Fall for Dance is a wildly successful annual festival at New York City Center featuring $10 tickets and an amazing range of dance companies, 28 total. Now in its fifth year, the festival – produced by Ellen Dennis – spanned ten nights, with six different programs. All three programs I saw offered intriguing variety and samples of outstanding companies from around the world.
In a way, the wide range within each program works perfectly for the contemporary short attention span, when whole thoughts have to be reduced to 75-character text messages. It is a bit like channel surfing on TV, going from Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal in a charming work by Aszure Barton, to Oregon Ballet Theatre doing a Chris Wheeldon duet, to a traditional Indian dance by Madhavi Mudgal, an invocation to Shiva.
On that same program, Sheron Wray performed Jane Dudley’s Harmonica Breakdown from 1938, a remarkable solo inspired in part by Dorothea Lange’s photos. It was a sharp contrast to Uprising, by Hofesh Schechter, Israeli-born but now based in London. His cast of men more prowled the stage than danced, sometimes freezing in poses before unleashing martial kicks. Much looking forward to this company’s return to New York, whenever that may be.
The second evening I saw offered an even broader range. Two companies in particular comprised polar opposites of contemporary dance: Beijingdance/LDTX, in The Dagger choreographed by Li Hanzhong and Ma Bo, was amply dramatic and large-scale with its cast of thirteen in lace-bodiced full-length black or white gowns. Yet it felt a couple of decades older than its two years, bogged down in part by its resolute seriousness. In contrast, The New 45, Richard Siegal/The Bakery’s brilliant duet performed by Ayman Harper and Mario Zambrano, felt perfectly of the moment. It was almost like a stream of consciousness flow of movement snippets from dance, daily life, language, you name it – performed with levity, humor and precision to a jazz standard score.
Another highlight was Single Room, a solo by Bulareyaung Pagarlava for Fang-yi Sheu, known in New York for her brilliant performances with the Martha Graham company, and now running a company in Taiwan called LAFA & Artists. It was more of a duet for Sheu and a table, which she balanced on, dangled from, and smothered completely. Even in silhouette, Sheu is never less than electric. A Balanchine pas de deux danced charmingly by Houston Ballet’s Connor Walsh and Sara Webb, and a hypnotic hula dance by the Gentlemen of Halau Na Kamalei rounded out the night.
The final program featured four excellent companies. The likable Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet did Twyla Tharp’s elegiac Sweet Fields, a liquid and engaging work for ten dancers. San Francisco Ballet offered Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, in which three couples – all stellar performers (including a familiar face, Sofiane Sylve, late of NYCB) – proferred three views on love, to Chopin performed live onstage. A duet by Nacho Duato, performed by Ana Maria Lopez Huerst and Francisco Lorenzo of Compania Nacional de Danza of Spain, showed Duato’s facility for making dance phrases like long cursive sentences, seamless and beautifully organic.
And Paul Taylor’s iconic Esplanade fittingly closed the festival, as it traditionally does his annual seasons at City Center. This dance hits every emotional note and winds up with the quietly radiant Michelle Fleet (assuming retired Lisa Viola’s role) bidding a simultaneous hello and goodbye to this year’s FFD, well on its way to becoming an institution.