Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dance: Fall For Dance Festival

Unfortunately for all of you non-existent readers out there, I occasionally procrastinate. Fortunately for all of you, though, I rarely write about time-sensitive items. The Fall For Dance Festival ran the last few days of September and the first few of October, so it's clearly too late for you this year, but even if I had been live blogging the event, it would have been too late for you; with tickets that cost a mere $10 per night (with first-come, first-served seating) for a performance showcasing five companies and/or choreographers a night, the event generally sells out the day tickets become available, and the good seats are gone within minutes, literally. There are a lot of dancers in New York, and a lot of connoisseurs as well; it's not uncommon for someone to buy a ticket to each night's show, as I did.

Being a bit spacey about dates and times now that I no longer live by my outlook calendar, I missed the first night. That didn't put me off to such a bad start, though, as I missed merely the Paul Taylor Dance Company (I've see them before and their extreme white glee tends to rub me the wrong way), the Kirov Ballet (likely performing something very classical, which, while I can appreciate the necessary skill, I rarely find emotionally spellbinding or intellectually challenging, the two key criteria by which I judge any art, and particularly performances), Shantala Shivalingappa performing her own choreography with live musicians (I was sorry to miss this, as I know nothing about her) and a Twyla Tharp piece performed by Julliard Dance (I have secured free tickets to two of their shows in December, so no big heartbreak there).

The best part of missing the first night, though, was that my first Fall For Dance experience this season was Compagnie Kafïg, the opener for the second night. I curse the fact that I had the worst seat of any night for this show (the second to last row of the rear mezzanine!) Nevertheless, and although I could barely see, I was floored by their performance. From France, the company integrates break dancing (which intensely recalled capoeira) with "modern" dance—that is, they have class—and maintain all the artistic freedom key to their art while eliminating the rag-tag element. They were spell-binding, innovative, and heart-breaking (I know I will never be able to do what they do); they are brilliant and must not be missed should you ever have the chance to see them perform. By the way, they are also funny, and they have great sets and costumes. They were so good that they made the rest of the night—the rest of the festival even—pale in comparison, although the Ballet Hispanico also performed that evening with an excerpt from a piece called Club Havana set to beautiful music that made good use of cigarettes as props.

Rather than proceed with a night-by-night, play-by-play description, I will summarize the performances as best and worst; most and least interesting. What stood out—what dropped my jaw and broke my heart—were the following: Johan Kobborg performing Tim Rushton's Afternoon of a Faun to Debussy; Kobborg's is the epitome of what a dancer's body can be—indeed what God, if there were one, had in mind when he created the human body. Koburg embodied the sometimes shy and sometimes splendorous character of a young fawn as he dipped in and out of various spotlights struck onto a completely dark stage. Keigwin + Company, always young, innovative, and interesting, I find, made up for their fascinating but overcrowded piece from last year with a set of duets called Love Songs, performed by three pairs of young dancers who were as sprightly and saucy as they were technically proficient, something lacking in many other modern dance companies. Also (and as usual), the costumes were different and interesting, and the music was absolutely brilliant (particularly with the inclusion of Nina Simone's Ne Me Quitte Pas, arguably one of the most heart-rending recordings ever by a female vocalist. Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion performed Inventing Pookie Jenkins, a solo in which he—a lithe, statuesque, caramel-colored black man with a shaven head—wore a floor-length white crinoline and no shirt, and aped glorious movements, integrating classical modern with hip hop for both laughs and gasps from the audience (I tend to laugh less than gasp at performances, but his street thug swagger did push me toward a bit of a chuckle). Break the Eyes, choreographed by Jorma Elo and performed by the Boston Ballet, and which I've already written about here, also stood out.

