FALL FOR DANCE: Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal; Nai-Ni Chen; Benjamin Millepied & Company; Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company; Paul Taylor Dance Company
By Susan Reiter
If the idea behind programming eclectic mixed bills in this terrific festival is to open with something that grabs the audience's attention, that was certainly achieved on Saturday, when the inventive, amusing and disturbing antics of Ohad Naharin's "Minus One" began even before the house lights went down. As the audience took its seats, Anthony Bougiouris of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, in a black suit and white shirt, was strutting and slinking his way through spontaneous-looking, but deftly timed, dancing to mambo and cha-cha music. His movement was expansive but always just a touch off-kilter, as he threw himself off-balance and recovered in style.
Before the house lights fully dimmed, 22 similarly-clad men and women joined him, entering one by one until the stage was filled. They bobbed in place with clenched fists, then exploded into mass of flinging movement whose visceral impact on the audience. One man came forward, ranting loudly and violently as the curtain fell and he had to scramble to avoid it.
When the curtain rose again, a large semicircle of chairs filled the stage, and the dancers launched into what has become a familiar excerptat least it was quite familiar to me, having seen it performed by Hubbard Street Dance Company more than once, and also by Naharin's own company. ("Minus One" consists of multiple segments that are mixed and matched on various occasions.) Accompanied by the heavy, repetitive strains of a chanted Israeli song, the dancers proceed through an accumulation sequence; each time the movement phrase ripples through the arc of dancers, another phrase is added. They sit, slouch, undulate, rise and sit, and perform busy semaphore-like arm movements, with the last man at the front end of the semi-circle always flopping forward, in an alarmingly dangerous-looking way, before righting himself back in his chair.
This gained its impact from the rapid-fire way the movement sequence travels from one dancer to another, as though they share a single nervous system, all in time to the music's droning pulse. On a stage the size of City Center's and with this large a cast, the effect was vividly theatrical, although the later portion, when they start peeling off layers of clothing till they stand looking vulnerable in grey tank tops and briefs, never quite rings true.
After a brief excerpt from "Anaphaza," for six of these grey-clad dancers accompanied by a metronome's steady ticking, five men in pale long, layered sarongs performed the ritualistic "Black Milk," which has moments of great beauty in their supple, springy bursts of action. But Naharin seems to be striving for a mystical solemnity, with moments of stillness and a sequence in which the men kneel a portentously streak their faces and torsos with grey paint. The implied drama came through more powerfully when the Ailey company's men performed it. But overall, the powerful ensemble spirit of the Montreal troupe was impressive in this dynamic performance, and elicited enthusiastic cheering from the audience.
Following a half-hour of movement on such a vast scale, Nai-Ni Chen demonstrated eloquently how to hold the stage as a solo figure. In her exquisite, fluid "Passage to the Silk River," she blended a swooping openness that, with the extended flowing sleeves of her white costume, invoked the urgency and freedom of an Isadora Duncan solo, with a purity of expression and delicate control. Making the extended sleeves ripple and eddy as though propelled by the momentum of a river's current, she captured the essence of water simply and without affectation, as her excellent musicians played a haunting melodies on bamboo flute and ancient zither.
Benjamin Millepied has recently been spreading his choreographic wings, and on this program he offered "Circular Motion," a male quartet performed with the stage stripped bare to expose the rear wall and wing space. The costuming was equally utilitarianblack shorts or tights for all four, with different colored T-shirts for each. Millepied was joined by fellow New York City Ballet members jared Angle and Tyler Angle, plus former company member Alexander Ritter. Steven Beck and Stephen Gosling performed Daniel Ott's "Pieces of Reich" and his arrangement of a Reich score on grand pianos faced each other upstage center.
They mostly alternated solos and duets, remaining at the perimeter of a circle while waiting and watching in between their turns. Millepied set them charging through space with athletic vigor, employing their classical technique but asking them to be more earthy and vigorous than elegant. The piece has a crisp efficiency but its initially taut outlines tended to sag as it progressed. Lanky, indolent-looking Tyler Angle's bold, juicy dancing was a notable pleasure.
Fall for Dance has fortunately found the means to include an intriguing array of visiting companies, offering a glimpse into dance activity from places whose choreographers have had little previous New York exposure. Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company, based in Argentina, performed three excerpts from Angiel's "Air-Condition" that displayed her notably sensual, communicative approach to suspended movement. Choosing her costuming and original commissioned music very skillfully, she created wonderful tension in a black-clad male-female duet in which the dancers explored their connections with daring and elasticity as they began very high up above the stage and were very slowly lowered. Leonardo Haedo's solo with one arm attached to a bungee chord was more of a movement exercise, but fascinating nonetheless, and a concluding airborne tango sustained its air of tension and voluptuousness. All three excerpts were performed amid thick atmospheric stage smoke; perhaps Angiel could rely somewhat less on such extraneous effects.
The sure-fire program closer was Paul Taylor's timeless "Esplanade," performed by his exceptional dancers so that all of its ebullient playfulness, touching tenderness and robust energy combined to evoke all the follies and possibilities of our shared humanity.
Volume 3, No. 37