Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC – Day Two: NY City Center 4 November 2016

For the second night of the Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC at New York City Center I was sitting in the second row of the center rear mezzanine. I thought it was going to be a bad seat but the rows are steep so there’s no danger of a large head or tall person blocking your view. And you have a great view looking straight onto the stage.

In the Playbill was a note about Herman Cornejo’s injury and that his dance, Rhapsody (Excerpt), had been cancelled. With the fifth dance eliminated, they switched the second dance with the third and the third with the fourth and the fourth dance with the second. I was disappointed because it meant that not only wouldn’t I get to see Cornejo for this festival but also his partner Alessandra Ferri. Rhapsody was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton with music by Sergei Rachmaninoff for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lesley Collier in 1980 and would have been a beautiful piece, I’m sure.

Again, I can’t tell you how happy I was that all the dances included live musicians. It makes such a huge difference in the enjoyment of a dance.

The same music played over the sound system during the intermissions. Others I noted were Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie.

This night opened again with choreographer George Balanchine’s Apollo with music by Igor Stravinsky (Apollon musagète) which was first performed in Paris in 1928. This time I wasn’t in a food coma and could pay better attention. I realized that I’d missed a lot the first night so this recounting is better. The music starts while the curtain is still down. The curtain rises and you see Leto (Kaitlyn Gilliand) sitting on top of a platform, which has stairs leading up to it, writhing in pain, holding her stomach, spreading her legs wide open, and spinning her head around. Finally, Apollo (Robert Fairchild) is born, as he steps out from below the platform and into the light. He is wrapped in white cloth and two handmaidens (Amber Neff and Unity Phelan) unwrap him with Apollo spinning around to help. Once Apollo is unwrapped, Leto descends the stairs and leaves and Apollo struggles to walk and is unsteady like a newborn colt. The handmaidens come back and hand him a bouzouki (Greek guitar). They hold the bouzouki and teach him to strum. The stage goes black and everyone leaves. When Apollo reenters this must be where the ballet begins in Balachine’s reworking where he eliminated the birth scene. Now Apollo is like a rock star playing the bouzouki. One thing I noticed is that the day before he wore white tights and shoes and was bare-chested for the birth scene. When he returned he was wearing a white one-shouldered shirt tied at the waist. But this night, when Apollo returned, he was wearing black tights. Not sure what happened there. The young god of music is visited by the three Muses – his half-sisters by Zeus. Apollo has all three dance as one and then he hands each of them their props. A lyre is handed to the Muse of song and dance, Terpsichore (Tiler Peck); a tablet to the Muse of poetry, Calliope (Isabella Boylston); and a mask to the Muse of mime, Polyhymnia (Devon Teuscher). Calliope and Polyhymnia each try to teach Apollo but he rejects them in the end. Terpsichore gets a sort of half-rejection. Apollo dances solo showing off all the lessons that he’s learned. Terpsichore returns and she and Apollo dance a beautiful and sexy duet. Then Calliope and Polyhymnia return and dance together and soon Terpsichore joins them. Then Apollo comes back and he again dances with them and has them dance as one. At one point Apollo flexes his biceps and two of the Muses each clasp their hands around one bicep and he spins them around. It was pretty amazing. At the end, Apollo, now a young man, walks up the stairs to the platform followed by all the women in his life. He stands still at the top as if posing for a statue. It was a wonderful dance, both light and funny, with generous applause for all and the strongest applause for Peck and Fairchild – both principal dancers for the NYCB and married in real life. Conductor Kurt Crowley (Hamilton) again did a wonderful job. The musicians were the Catalyst Quartet and the FLUX Quartet joined by Logan Coale (double bass), Emily Popham Gillins (violin), Mario Gotoh (viola), Clara Kennedy (cello), Laura Lutzke (violin), Grace Park (violin), Miranda Sielaff (viola), and Emily Daggett Smith (violin). Original lighting is by Ronald Bates, who worked with the NYCB and died in 1986.

All photos are from the City Center site. This photo is of Herman Cornejo.