Pieces that bored, annoyed, frustrated, and infuriated me were as follows: The 5th Wheel, from Carmen deLavallade with live music from Jane Ira Bloom, featured a disturbing and ugly dancer (deLavallade herself) in an ugly red stretch velveteen ensemble (think Juicy Couture for the stage) as she haplessly flitted around the stage on a cheap black office chair (with wheels; get it?) and "interacted" with Bloom, a soprano saxophonist, who oughtn't have been subjugated to this distraction from her lovely music. Equally disturbing and dreadful was Memory from Mats Ek, a "pas de deux" (of the non-balletic sort) in which Ek and Ana Laguna also haplessly flitted around the stage, this time on a minimal set representing a studio apartment's interior. The third and final hapless flitter was Damian Woetzel of the New York City Ballet, performing A Suite of Dances set to a live cellist's voluptuous renditions of Bach's Solo Cello Suites. Again, the musician was not behooved by the dancer, and Woetzel's scrawny, ambling, clowning movement, and his hideous velveteen jester-like costume, so sickened me that I did my utmost to keep my eyes trained on Wendy Sutter, the lissome cellist. It is true that I, like much of my generation, am prejudiced against the elderly. If this seems like a non sequitur, I think it's important that I explain that deLavallade, Ek, and Laguna, and Woetzel are all Old (at least, old for dancers, as in, definitely over 50 years of age (if not 60), with the exception of Woetzel who might be in his 40s). I think it's important to realize that dancers need full range of motion in order to express movement (I don't doubt this statement calls for dissenters, but I will stand by it), and aged, creaky bodies, however beautiful they may have once been, are no longer fit for the stage. It sounds cruel, but dance is not like acting, or writing, or playing music, in which wisdom enriches your craft. To see compromised bodies hobbling across the stage may be poignant for some (elderly?!) audiences (which is likely why these two pieces were so well received by the audience), but for a dancer, it is shameless and disgusting.

Some pieces promised more than they delivered. I had big hopes for Buckets and Tap Shoes, MSP to NYC, a world premiere performance by tap dancing and drumming brothers Andy and Rick Ausland, but their performance was only somewhat engaging and innovative; I saw better tap dancing and noise making at Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. Doug Varone and Dancers did a piece called Lux set to Philip Glass (a very popular musical choice this year, by the way, used also, and to equal small effect, by the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Cornered), but the piece was too long and lacked drama. The Urban Bush Women, whom I usually quite like, performed their signature piece, Batty Moves, which had some highlights but generally seemed dated and culturally melodramatic, and lagged at times; additionally, their costumes were both unflattering and uninteresting. Still, they are a talented, beautiful, and dynamic group of women. Armitage Gone! Dance did a piece called Ligeti Essays, and I only remember loving the music; I have no recollection of the dance, so it must not have moved me. Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company (discussed more here) performed a pas de deux called After the Rain that wasn't very enthralling or memorable, though I remember quite liking the music (by Arvo Pärt) as well.

The greatest disappointment was the Trisha Brown Dance Company, with something called Spanish Dance (which was neither Spanish nor dancing), to Bob Dylan's Early Morning Rain (I love Dylan, but I really prefer the Peter, Paul, and Mary recording of the old classic); the piece involved a number of female dancers, dressed white pajama-like outfits (tanks and loose pants), their hair down, spread in a line across the front edge of the stage (the curtain was never drawn). Train-like, the last dancer slowly chugged forward until she collided with the second-to-last dancer; then the two of them slowly chugged forward until they collided with the third-to-last dancer; then the three of them slowly chugged forward, and so forth, until all six or seven of them had chugged off the stage, their bodies pressed against each other. To call it tedious would be an understatement, and to call it rude and dismissive would be the same.

I had hoped for more from Srishti—Nina Rajarani Dance Creations, which with Quick! gave us a heavy-handed multi-media commentary on the role of the contemporary Indian man in the urban and corporate U.S.; the dancers (and live musicians) were skilled, but in their American-tailored suits, surrounded by video projection screens, a board room table, and other distracting accoutrements, they didn't have the "room" (I don't mean physical room) to actually dance; they felt like puppets. Equally skilled but somehow annoying was Treading from Elisa Monte Dance, a duet performed by the painfully thin Tiffany Rhea and the hulking Matthew Fisher. With her dandelion-fluff frame and unbound waist-length blond hair, Rhea's physical pairing with the black and meaty Fisher read like the heavy-handed scenes from The Loss of Sexual Innocence, and the sexual overtones of the choreography deepened the "ick" factor. Camille Brown of Camille A. Brown and Dancers rounded out the disappointments with an agitated performance called The Evolution Of a Secured Feminine, in which she wore a monstrosity of a costume (something of a pinstriped pantsuit, but with certain pieces, like one arm, missing). Her music was great—classics from Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, and Nancy Wilson—but the performance (which the audience seemed to find rather dynamic) I found to be quite static, her personal style of movement being short on variation.

The one company I've not yet addressed—Via Katlehong Dance—is from South Africa, and, if they hadn't been the final performers of festival (and the last mention in my blog entry!) I mightn't have been so exhausted that I couldn't appreciate their dynamism. In tap shoes, big boots, and curious costumes, they were, after Compagnie Kafïg, probably the most interesting performers, though not quite as spell-binding, and not quite as jaw-dropping. Still, they were shockingly high-energy, and appeared to be having more fun than any of the other performers during the festival. They deserved a show of their own.

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