Fall for Dance Ends on a High
People come from near and far to obtain tickets for New York City Center’s Fall for Dance festival. They know they will see an amazing array of dance—a total of 20 stellar companies in five programs—at only $15 a pop. Even for those of us familiar with the international dance scene, there is something new every night of this two-week festival.
Last weekend wrapped up another astounding display of radically different kinds of dance. Going the psychic distance from one to the next can be like planetary travel. For example, on the last night, kuchipudi dance artist Shantala Shivalingappa, with her sharp rhythms, spiraling fingers and slapping feet, cast a peaceful spell. Then, with barely a pause, we were thrust into the world of obsessively jabbing, combative extremities and shuddering spines courtesy of Marco Goecke’s Woke Up Blind for Nederlands Dans Theater. The difference in those two worlds gives a sampling of how vast the art of dance can be.
It’s also exciting to see a choreographer who has established a certain style, one that might seem forever indelible, do something entirely different. And so it was with Witness, a world premiere choreographed by Wayne McGregor for Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. The pairing is an obvious choice. Their partnership in Romeo and Juliet at American Ballet Theatre last June was made in heaven. And before that, in Martha Clarke’s Cheri, they shared a dangerously addictive passion.
In Witness, a Fall for Dance commission, they had the same divine rapport but were more themselves. There was even a tiny fleck of diffidence from Ferri, which somehow made the diving, trusting lifts all the more touching. McGregor's choreography was as inventive as ever, but gone was the aggressiveness, the belligerence that sometimes turns people off. Instead these two exquisite dancers seemed to meet, entwine or surge together by chance rather than by force, surprising us with their shapes. With the spare, silence-studded piano music by Nils Frahm and the stark lighting by Clifton Taylor (inspired by the painter Agnes Martin), there was a feeling of tristesse within a very contemporary aesthetic.
Here are some other highlights:
Airslice, photo by Perron.
Elizabeth Streb’s Airslice, the only other Fall for Dance commission, elicited daredevil spirit from the dancers of STREB Extreme Action. Its giant tilting ladder had the dancers seemingly swinging and swaying from their fingertips, hanging on for dear life it. But what brought the piece into new territory was Zaire Baptiste, the “resident DJ/music producer,” who stoked the audience (“let's make some noise”) and gave Airslice a lively rhythmic context. The dancers were jiving with readiness, and the audience, at Baptiste’s urging, unleashed cheers and gasps at STREB's spectacular moves.
Wendy Whelan’s new project, a duet by Arthur Pita based on songs of Kurt Weill from Threepenny Opera, launches her into an entirely different role: the sexy temptress ready to kiss or kill her tango partner, Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson. In The Ballad of Mack and Ginny they are well matched; each is a unique creature onstage. Here’s what Whelan said about Watson when she was just planning their rep: “He’s smart and thoughtful and loves to try new things…I’d like to get crazy with Ed.” In Pita’s hands, they do get crazy, in the guise of these bawdy, irony-drenched characters.
Wendy Whelan & Edward Watson in The Ballad of Mack and Ginny, photo by Andrej Uspenski
Then there was Farruquito, third generation flamenco master. Although he’s an undeniably snazzy dancer, with heel work to die for, it wasn’t until his musicians got up to dance that you felt the gypsy soul of this group.
Other international fare included Cloud Gate 2 from Taiwan, Dada Masilo/The Dance Factory from South Africa, Richard Alston from London, and the Canadian Aszure Barton. Each one was mind-expanding in small and large ways. But the real expansion came from traveling the distance from the heart of one group to the heart of another.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.