Another Fall for Dance festival has come and gone, with the usual highs and lows. The biggest discovery for me came in the final program, which I saw last Sunday (Oct. 19). After an aggressive, dystopian Wayne McGregor piece for his company Random Dance (Far) and a pretty pas de deux by Pontus Lidberg (This Was Written on Water) for Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside came Aakash Odedra, a young English-born dancer of South Asian descent. Odedra specializes in kathak and barata natyam, two classical Indian dance forms. He has also collaborated with a long list of contemporary choreographers including Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and Russell Maliphant. His solo, “Nritta,” was thrilling. It had the speed, spins, and silvery quality of kathak, and the attack and lightness of kuchipudi. Odedra never seemed to stop for breath, driving forward with crackling energy, engaging in a kind of witty repartée with the music. He recently received a Bessie Award for his part in a James Brown tribute at the Apollo last year, Get on the Good Foot. I can’t wait to see more of him. Here he is in a 2011 solo:
Another high-point of the festival, at least for me, was Sarasota Ballet’s turn in Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs at the same performance. Inspired by Victorian skating parties, this 1937 ballet is a charmer. Groups skate on and off, a pair of girls skitters and falls, a haughty couple engages in a showy pas de deux. It’s a little twee, but knowingly so. You get the sense that Ashton js having a bit of fun with the whole idea. The technical challenges are considerable, too, and the company acquitted itself with assurance and aplomb.
Beforehand, I moderated a discussion with the company’s artistic director and assistant artistic director (Iain Webb and Margaret Barbieri), the dancer Amy Wood, and Ashton biographer David Vaughan. You can read some tidbits from that talk here.
The fall season begins. As a preview to its October run, Fall for Dance held two performances at the Delacorte this weekend. Saturday’s show had to be postponed for a day because of rain—a hazard—but the weather on the rain date, Sunday, was glorious: crisp, crystalline. Planes flew overhead, blinking their lights in salute. The program, consisting of Hubbard Street, two dancers from City Ballet, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance company, and a group gathered by Damian Woetzel, had its highs and lows. Here’s my review of the evening, for DanceTabs.
And a short excerpt:
“The most heart-felt, and probably the finest, piece of the evening was Bill T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters (Part I), danced by his marvelously eclectic company. These dancers look like a cross-section of humanity, and they move that way as well. The piece, set to Mendelssohn’s propulsive Octet – played by the Orion String Quartet plus four – is an anthem, a cry of defiance against death; it was made in 1989, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, as a member of Jones’s company was dying of the disease. ”
On Friday, New York City Ballet unveiled its first ballet by the young Briton Liam Scarlett, who, at 27, is considered one of the most promising new voices in ballet. The work is entitled “Acheron”—the name of a river in Greek mythology— and set to Poulenc’s Concerto in G for Organ, Strings, and Tympani, the same piece Glen Tetley used for his1973 ballet Voluntaries. You can read my review for DanceTabs here.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“The première of Acheron…revealed a choreographer of prodigious imagination and compositional craft, adept at building an atmosphere and suffusing it with traces of meaning. Though the ballet is abstract, without characters or a plot, an underlying theme coalesces by the end. With this deeper understanding, everything that comes before is bathed in a different hue. I’m eager to see it again, armed with this knowledge.”
I’d love to hear comments and thoughts from others who saw the ballet.
Enjoy your sunday—I hear Renée Fleming will be singing somewhere in Jersey tonight…
Here’s my review of Lil Buck, a young dancer specializing in a kind of hip-hop dance from Memphis known as Jookin’. He performed at the downtown spot Le Poisson rouge with an eclectic cast of musicians, including Yo Yo Ma, the quartet Brooklyn Rider, and the jazz trumpeter Marcus Printup. He’s a remarkably musical dancer. I reviewed the performance for DanceTabs.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“One of the immediately impressive aspects of Jookin’ technique is the fact that the impulse behind the footwork is concealed, so there seems to be no weight at all on the feet; the dancer propels himself in any direction with a kind of liquid, uninterrupted pas de bourrée, a series of tiny, braided steps. This unbroken continuity of motion is made possible by extremely flexible and controlled ankles, which undulate as the dancers create figure eights with their feet.”
