tribute to earth, sky, and sea. The dance had one man, then all the men and women, then all the men, and then one man and woman and she lifts him up and carries him off. Choreography was by Barton (who is also artistic director), music by Curtis MacDonald and Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, scenery and lighting by Burke Brown, costumes by Linda Chow, video by Tobin Del Coure, and stage manager was Pamela Rapp. The dancers were Alsberry, Lara Barclay, William Briscoe, Del Cuore, Thomas House, Jeremy Raia, and Oscar Ramos.
During intermission they brought down the fire curtain, which is white, and used that as the curtain for the third dance instead of the regular burgundy velvet curtain.
The US premiere of The Ballad of Mack and Ginny was performed by NYC Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan and principal dancer for the Royal Opera House Edward Watson. The premiere was in 2015 in London. “This tango-inspired ‘dance drama’ explores the violent, doomed love affair of Mack the Knife and Ginny Jenny, two characters from Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht’s 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera.” There was a small band at the back of the stage and the list of instruments didn’t scream Weill to me but when they played it was perfect. They used the entire stage – lifting the back curtain to reveal the white brick wall and red pipes of backstage with an exit on the back wall stage left. At the start both dancers are smoking. Whelan is wearing a men’s tailored long sleeved white shirt, black stockings with black garters, and black high heels. Watson was wearing a black bowler, white tank top undershirt, black suspenders with pants rolled to the knee revealing black socks with black garters. He reminded me of Alan Cumming in Cabaret. Switchblades came out and they attacked each other and then Whelan bent over and wrapped her long blonde hair in a ponytail above her head which Watson took a hold of while they tangoed. He left and she took off her shirt and continued dancing with her back to the audience. It was awkward. She didn’t want to reveal herself and it made the movements clumsy. He came back in a black suit and placed a diamond necklace around her neck. He danced solo and she returned wearing a black dress with a long slit and the diamond necklace. There was fussing with some props like a drink and stirring with the switchblade and then they tangoed again. Finally the switchblades came out for one last time. The tango is a sexy violent dance and Whelan and Watson have danced together before and you can see they are comfortable with each other. Musicians Frank Moon (banjo, electric guitar, musical saw, vocals, music director, and arranger), Bev Lee Harling (violin and vocals), Stephen Little (percussion), Aidan O’Donnell (double bass), and Stefan Vasnier (piano) did a wonderful job with Weill’s “Tango Ballad.” The choreography and direction was by Arthur Pita. Costumes were by Jean-Marc Puissant, lighting by Bruno Poet, associate lighting design by Max Narula, stage managing by Lynne Otto, and tango tutors were Amir Giles and Tara Pilbrow.
Our evening ended with Grupo Corpo’s New York premiere of Suíte Branca, which premiered in Belo Horizonte in 2015. “Through pendular movements, suspensions, and floorwork, the dancers of Grupo Corpo defy the laws of gravity on a white stage that resembles a blank page where new stories beg to be written.” The backdrop was also white and looked like crumpled paper. As the dance progressed the ‘paper’ seemed to get more crumpled and resembled a cliff wall at the end. The dancers were all dressed in white – tights, shorts, shirts, and bodysuits. During the first movement the music reminded me of a TV Western theme electronified. During a duet the music was Beatlesque. The dancers’ movements were jerky but graceful. The dancers leaned and fell or leaned and almost fell or leaned but were caught. It was an exciting dance with constant movement and plenty of Brazilian butt in your face.
By Carene Lydia Lopez