Fall for Dance: Program #3: New York City Center 30 September 2016

This time it was violaleeblue, her two daughters, and rtb who were seeing the third program of Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center with me. This time I was in the Grand Tier again (yay!) and the others were in the front mezzanine not far from me. The Bangarra Dance was not from India as I had assumed but were actually from Australia and they perform dances of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Each dancer has an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background. Their accents were difficult to interpret but it sounded like they were mostly from Queensland or the Torres Strait Islands, which are between Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Several of the dancers were available to teach us. One woman led us in the steps while the other women danced along. The leader – a man – who kept the rhythm by beating a board with a stick, sang and split us into male and female groups and there was a wide space between us. We could not dance together. And it was a male dancer who danced along with the men to help with the steps. The first dance was a bird dance, which reminded me of the chicken dance. We had to flap our wings (elbows out) and lifted our feet up and down over each other and we would bend down as the rhythm sped up. The next dance was one where I’ve danced the best I ever had at these pre-shows. It involved stepping forward and bending down doing some hand movements then doing turns while doing hand movements and finally bending forward while one arm was outstretched and the other bent. Then, because she didn’t have room, the lead female dancer changed it to bending back. Basically a dap. Which I called it and the people around me laughed. Third dance had us sitting in a circle and pounding our knees, making arm movements that included one like rowing a canoe. That one was difficult only because the lead dancer was opposite me and I got lost trying to follow her movements since she was doing everything ‘backwards’ to how I needed to do it. All the dances always started with the left foot or hand. And they had us take off our shoes dance in our socks (or barefoot).

CCN de La Rochelle / Cie Accrorap performed the US premiere of OPUS 14, choreographed by artistic director Kader Attou. The premiere was in 2014 in Décines-Charpieu and “is a fragile, sensual, and poetic slice of hip-hop – a genre of dance defined by its engagement with modern society. Attou’s work is a tribute to the weakest among us.” French hip-hop dancers apparently do not dance to hip-hop music. The start of the dance was some exciting breakdancing, which would have been a lot more impressive if you were not in NYC in the 1970s. Some moves definitely deserved the applause given. There were only two women in the large company and all were dressed in street clothes. The rest of the movements were modern dance with some hip-hop influence. There was a lot of applause during the dance but I thought it went on too long. I wasn’t sure of what they wanted to say but they said it and then kept repeating it. A lot of the ensemble moved in sync whether they were seated with heads rocking or the bodies were moving. There was one freeze-frame of everyone in various breakdancing poses that had to be difficult to hold but they held it for longer than you would think possible. The dancers were Mickaël Arnaud, Sim’hamed Benhalima, Damien Bourletsis, Amine Boussa, Sarah Bouyahyaoui, Bruce Chiefare, Babacar “Bouba” Cissé, Virgile Dagneaux, Erwan Godard, Nicolas Majou, Kevin Mischel, Jackson Ntcham, Artem Orlov, Mehdi Ouachek, Nabil Ouelhadj, and Soria Rem. Music was by Regis Baillet, Diaphane, scenery by Olivier Borne, original painting by Ludmila Volf, costumes by Nadia Genez, and lighting by Denis Chapellon.

Tap dancer Ayodele Casel’s While I Have the Floor premiered in July at City Center. It begins with Casel looking at the screen backstage showing her mentor Gregory Hines talking about Casel and what a dynamic performer she is. With hand over heart, Casel smiles and as the interview ends she begins to tap. There is no music. Instead we hear a recording of Casel describing how she began teaching herself tap in high school by watching Astaire/Rogers movies. And she dances simple steps that she slowly builds upon. She faces a lot of obstacles as a female tap dancer and soon she discovers all the female tap dancers who came before her and who never got the recognition that was given to men like the Nicholas Brothers or Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Women like Lois Bright, Louise Madison, Alice Whitman, Cora LaRedd, Juanita Pitts, and others. And Casel keeps on dancing. Dancing for those women then and for the women now “whose voices have not been heard enough.” Dressed beautifully in white with a vest with red lining, shirt, and knee-length pants, Casel smiles while her tapping reflects her words. I was wondering how they were mic’ing her and then saw that she had wires and lavalier mics running down her calves. The piece was written and choreographed by Casel, costumed by Sara Jablon, lit by Mark Barton, and stage managed by Lisa Dawn Cave.

After intermission it was time for the Hong Kong Ballet (Madeleine Onne, artistic director) and the US premiere of Shape of Glow. The premiere took place in Hong Kong in 2014. It’s a lovely ballet and there were two unusual things. One was that all the dancers – male and female – were dressed like gymnasts. I kept expecting them to bring out the ribbons and perform a floor routine. Second, they were mostly smiling. The moves were beautiful but I couldn’t help thinking that they looked so un-ballet-like. Choreography was by Jorma Elo, music was by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (“Symphony No. 28 in C” and “Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat”) and Ludwig Van Beethoven (“Consecration of the House Overture”), costumes by Yumiko Takeshima, and lighting by Goh Boon Ann. Dancers were Jessica Burrows, Rui-Xue Dong, Yao Jin, Miao-Miao Liu, Wei-Nan Liu, Yu-Yao Liu, Qing-Xin Wang, Fei-Fei Ye, Shunsuke Arimizu, Chun-Long Leung, Lin Li, Jia-Bo Li, Jie Shen, Jonathan Spigner, Wei Wei, and Jun Xia.

Now it was time for the Bangarra Dance Theatre performing the US premiere of Spirit, which “showcases excerpts from the most memorable works created by Bangarra Dance Theatre during its 27-year history.” It began with the leader standing alone at the front of the stage singing and banging together the stick with the board. He was covered in white paint wearing a cloth covering most of his lower half. He moved to the darkness of the back of the stage and the male dancers, with bare chests and pants rolled to their knees, barefoot, kneeling behind white bushes pushed the bushes forward with flat boards, danced, and then pushed the bushes back. Standing behind the bushes they painted their foreheads and hair white and danced some more with the boards. The leader sang while carrying a spear. The men left the stage and the women came out in a circle singing, dancing, and waving leaves above their heads. The lead woman was dressed differently than the other women who were wearing simple dresses and all were barefoot. I could see some of the steps that we had been taught during the pre-show. Then a man danced solo and the woman came in holding two cups that had smoke rising out of them and she hugged him from behind with the cups still in her hand and it looked like she was healing him. For the final dance the men and women both were on stage but on separate sides. After they danced and collapsed, the leader came down the middle and sang. I could hear a didgeridoo in the recording. Contemporary choreography was by Stephen Page and traditional choreography was by Djakapurra Munyarryun. Music was by David Page and Steve Francis and costumes were by Jennifer Irwin. Dancers were Elma Kris, Deborah Brown, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Jasmin Sheppard, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson, Beau Dean Riley Smith, Rikki Mason, Yolanda Lowatta, Rika Hamaguchi, Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Tyrel Dulvarie, and guest artist Munyarryun.

As we were leaving, rtb and I waited on a landing for violaleeblue for her girls. Next to us was a door with a code lock. Some guy hit the code and went in with a female audience member following him. Later the door opened and most of the French ensemble came out and went up the stairs. It’s an interesting little door.

By Carene Lydia Lopez