There is something attractive about the idea of putting together an end-of-year list, no matter how artificial the concept. It offers us the illusion of good housekeeping and gives us permission to indulge in semi-serious nostalgia about the year that has just passed. Was it a good year for dance? Well, it has certainly had some highpoints. Here are a few, in no particular order.
1. The final Merce Cunningham Events at the New York Armory.
These were epic performances, and though technically they took place just before the New Year, for me, they marked the start of a new era, post Merce. The enormous Drill Hall, which spans an entire city block, was filled with people, six thousand strong, and the level of excitement and sadness was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The Cunningham dancers, together for the last time, danced as if in a trance. The whole thing was spine-tingling. Here’s what I wrote at the time, in The Nation:
“At the final performance at the Armory, on New Year’s Eve, the dancers gazed at the audience in shell-shocked amazement, as waves of applause rippled through the hall. Silas Riener, looking gaunt after the intensity of the tour and the relentless schedule of the final weeks, did a solo from the 1992 work Enter that led him as far as his body could go, swatting his arms and moving his head jerkily, like a man possessed, while sinking into deep squats that switched, seemingly without transition, into turns, or flipping himself from a downward facing position to an upward one, the arch in his back reversing dramatically. Emma Desjardins, a sensualist of the stage, looked as if she were about to cry. Jennifer Goggans, a company veteran, seemed the most at ease, joining Daniel Madoff in a stately, formal walkabout on one of the platforms. Andrea Weber, with her athletic, healthy, beautiful body, smiled beatifically, as if constantly amazed at the challenges presented to her. As electronic and brass sounds filled the hall (I think it was David Behrman’s “Open Space With Brass”), she bent her legs deeply, balancing on her toes, then tipped into a sideways tilt and slowly curved her spine backward and looked up at the heavens. She was dancing for Merce. They all were.”
2. Dorothée Gilbert in the Paris Opéra Ballet’s Giselle.
Until her performance, I admired but was not fully seduced by the company during its visit to New York. Mostly, I was impressed by the corps of wilis in Giselle, who danced with such eerie precision that they made me think of those movies where animators take one person and multiply him ten-thousand-fold to create a multitude. But Gilbert’s beauty and charm, and the freshness of her interpretation, won me over completely. In The Faster Times, I wrote:
“Like all the Paris Opéra dancers, it seems, the twenty-eight-year-old Gilbert is a very beautiful woman, without being anonymously pretty. Long, long neck, strong jawline, gorgeous shoulders, sensitive back, pronounced Gallic nose. But what is most noticeable is her eyes, which are enormous and bright, and remarkably lively…Every emotion and thought is easily legible, and more importantly, we see what she sees. In this, she reminds me of Indian classical dancers, for whom the eyes play an essential role in bringing the narrative to life, while simultaneously enveloping the viewer with their charm….In Gilbert’s Giselle, the eyes tell the whole story: from her initial shyness to her delight in Albrecht’s attentions, her disappointment with the results of the “he loves me, he loves me not” game, her love of dancing, her absolute lack of guile, and, in the end, her fatal incomprehension of Albrecht’s betrayal.”
3. Shantala Shivalingappa at Fall For Dance.
I know, I know, Shivalingappa was on my 2011 year-end list last as well. But I just can’t get enough of this classical Indian dancer, who specializes in kuchipudi. At Fall For Dance, she performed a shortened version of her evening-length solo Shiva Ganga. As I wrote in DanceTabs, “she is one of the most musical dancers I have ever seen, in any form. Not only are the movements of her body indistinguishable from the music, but she can switch from slow to fast, muscular to fluid, potent to sensual in an instant, with total ease….Her solo ended with the dancer bent forward, near the floor, arms rippling. Her body had become a landscape.”