The second dance was another repeat. I’ll just paste my original review since I have nothing new to add. This dance was definitely a highlight of the both nights for me and one of my favorites. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s Fandango danced by Sara Mearns was an absolute delight. Again the musicians – this time FLUX Quartet, Scott Borg (fantastic guitarist), and flamenco dancer Elena Heiss, standing in the back playing castanets at the end, were on stage. They entered playing their instruments so that they looked like a traveling band that found a place to stop and perform. Heiss had other duties besides the castanets. Hearns entered wearing a black lace shrug over a blue dress with a black lace overlay. After Hearns’ entrance and first steps she danced around the musicians and took off her jacket and placed it on Heiss. Later, Heiss handed Hearns a tambourine, which she tapped and played along with the cellist. The piece was flamenco reinterpreted as ballet steps. At one point, Hearns led the violinists onto center stage and clapped while they played. At the end she dramatically sits on the floor, back to the audience, and bends back towards us. It all had the look of a chance encounter, which is how Ratmansky staged it. The music was by Luigi Boccherini and costume by William Ivey Long. The dance premiered at Vail in August 2010, commissioned by Woetzel with Wendy Whelan in the lead.

The third dance was a new one – a duet with Tiler Peck and Cory Stearns in Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading (Excerpt) with music by Antonin Dvořák. Vail Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel thought of Peck for this dance because of the “exquisite adagio created for Gelsey Kirkland.” The dance premiered at the NYS Theater at Lincoln Center in 1975. He approached Amanda McKerrow, “who famously danced the role at American Ballet Theatre” and asked if she could arrange to have Tiler learn the dances. Instead, McKerrow said she would help stage it and not just pass on the steps but explain the ideas behind them. For Woetzel, “the idea of introducing dancers to choreographers not normally a part of their repertoire is a central principle guiding how the Vail programs are formed.” In the dance, Peck is remembering happy memories while in a leafy glade. In the whole ballet people appear and portray her thoughts in dance. In this excerpt, Stearns is wearing a red curly-haired wig and blouse with a red scarf around his neck. Peck is in a leotard and chiffon skirt. The dance certainly shows off the acrobatics that Peck and Stearns are capable of. He is very strong – there are a lot of lifts and balances on different parts of the body. But all the acrobatics do not take away from the grace and beauty of the dancers and the dance. Original lighting was by Jennifer Tipton and costumes were by Patricia Zipprodt. The Catalyst Quartet performed on stage behind a black screen where a spotlight was on them in the right corner.

If I didn’t already know that the next dance was choreographed by Martha Graham it would have been obvious as soon as the curtain opened. Carla Körbes was sitting on a bench with a black wall/curtain directly behind her. She wore the Graham designed body suit – a grey tube of stretchy material that covered her from the top of her head to her ankles. She was in bare feet, legs spread out as far as possible and her hands crossed in front of her with her elbows out. She was all angles. Underneath you could see a long-sleeved red shirt. The image is iconic as is the dance, Lamentation, which is a “dance of sorrow” “It is not the sorrow of a specific person, time, or place, but the personification of grief itself.” Körbes’ stillness which struck Woetzel as a “dance in itself” is what made him bring this to her. She never gets up but moves around inside the cloth and lifts her legs and arms in various positions, hiding her face and burying it inside the cloth. The moves are made all the more unusual because they’re happening inside the cloth. And the cloth will make you think of Death’s hooded coat or a shroud. Music is by Zoltán Kodály and performed by Cameron Grant of the NYCB Orchestra on piano. Original lighting was by Graham and adapted by Beverly Emmons. The regisseur is Janet Eilber (artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company). The dance was first performed by Graham in January 1930 in NYC.

