Falling in Love
Fall for Dance Festival
September 28, 2004:
September 29, 2004:
Even before the first curtain—of thirty!—went up on the New York City Center Fall for Dance Festival, the event was a spectacular success. Fully sold out houses, for six nights, right up to the rafters. That Holy Grail of audiences, a truly mixed crowd. Lots and lots of students, dancers, choreographers, designers, and a host of nostalgic habitues of the old Delacorte Festival, which in like manner once served to introduce audiences to a broad swathe of dance. There were also camp followers. Of these last—the fans—the Dance Theatre of Harlem boasted many, on hand to get a last glimpse of the company before it goes on a financially induced hiatus.
Perhaps it wasn't the wisest move to present DTH in George Balanchine's "Agon," but it was an interesting one. Sadly, Arthur Mitchell's company lacks a cohort sufficient to the ballet's demands, lacking in particular a strong male for the pas de deux—which, ironically, was originated by Mr. Mitchell himself—though Tai Jimenez was lithely divine in the female role first danced by Diana Adams. Nonetheless, this is the theater where "Agon" was first danced (on November 27, 1957) and to see it on this stage is to appreciate it anew. What looks spiky and attenuated on the stage at Lincoln Center looks like intricate modernist clockwork in City Center. The entire piece has the feel of a fantastic puzzle. At its conclusion, Mr. Mitchell took bows with his troupe with the dignity of a deposed monarch, and the house reverberated with cheers.
This was as nothing to the response to Bill T. Jones's 1989 restaging of Arnie Zane's 1978 piece called "Continuous Replay," a kind of canonic accumulation of simple, supple gestures that progress across the stage from left to right (with a leaping crossover added at the back about two thirds of the way through) on an increasing number of people who are all naked. As the stage fills, the movement seems to travel across the dancers in waves, like wind on water, and the resulting stage pictures can be quite beautiful. Many of Mr. Jones's former company chose to join in the nudity; one brought along a serious, little girl (whose presence was disturbing to some, what with her wandering around eye-level in a forest of private parts gone public). The aura of the piece is one of grave capering–very, very 1970s—girlish church giggles broke out in the house only at the opening. For the rest—after a time, the dancers don random garments (a top here, a bottom there), first black, then white—the house was rapt.
STREB followed, with much ado concerning the placement of her various equipment pieces. "Wild Blue Yonder" seems to be about launching yourself–whether into thin air, or on a quest, or into some kind of inner space. It takes place on a trampoline, and is not best seen from above, which unfortunately is the vantage point of much of City Center. The moment when the performers bound off their tightly sprung trampoline and dolphin onto the mats below is a thrill best experienced at ground level. "Ricochet" is based on a simple premise: a transparent wall stops performers in the middle of an action. To my eye, it doesn't seem as if the STREB troupe hurtles at this divider, which is placed between us and them. It looks as if they are jousting towards something altogether else, and the wall gets in the way. Elizabeth Streb has herself journeyed some distance from her intellectually astringent beginnings, but even in the work she now calls "pop action," metaphor can lurk.
Closing the night's bill—after a vaudevillian before-the-curtain entr'acte by David Neumann, a lounge lizardish dance man performing to taped song—was the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in "How to Pass, Fall, Kick and Run" (see How To). Having seen this piece in the past year in Chicago and Washington, D.C., I found it to look a bit tired here, and Mr. Cunningham, as one of the narrators of the John Cage stories which accompany the jaunty movement, was visibly frail. His appearances now evoke the late David Warrilow's memorable performances in Beckett–"Krapp's Last Tape," in particular. The piece is very much of its time—which was the mid-sixties—and thus falls, temporally, between "Agon" and "Continuous Replay." No matter the ups and downs of this particular rendition of "How To," the most compelling aspect, to me, was knowing that young audience members were seeing, in his great old age, one of the signal modernists of the 20th century. "I saw Merce Cunningham, " they will be saying, one hundred years after he made this dance, "at the turn of the century."
They won't, however, be able to say they saw Martha Graham—though
those who returned to the festival for the second night did see "Embattled
Garden," which dates from a year after "Agon." You either
like seeing her worthy descendants in the Martha Graham Dance Company
carry on Graham's work, or you prefer to look at grainy black and white
film of the originals. I didn't think Graham looked like Graham even in
those last years she was still alive, which was presumptuous of me in
the extreme, as it is to say that I can't believe this unbalanced, glamorous,
and fastidious production has the allure of the real deal, though Virginie
Mécène has the moves. One audience member said to me later
that he thought the closing flamenco by Soledad Barrio and her company
had some of the heat he intuited in the Graham, but didn't feel.
RUBBERBANDDANCEGROUP was also new to me. They are a collective who mix hop-hop and classicism, which sounds awful, but turns out anything but. This is because the dancers have excellent technique and line—you can see the ballet and the break dancing in surprising and supple equilibrium, not so much fused as intermingled, each distinctive. Victor Quihada's 2002 "Elastic Perspective" was especially grand when set against traditional classical music, whether Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" or "La Traviata." There was wit in this, and imagination. Again, I don't know how long such work sustains itself over the long haul. (You never wonder that with, say, "Agon.") Maybe it's the next big thing, the real multi-culti. At any rate, it is intelligent, which is a big thing in and of itself.