In October, I interviewed her, and she proved to be as gracious in speech as she is graceful in movement. She told me: “Basically, I don’t think it’s me doing anything, I think we’re just instruments for something coming from somewhere else. If we can allow ourselves to be very transparent, clear, open, empty, then it can happen. You have to be ready. But you have to be qualified, use your talents, train yourself, practice every day so that your legs are strong, to give yourself the full range, but then be quiet. Try to be in touch with whatever is inside and waiting to come out. I’m always expecting to be surprised, and I don’t know whether I can do it.”
4. Moiseyev Dance Company at Fall For Dance.
I expected the company to be dynamic and virtuosic, but I had no idea they would be so damned exciting. Great dancers, wonderful music, and highly effective stagings of folk dance from across the former Soviet Republics. If you don’t believe me, just check out this Kalmyk Dance:
5. Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphony Number 9.
That Ratmansky has an affinity for Shostakovich we already knew from The Bright Stream and Concerto DSCH. But this new work, for ABT, just got better and better as it went along. Asecond viewing revealed new depths: “Different details emerged, and the performances of Roberto Bolle and Veronika Part—particularly Veronika Part—revealed a thematic thread I had not noticed before. The symphony was commissioned as a celebration of Russia’s victory over the Nazis. It is essentially upbeat, snappy, even frenetic in its good spirits (at least at first). But it protests its cheerfulness too much, thus introducing a darker undertone. In the first slow movement, there is a sinuous clarinet melody that Ratmansky clearly hears as an intimation of danger. The tango-like pas de deux that dominates this section is furtive; the man and woman constantly turn their heads to make sure they are not surrounded by spies or enemies. A creeping crescendo in the strings seems to evoke great forces encircling the couple. Here and in the movement that followed, the alternate-cast Veronika Part—a great dramatic ballerina—revealed powerful undercurrents of sadness. Where Polina Semionova’s twisting, supple body had given the duet the feel of an illicit tryst, Part’s powerful back and shoulders made it clear that the peril came from without. She communicated fear, desperation, and the desire to protect her lover from harm. Thus, it made even more sense to see the lone male figure—Jared Matthews, in this cast, Herman Cornejo in the first—as a guardian angel protecting the couple.”
6. Herman Cornejo’s dancing, all year long.
(Cornejo in Mark Morris’s Drink to me Only With Thine Eyes. Photo by Gene Schiavone.)
He was brilliant and funny in American Ballet Theatre’s production of Ashton’s The Dream, swooningly romantic in Sinatra Suite, noble and conflicted in La Bayadère, mysterious and blazing in Ratmansky’s Symphony No. 9, deeply musical in Mark Morris’s Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.
In November, he told me: “Well, performing for me is really about that experience of giving to the audience. In the studio you work and perfect things, you collaborate with your partner, but for me it’s about what happens on the stage, the ability to give something, to your partner, to the audience. In the studio and the rest of the time I’m just like anyone; the only time I feel different is on stage.”
After my interview with Herman Cornejo appeared in DanceTabs, the photographer Lucas Chilczuk contacted me. Turns out he took a series of photographs of Cornejo and Luciana Paris during rehearsals of Twyla Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite,” for Fall For Dance. When I spoke to the dancer he told me: “I talked to…Twyla about it, and I told [her] that in order for it to work for me I had to make it my own, I had to express something about myself. With Baryshnikov, the ballet was really about him, but to me, it’s about the man and the woman, the relationship between them….That last pas de deux with Luciana [My Way], for me, it’s about having to part with someone you love, even though the passion is still there, and that’s something I can understand. When I do that final solo I have a lot of memories, not precise images, but moments and sensations of things I’ve experienced. It leaves me feeling very empty.” I think these photos by Lucas Chilczuk capture that feeling well. (You can see more of Chilczuk’s dance photographs at http://www.lucasch.com. )
Cornejo and Paris are old friends, a fact which I think shines through their performance…
Chilczuk also took this nice cover shot of Luciana Paris, for the Argentine magazine Balletin: