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November 2011

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Juilliard Dance

Published: November 7, 2011
Category: review

The Sumptuous Gifts of Fall for Dance 2011

By Rachel Straus

NEW YORK — The Fall for Dance Festival is a two-week terpsichorean bonanza. It harkens back to vaudeville’s glory days, with its diverse array of talent and cheap seats. Now in its eighth year, the festival isn’t flagging (like the economy) or sputtering into dismal repetition (like certain unnamed politicians’ speeches). In program one, seen Oct. 28, the dance aficionado and novice feasted on four 21st-century works at $10 a ticket.

Spearheaded by New York City Center President Arlene Shuler (with artistic advisement from Stanford Makishi, formerly of the Baryshnikov Arts Center), this year’s festival coincided with the re-opening of the theater, following a $75M renovation. Once shrouded in darkness, the former Masonic temple looks smartly polished, its ornamental details now colorfully etched. The seats are more comfortable. At the mezzanine level, dance historian Lynn Garafola has curated an admirable exhibit about Jerome Robbins, whose long relationship with City Center helped make it a major destination for dance.

Fall for Dance ran through last weekend, offering five programs. In the first, Lil Buck, a street dancer who calls his style “Memphis jookin,’” was a physical marvel. In his treatment of Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” he folded his head under the “wing” of his knee and transformed his double-jointed arms into a sea of furiously fast fluttering that made the audience gasp. Buck’s “Swan” seems the absolute antithesis of the “Dying Swan,” which also uses Saint-Saëns’s piece, made in 1905 by Michel Fokine for Anna Pavlova. Fokine’s ballet was an anti-virtuoso statement. Buck’s is all about tricks. It could have looked cheap, but Buck’s face looked sincerely ecstatic. His encore, where he spun on the tips of his sneakers as he raised his head skyward, revealed him to be something of a poet. Too bad the harpist and cellist’s on-stage interpretations were not up to Buck’s.

In the world premiere of “Rogues,” dancers Neal Beasley and Lee Serle performed Trisha Brown’s signature loping, pedestrian-like phrases to a soundtrack of whistling winds and a lone harmonica. As the dancers’ unison grew stronger and their movements became more full-bodied with gargantuan glides and rolls, “Rogues” looked cinematic, the dancers sailing through Brown’s movements without fuss, like hobos hopping rails in the Great Depression.

Mark Morris’ “All Fours” (2003) opened the program, its musical dancers dressed in black, bathed in Nicole Pearce’s blood-red lighting and backed by a live performance of Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4, just below and to the right of the stage. Critics often call Morris’ choreographic style music visualization. He seems to alternate between leading and being led by sound, as if initiating and then responding to the angular intricacies of Bartók’s score. His movement choices stem from a reverential, but not subservient relationship to music. “All Fours” referenced a family in some kind of dysfunctional state, but it remains an unsolved mystery to this viewer. At the end, the brother character lifts his sister; she reaches for something beyond her grasp as though her life depends on it. This gesture further confused the issue, obscuring the impact of the work’s intense musical-choreographic connection.

Edwaard Liang’s “Woven Dreams” (2011), which ended the evening, featured 18 members of the Joffrey Ballet dancing to an assortment of recorded 19th- and 20th-century string music. Jeff Bauer’s complex set, which lowered and rose for no apparent reason and resembled couture macramé, gave “Woven” that “big ballet production” feel. The dancers, in shiny blue leotards, did their best to make Liang’s complex steps look seamless, but it wasn’t easy for them. Liang’s choreography lacks transitions, looking more like a series of snapshots than a smooth flow of moving images (or dreams). Still, the force of the dancers’ jumps and the beauty of their arms spiraling in his abstract wonderland was thrilling to witness.

Musical America




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