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Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Daisy Phillps and James O'Hara in 'Faun' | Photo Diego Franssens Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Daisy Phillps and James O'Hara in 'Faun' | Photo Diego Franssens

REVIEW: Fall for Dance Festival 2013 at New York City Center | Program 5

Program 5

The final program of the 2013 Fall For Dance festival is ready to be loved. It is vulnerable, expressive, virtuosic, and, at its best, proud. This whole festival is an opportunity for discovery, a breeding ground for critique, an welcoming entry via fine examples of current dance. Program 5 is diverse and provocative, providing a perfect closing note.

A New York premiere, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun opens with James O’Hara contorted on the floor against a backdrop of dimly light trees—light comes, and O’Hara rises, testing his muscles by sending rippling currents from toe to wrist, head to heel, through and around his torso. As the ripples grow, we marvel at his articulated joints and his ability to sequence an impulse through tiny segments of his body, as though he were made up of many small chains. This marvel gives way to astonishment as he makes ample use of his rubbery spine, backbending and tumbling head-over-tail with alarming ease; it becomes something more akin to horror when the unnervingly hyperextended Daisy Phillips takes the stage and twists her knee thoroughly out of alignment. The program notes proclaim that Faun explores “the animalistic nature of human movement,” but there’s not much human movement here. Instead O’Hara and Phillips, both physically impressive, neither wholly captivating, are let loose in quasi-tantric partnered contortions, occasionally springing free into more full-bodied dancing. The end is the most human moment: he separates himself from her; she reclines tensely with an air of introspection. It’s uncomfortable, as is much of what precedes it, but this alone is not a problem: the problem is the uncertainty as to why Cherkaoui relies so heavily on unnatural, gymnastic feats if his inquiry surrounds natural movement.

Within the opening moments of Richard Siegal’s o2Joy danced by members of the L.A.-based BODYTRAFFIC, the premise is clear: these are seriously skilled dancers here to have a seriously good time. Siegal, whose work runs the gamut from contemporary ballet to experimental modern, cuts loose in a joyous hullabaloo set to jazz classics. The work has moments of real hilarity, notably the finest (possibly only—correct me if I’m wrong, I’m eager for more examples) instance of lip-syncing the concert dance stage has ever seen. Andrew Wojtal is delectably campy as the “singer”, delivering his rendition of “All of Me” (recorded by Ella Fitzgerald) while simultaneously dancing and feuding with his backup ladies (BODYTRAFFIC co-founders Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett). Other times, the dancers seem too sure of themselves, too preoccupied, perhaps, with their virtuosity to deliver the kind of spontaneous performance that brings the choreography to life. o2Joy ends abruptly, unsure whether it ever had or needed a full narrative arc, not willing to commit either way.

Chase Johnsey, performing under the stage name Yakatarina Verbosovich, was truly excellent as a vicious Odile, alternately baring her teeth at poor Prince Siegfried and coyly fluttering her arms. Perfectly placed balances with the kind of extension any ballerina would strive for? She’s got ‘em. The famous 32 fouette turns in the coda? You betcha.
Anna Rogovoy

One can hardly discuss the role of humor in dance without mentioning Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male company known for its repertory of recreations of famous ballets with devilish twists. For Fall For Dance, the company highlighted high drama and exquisite dancing in the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake, with choreography after Marius Petipa. Chase Johnsey, performing under the stage name Yakatarina Verbosovich, was truly excellent as a vicious Odile, alternately baring her teeth at poor Prince Siegfried and coyly fluttering her arms. Perfectly placed balances with the kind of extension any ballerina would strive for? She’s got ‘em. The famous 32 fouette turns in the coda? You betcha. But the surprise treat of the pas de deux, and maybe the whole evening, was Carlos Hopuy/Innokenti Smoktumuchsky as Siegfried. If ever there were a case for perfect harmony between humor and virtuosity, this would be it: Hopuy, innocent as his stage name suggests, bashfully youthful, brought weightless buoyancy to Siegfried’s famous variation, with gorgeous lines and airy turns. These men can DANCE, regardless of the gender they’re representing.

The evening—and the Festival—closes fittingly with a performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of City Center’s resident companies. In a pre-performance discussion with Marina Harss on Friday, Matthew Rushing commented on the lasting power of the Ailey classic Revelations, saying that “it speaks about spirit…it’s something that’s universal.” This sentiment applies to many of the works in the company’s expansive repertory—Revelations, Taylor’s Arden Court, Naharin’s Minus 16—and absolutely to Home, the Rennie Harris work presented this weekend. Through Harris’ exuberant movement vocabulary, atmospheric lighting design by Stephen Arnold, thoughtful costuming by Jon Taylor, and a palpable sense of ensemble awareness, Home takes shape as a peek into a dance that is constantly occurring and the community it builds. This perpetual action shifts tempo, shifts spatially, shifts dancers, flowing organically from section to section without losing momentum. The company takes to Harris’ choreography easily, maintaining form and composure at a rigorous pace. Rushing was the featured performer on Friday, at once grounded and luxuriant, springy and carefree. Ending exactly as it began with implications of an infinite loop, Home celebrates the Ailey troupe, its history and dancers, and movement itself. It’s a perfect end to this festival, inspiring reflection and appreciation for the work that came before and the excitement for what will come next.

Post by Anna Rogovoy

Anna Rogovoy is a Brooklyn-based dancer, writer, and arts administrator. She is a member of Daniel Roberts and Dancers and the company manager of Dorrance Dance. She holds a B.A. with concentrations in dance and literature from Bennington College.

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