REVIEW: Fall For Dance Festival 2013 at New York City Center | Program 2
The Fall for Dance Festival 2013 continues in its atmosphere of discovery by jump starting young choreographer’s careers and celebrating its tenth anniversary season. With the eclectic mix of artists’ work from around the world, it’s no wonder New Yorkers continue to attend the Festival’s home at New York City Center, if not for the velvet armchairs and Moorish fantasy interior alone.
Friday night at the Fall For Dance festival began with Nrityagram’s Vibhakta, by choreographer Surupa Sen who also performed the piece along with Bijayini Satpathy. Introducing provocative motifs with a brilliant use of musicality, Sen proves the art of oracle story telling is just as much a part of the dance world, as any physical technique would be. Based in the dance village of Nrityagram outside of Bangalore, India, Sen’s vocabulary is rooted in ancient practice. It was clear; however, through her colorful expansion on the tradition, that she is committed to carrying Indian dance into the 21st century. With golden bracelets and decorative ankle bells, the two women seemed to rotate their bones without disturbing the flesh, leaving a focus for detail that has otherwise been lost on customary American stages. The row of five musicians, stage right, produced an ambience of Indian culture, while Sen and Satpathy circled around one another on an otherwise empty stage. This, above all, was Vibhakta’s most impressive choreographic component as a cultural practice displayed on the main stage: an air of unoccupied space. This gave the audience a playground to imagine and fill the surrounding void with…whatever one wanted. As a dance technique not always mainstreamed on the New York stages, Sen’s simple choreographic approach to an overcomplicated and difficult school for thought, was a smart and powerful tactic in this excerpt from her full length work Pratima: Reflection.
The Vancouver based 605 Collective gave their US premiere of Selected Play, performed by dancers Laura Avery, Ralph Escamillan, Lisa Gelley, Shay Kuebler, Josh Martin, and Reneé Sigouin. If the musical charisma of West Side Story met the movement flavor of Saturday Night’s Fever, their love child would be this group of urban and contemporary dance. Full of electric youth and physically demanding movement, the dancers used each other as an ever evolving canvas; painting on and wiping clean. With clear definitions of fem funk, street style, hip-hop, break dance, and classic modern, the collective somehow made complexity appear simple, and simplicity appear more intricate than grandma’s needlework. The six dancers refreshed the art of tableau, and re-invented the concept of circular, by using clever movement to create the shape of a ring, donut, solid, and infinity. The group’s mission, embedded in collaboration between emotional innovation and physical demands, is clearly setting a new standard for original works of extreme versatility.
With a performance like Selected Play, giving new hope to the art of performance, HeadSpaceDance opened the New York premiere of Light Beings, giving allegiance to the art of comedic relief. With intermission directly before, the curtain opened to display a completely raw stage, stripped of curtains, and extra materials. Performer and co-artistic director Charlotte Broom stood downstage, drop dead center in a maiden outfit of sunset blues and pinks, moving with quirky interpretations of classical ballet positioning. Soon joined by co-artistic director and performer Christopher Akrill, the two engaged in, what would seem to be a technical ballet duet, but in actuality was the mocking of one. HeadSpaceDance, based in London, used the common and yet uncommon approach of slapstick humor to tell a story without truly telling any story at all. Akrill and Broom danced with the flavor of a classical ballet, while at the same time making fun of the dramatic, edge defining traditional choreography that should change our perspective in romance, truth, and beauty within a couple of hours? The beautiful string music by Sibelius, gave the viewer a sort of back seat familiarity of pleasant sounds and metered timing, while the dancers engaged in high fives, balanced flex feet, jumps that never seemed to leave the floor, and lifts that never hit its peak. Without giving any clear boundary, Akrill and Broom seemed determined to laugh at themselves first, before enjoying the comedy of life itself, and this refreshing approach in making work reminded audiences to do the same.
Unfortunately the comedy of errors continued with Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Gloria, choreographed by Robert Garland, and dedicated to the Abyssinian Baptist Church’s current pastor Reverend Calvin Otis Butts III. With so much wonder being displayed on New York City Center’s stage for the evening, it was a surprise to see the grand finale overshoot its chemistry with the viewers. Dance Theatre of Harlem set itself up with the potential and promise of a contemporary twist on the convention of liturgical dance, and did not deliver in content. While the technique of these young ballerinas was undeniable, the passionate absurdity HeadSpaceDance so brilliantly portrayed in Light Beings, was actually missing in Gloria. Exuberant music by Francis Poulenc set the stage with majestic pews, angels of grace, and colorful stained glass windows even rainbows would be jealous of; however, the arrival of each dancer, no matter formation or number, delivered a lack thereof approach. In “Domine Deus, Rex caelestis”, performer Da’Von Doane shed a little bit of light in the otherwise tiresome choreography, by weaving his body in and out of the two rows of dancers, chained by the arms, with backs to the audience. His seemingly struggle with faith, with life, with God was only appropriate movement vocabulary as it met the distinguished draining of life in the audience. Even under less than enthusiastic choreography, this was the only moment of the night both performer and viewer met under the same emotional umbrella. With bright lime greens, and simple royal blue leotards and skirts, the Dance Theatre of Harlem highlighted and showcased themselves with all the success a company since 1969 should have, and yet delivered one too many across the stage bourree’s and evangelical promises for a better tomorrow without any plan of action.
Regardless, the Friday night line up seemed to highlight the concept of new vs. old, of reinventing the classic, or renewing the traditional. The companies displayed what they know, what they believe to be true, while still leaving an air of possibility and change to be filled by the onlooker, by the dreamer in the seat, front row, eyes as big as fish. With that flight of collaboration between audience and performer leaping the stages and rows of New York, an already inventive city, made everyone rather giddy with the possibility of growing to a place of undiscovery. Falling for dance has never been this easy, or this scary, but has always been worth it.