Program 5: “Ligeti Essays,” “Inventing Pookie Jenkins,” “After the Rain,” “Spanish Dance,” “Martinete y Solea”
Armitage Gone!Dance; Kyle Abraham/Abraham in Motion; Mosphoses/The Wheeldon Company; Trisha Brown Dance Company; Noche Flamenca & Soleded Barrio
Program 6: “Quick!,” “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine,” “Treading,” “Brake the Eyes,” “Nkululeko”
Srishti – Nina Rajarani Dance Creations; Camille A. Brown; Elisa Monte Company; Boston Ballet; Via Katlehong Dance
New York, NY
October 4 & 5, 2007
by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter
Between the wildly varied menu of performers, and the rabidly enthusiastic, unusually mixed (and often youthful) audience that seems poised to greet every selection with cheers, Fall for Dance programs are a distinctly sui generis experience. It is truly the populist event it was envisioned to be, with people clamoring for seats and packing City Center to the rafters. It’s amazing how many ardent dance fans come out of the woodwork when the tickets cost $10.
Variety, not thematic programming, is the festival’s organizing principle, yet there were a few, possibly unintentional connections, running through these final two programs. Trisha Brown’s gently witty “Spanish Dance,” in which five distinctly casual and un-haughty women inch across the stage with mock-flamenco arm gestures, each one’s body animated into synchronized motion when the one behind her gently bumps into her, was slyly programmed – and performed in front of the curtain – as an appetizer to the gritty, vibrant “Martinete y Solea” performed by the marvelous Noche Flamenca. Right from the start, when Juan Ogalia and Antonio Rodriguez launched into explosive side-by-side stamping, there was an air of danger to their amiably competitive trading of steps, accompanied by insinuating claps from barely-visible musicians upstage. Rough and earthy, and dressed in anti-theatrical simple shirts and jeans, they reveled in sharing and one-upping each other’s rhythmic prowess.
When Soledad Barrio took the stage, in a black dress whose fringes did their own dancing, her solo did a slow burn, gaining in intensity from its reflective start, urged along by the tight ensemble (two guitarists, three singers) to its fierce conclusion. Noche Flamenca defied the expansive theatrical setting to convey the mood of a gritty tavern where people come at the end of a long tedious day to dance their passions and frustrations. Theirs was one of the few festival selections that truly felt too short and left one wanting more.
The first half of this program offered Karole Armitage’s cool, intricate responses to some of Gyorgy Ligeti’s alluringly harsh song cycles. Inhabiting an antiseptically wintry landscape, demarcated by floor-level white tubes of light and a bony, silver tree (scenery by David Salle), the seven prowled and unleashed fiercely precise limbs to cleave through space, sometimes unleashing turbulent solos, sometimes entwining alluringly but detachedly in sleek duets. It was probably a coincidence that Armitage shared the program with Morphoses, the brand-new company of Christopher Wheeldon, who in recent years has cornered the market on interpreting Ligeti. But on this occasion he was represented by the hauntingly tender and elegiac duet from his 2005 work “After the Rain,” in which Wendy Whelan, in her original role, and Craig Hall, new to his, sustained an air of rapt intensity. A loose-haired, highly vulnerable figure in a simply pink leotard, she seems ready to give herself over to the journey through which his steady, focused partnering carries her.
Kyle Abraham’s “Inventing Pookie Jenkins” was an odd and rather manipulative solo in which he evolved from proud African tribesman, serene and fluid in a long white skirt, into a groovin’ street guy with a boom box. A barrage of gunshots and explosions and a rap song about respect were thrown into the mix, while Abraham, a lithe and expressive performer, tossed asides to the audience and briefly mimicked a dying swan. There was plenty of attitude, but not much substance.
The Festival’s final program offered a first half that juxtpaolsed an all-male world with a juicy female solo, leading into Elisa Monte’s well-known “Treading,’ a new-age mating dance set to one of Steve Reich’s most majestic scores. The men and women on their own had their moments, but “treading,” which can be powerful and deeply sensual (as danced by originators Monte and David Brown, and several of the Alvin Ailey couples who have performed it), was here drained of its evocative imagery and reduced to an efficient exercise.
In the all-male work, “Quick!,” that opened the program, choreographer Nina Rajarani presented four men in western business attire (tucked-in shirts, dark pants, ties) performing quick, deft Bharata Natayam steps while miming gestures of irritability and impatience. Meanwhile, filmed footage of urban streets and, later an office building elevator, provided a backdrop, and context. Four male musicians, similarly dressed, lined up at the side but at times intermingled with the dancers. It was striking to see Bharata Natyam dancing taken out of its traditional milieu, but despite the fleet, animated performances, the work came across as more slick than communicative.
Camille A. Brown certainly knows how to hold a stage, but her occasionally indulgent (and awkwardly titled) solo, “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine” ultimately offered plenty of attitude but less substance. Her muscular control and ability to move at warp speed and then stop on a dime were impressive, but the slouchy, slinky woman she portrayed (her face partly concealed by an angled cloche hat) – alternately feisty and regretful – too often broke character to insinuate herself into the audience’s good graces.
The Jorma Elo juggernaut cannot be stopped, as ballet companies line up to have him choreograph for them. A few weeks before ABT will reveal its latest Elo creation, the Boston Ballet brought a generous excerpt from his puzzling, and annoying “Brake The Eyes.” Lovely Larissa Ponomarenko was the instigator of the breakneck, souped-up whirlwind of dare-devil moves. Resembling a music-box ballerina in her fragility and winsomeness, she charged through space, occasionally chattering in Russian. No one else in the piece spoke, but they did deliver plenty of Elo’s on-the-edge partnering. The music shifting form an ominous electronic drone (sound design by Nancy Euverink) to snatches of Mozart. Just when the piece began to wear out its limited welcome, Elo suddenly threw in the entire third movement of (talk about chutzpah) “Symphonie Concertante,” treating it with brutal illogic. The dancers were heroically game through all this.
Closing the program was the prescribed upbeat, robust program closer was “Nkululeko,” Via Katlehong Dance’s rousing and delightfully good-natured display of gumboot virtuosity and South African Pantsula, a township dance that clearly trades on camaraderie and challenge. In brightly colored costumes, two alternating groups traded off in brisk sections, with the gumboot performers offering their own distinctively rousing, intricate bravura.
Top: Soledad Barrio. photo: courtesy of Noche Flamenca
Bottom: Boston Ballet in "Brake the Eye." photo: Gene Schiavone