writers on dancing


Sunday Night

FALL FOR DANCE: Charles Moulton, Vincent Mantsoe, Compagnie Marie Chouiinard, Yoshiko Chuma & The School of Hard Knocks, and the Joffrey Ballet
City Center
New York, NY
October 2, 2005

By Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2005 by Nancy Dalva                              

The Fall for Dance Festival was a hit. It sold out every night, people stood on line for turned-back tickets, and the houses were a mix of students, regular dance goers, and the dance community, as it likes to call itself, all enjoying the ten dollar tariff. This enterprise, now just completing it’s second year is admirable, and fun, or it should be. But closing night, not so much.

An interesting thing about that evening, given the festival’s pigeon-holing, niche programming, is how easily political correctness sorted itself into genres. On the genre scorecard, you had your equipment dance, your tribal-influenced dance, your Euro-style dance, your post-modern dance, your ballet. On the p.c. scorecard, these were your hip white choreographer, your South African choreographer, your French-Canadian choreographer, your Japanese-born choreographer, and Gerald Arpino.

The bill opened with Charles Moulton’s “48 Person Precision Ball Passing,” in a for-the-occasion version of a piece I happen to like a lot. Basically, people seated on bleachers pass colorful sponge balls back and forth, up and down, across and over, around and through, like a bunch of three-card monte players, working at high speed. The choreographer’s been making versions of the work for about twenty-five years, and I suppose it tells you as much about me as about him that I prefer the pristine, formalist version, where nothing happens except the ball passing, and the collective enterprise functions as a metaphor. This possibility still lurks, but it is muddied up with fancy lighting, an aggressive live score, and the interpolation of pop and arty elements. For instance, the dancers execute a wave, like sports fans on bleachers; for another instance, one ball passer falls on the floor and has convulsions. And rather picturesquely but disturbingly, the sportily attired celebrants, all in blue, raise forth from their midst a beautiful dancer, wearing a white leotard and tights, passing her over their heads like a corpse born by mourners. Then she descends to a platform and does something along the lines of Balinese dance and yoga. (Yes, the group gestalt gives birth to the sprit of the dance.) I never thought the day would come when Charlie Moulton would remind me of Eliot Feld, but it did, and he has. Hello, “Organon.”

Vincent Nekwato KoKo Mantsoe followed on program, with an excerpt from “NDAA (Awakening of Self), a long, muscular rumination in front of some rope fences. It was danced by the choreographer, inexplicably attired in a white sleeveless warm-up suit. Like so many enterprises involving the waking of the self, it proved soporific. If I knew more about the various cultural components that went into it, I would probably better appreciate it, but sadly, I don’t. The music came from Southern Ethiopia, from Gabon; from Kenya, etc.

Next up was Compagnie Marie Chouinard, a group of ten, in excerpts from “24 Preludes by Chopin. “ The program had an explanation including the phrases “dynamic alterations,” “in touch with the music,” “vast terrain of hidden games,” and the like. I didn’t see that. I saw a kind of snooty, disdainful choreography that mocked the music, and mocked the technique that is the basis of ballet, which this was not. The dancers wore dreadlocks topped with little Mohawk crests of fake hair, and black see-through trunks (for the gentlemen) and body suits, for the ladies. These were appliqued with black patent leather modesty panels–vertical on the crotch, and across the bodice, too, for the ladies. These tended to slip around.

Next up, Yoshiko Chuma & The School of Hard Knocks, with “7x7x7x7x7,” featuring seven dancers (including Chuma and the choreographers Sally Gross and Sarah Skaggs), and seven trombonists (including Peter Zummo) and some seven-foot cubes (frames, like the set for Paul Taylor’s “Polaris,” but flimsier), all of which and whom interacted between two rows of heavy-duty flashlights, set down like runway lights, but providing no visual effects. This dance, too, was a version of a piece the choreographer’s done before—I’ve seen it with Chuma and a cellist. As a performer she is quite unnerving, in a quiet way, being alternately fey and portentous. The others were task oriented, doing some post-modern T’ai Chi-ish stuff when they weren’t moving the set. You either had never seen this sort of thing before; or you had, and it felt pleasantly like Old Home Week; or you had, and it looked like the Emperor’s Old Clothes.

And then, for the finale, The Joffrey Ballet, back in its old New York City home, with Gerald Arpino’s “Suite Saint-Saëns,” premiered right here in 1978. This ballet is the choreographic equivalent of cotton candy, all airy and pink and pretty and sweet enough to make you gag. Arpino’s metier is pastiche, so that, for instance, there was a section that sort of looked like Balanchine’s “ Apollo” (with only two muses) but also sort of like a trio from Ashton’s “Les Patineurs.” There was a lot of lyricism; but also head flung back, curved arm entrances and exits in the grand manner, and part of a grand pas de deux. I’ve seen this company look better.

I love the idea of Fall for Dance, and I’d like to see it become an institution. In fact, I wish I had been able to see every night, instead of catching just the fourth program. (I did this last year, enabling me to write a nice long piece hitting the high points.) But the truth is that, much as it pains me to say it, this particular program was, for the most part, a medley of the mediocre. Either this is the way dance is now, or the Festival can do better.

Volume 3, No. 37
October 10, 2005
copyright ©2005 Nancy Dalva



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last updated on October 10, 2005