The last dance was another repeat. The only difference this night is that there was no Yo-Yo Ma, otherwise it was the same with I’m sure some differences in improvisation that I didn’t notice. This time I saw Lil Buck identify himself by pinching the top corners of his t-shirt when Young Jai mentioned Charles Riley in “Gangsta Walk” and I heard him when he called out “Prime Tyme” to bring his cousin onto the stage. At the end, after Lil Buck brought Woetzel to the stage for the final bow and after each performer took their individual bows, Woetzel kept pushing Lil Buck to the front to take another bow. He must have pushed him up three or four times. These dances were another highlight of the two nights. Jookin’ is a street dance from Memphis. Sometimes called gangsta walking, g-walk, buckin’, tickin’, or choppin’, it is usually performed to crunk music and was created by the group G-Style. Jookin’ as practiced by Charles “Lil Buck” Riley uses a lot of different street styles including liquid dancing or a common two-step that changes into a spin on the sides of his feet or on his toes. Lil Buck @ City Center: A Jookin’ Jam Session choreographed by Lil Buck, Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles, and Woetzel is a wonderous piece of work with Lil Buck and Myles jookin’ to live classical, pop, and world music. The piece on Friday night again opens with the curtain down and Lil Buck dancing to a recording of “Gangsta Walk” (Young Jai) out of the audience and jumping onto the stage from the left. Then Myles comes out of the audience from the right and jumps on the stage and the two exchange moves and dance together. They’ll throw the next dance to each other with hand gestures. Their dancing was amazing – spinning around on their toes while wearing sneakers, dancing on the sides of their feet, turning their feet backwards, making their entire bodies liquid with their arms and legs moving as if they had no bones. Dances are performed fast and in slow motion. There are funny bits and times when they include the audience by asking them to clap. From the time they entered until they left I never stopped smiling. Lil Buck and Myles are cousins so you can feel their connection and Lil Buck studied some ballet and you can see the influence on his steps. The curtain lifts and there’s a stage set with several platforms and steps leading up to the highest platform. I hoped that the platforms would be used a lot but they only came into play for one dance. We also get to see the musicians – Sandeep Das (tabla, box drum, vocals), Kate Davis (acoustic bass, piano, vocals), Eric Jacobsen (cello), Grace Park (violin), Cristina Pato (gaita, piano), and Wu Tong (sheng, flute, vocals). (Since there were a lot of dances, I may get some of this wrong as to what happened and who was performing.) Pato played two traditional Galacian songs (“Muiñeiras” and “Jota de Pontevedra”) on the gaita (Galician bagpipes) while Lil Buck and Myles danced in front, around, and with her. She was walking back and forth in red high heels and the dancers were playing off the sounds of the gaita. Some of the steps were like a jookin’ version of Irish stepdancing. Next, Park steps forward and performs “Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major” (Johann Sebastian Bach) and Lil Buck and Myles dance along to the classical piece while having fun with Baroque dance. Das plays the tabla and sings while everyone watches. Then Lil Buck starts dancing to what I think is another tabla song or may be part of the original. Jacobsen and Das perform “Part Zero” (from Playlist for an Extreme Occasion by Vijay Iyer). Wu sings “Swallow Song” (Kazakh folk song arranged by Zhao Lin) and he has an absolutely beautiful voice. He’s been playing a type of Chinese mouth organ, which I later found out is the sheng, a mouth organ made of metal, wood, or a gourd with a blowpipe and at least 17 bamboo or metal pipes extending from the top of the bowl. The symmetrical arrangement of the pipes represents the folded wings of a phoenix. Wu and Das perform improvisation of “Extreme Sheng Music” with Das on the box drum. Lil Buck and Myles would watch the musicians and then get up and start dancing. Davis went over to the piano and performed her “One Way Ticket” while everyone watched. Then just before she began her “I Prefer Not to Fly,” Lil Buck walked over and sat next to her on the piano bench. After she started the song he got up slowly and his steps looked like he was trying to fly but something always brings him back to earth. At one point he spins around and around on his knees and almost takes off like a helicopter. For “Budget Bulgar” (Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin) Lil Buck and Myles dance a “Memphis Hora” that combines jookin’ with a hora. Wu improvises on the flute for “BaWu Solo” and at one point Lil Buck returns, shirtless, and climbs the steps to the highest platform. He does some steps in slow motion and slowly walks down the series of platforms until he is downstage and squatting with his body folded down onto itself. Pato starts playing the piano and then Jacobsen comes in on cello and the audience realizes it’s the music for the famous dying swan dance. His arms flutter and he rises. He moves around the stage slowly. At the end he’s up on the lowest platform and squats down and then takes one leg and puts his head under it and brings the other bent leg next to the first. It’s like he has no bones. It’s a beautiful version of “The Swan” (Camille Saint-Saëns). The last song is “Ascending Bird” (traditional Persian melody arranged by Colin Jacobsen and Siamak Aghaei) and everyone played including two new people on violin and viola. Lil Buck comes back out in a new t-shirt (Bob Marley on the front) and he and Myles dance around and play with the musicians. It ends when Lil Buck runs across the stage and makes an in-the-air somersault. Some steps are obviously choreographed but the music left room for improvisation by the dancers. This piece premiered in NYC in 2013 and it obviously changes as the musicians change.

By Carene Lydia Lopez