The eighth year of Fall for Dance (through Nov 6) marks a transition of sorts for the popular festival, which has by all accounts succeeded in its goal of exposing a vast range of the world’s dance offerings to large New York audiences via cheap tickets. Geographically, it takes place in the renovated New York City Center, recently transformed from the proverbial comfortable old couch into a more modern, sleek iteration with the requisite wall of flat screens, handsomely overlaid with tracery elements of Moorish patterning that echoes throughout the theater. Wider (and fewer) seats in the house decrease the claustrophobia of the old setup and improve the sightlines. House doors now open perpendicularly to the stage rather than parallel, so there’s less leaked light. The old cast-iron radiators in the foyer are gone, a services booth has been added, and even the logo (which will change colors seasonally) was redone.
Onstage, however, the festival itself feels like it’s moving away from the new, free for all, mix and match melange that contributed to FFD’s continuing popularity which could’ve been described by the old adage about the weather: if you don’t like it, wait a minute and it’ll change. This year’s slate feels more mature, more classical, less representative of indigenous forms, the lineup of dancemakers more self-consciously selected for big-time potential (particularly in ballet, possibly addressing its obsession with a few choreographers at a time), as well as modern masters such as Trisha Brown and Mark Morris.
Program 3 (seen on November 2) for example, led off with Glen Tetley’s Gemini by the Australian Ballet, dipping its toes in the water in preparation for a Koch Theater season next June. Judging by the strong, charismatic performers in this abstract, highly classical quartet, in particular the powerhouse Lana Jones, it should be well received. A principal with London’s Royal Ballet, Steven McRae, was the evening’s “wild card,” performing a delicate tap routine shot through with breathtaking ballet leaps and chainés. This evoked whoops and hollers that had become a hallmark of past FFD performances, but which have abated as the festival (and its audiences?) matures.
Pontus Lidberg Dance, in its American debut, danced Faune, a twist on Debussy’s L’Apres midi d’une faune, a sort of identity shell game cleverly played with garments. This was a bit of deja vu however, since two of its dancers were just featured at the Joyce last week in Morphoses, where Lidberg (who danced) will serve as artistic director next year. The finale was powerful: one of Ohad Naharin’s retrospective mashups, THREE TO MAX (even the title’s a mashup), performed by the versatile Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Several of the dancers nailed the elusive qualities inherent in Naharin’s own Batsheva company—the absolute lack of anticipation, the relaxed bravura, the deadpan stare—not an easy task without constant practice. But his riveting, animalistic, tribe-based movement read loud and clear, leaving audiences, in their new green velvet seats, on a high.