“The Cold Dagger,” “Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux.” ”The New 45.” “Single Room.” “Kahikilani”
Beijingdance/LDTX; Houston Ballet; Richard Siegal/The Bakery; Fang-Yi Sheu; The Gentlemen of Hälau Nä Kamalei
New York, NY
September 23, 2008
by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2008 Susan Reiter
There's nothing quite as exhilarating as being part of an audience as it is taken by surprise and utterly delighted. That happened midway through this brief but enriching fourth Fall For Dance program, when Richard Siegal's juicy, rambunctious "The New 45" was danced with fantastic abandon and engaging directness by Ayman Harper and Mario Zambrano. Some might have arrived at City Center eager to check out Houston Ballet performing Balanchine, or for an all-too-rare glimpse of the divine Fang-Yi Sheu, but they responded to Siegal's work, deservedly, with the type of spontaneous enthusiasm that cannot be faked.
Siegal, who won a Bessie Award for his recent solo performance, danced with William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet for seven years, but thankfully his musical taste ranges far from the mechanistic, portentous scores favored by that choreogrphaer. He set Harper and Zambrano in delicious, irrepressible motion to old jazz recordings (Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry; Benny Goodman) with a touch of calypso (Harry Belafonte) thrown in. At times, you could hear the crackling of these distinctly non-digital vintage recordings -- and perhaps the dance's title refers to the long-ago 45 RPM record.
The structure was simple -- alternating solos and duets --- and the dancing had the loose casualness of an improvisation, but there was clearly a great deal of refined control at work. Wearing casual street clothes, the men moved with some of the deceptively slippery ease one associates with Twyla Tharp, but always with an unforced but intricate connection to the music, which ranged from a muted trumpet exploring the byways of "Mack the Knife" to lickety-split clarinet riffs. Created in 2006 and receiving its New York premiere, "The New 45" was fresh, non-derivative, and wonderfully unexpected.
The evening got off to a bombastic start with an excerpt from "The Cold Dagger," performed by the recently formed Beijingdance/LDTX, making its New York debut. Accompanied by the plaintively tense strains of a Henryk Gorecki string quartet, this work by Li Hanzhong and Ma Bo deployed thirteen dances in sleek costumes -- black or white sheer tops and long skirts for all, men and women -- around the stage with great urgency and fervor. The performers' whiplash precision was admirable, but their confrontations and frenzied clustering did not accrue much dramatic forve during this surprisingly brief excerpt.
Houston Ballet's Sara Webb and Connor Walsh brought Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" back to the stage on which it had its premiere, and reaffirmed how fresh and invigorating a classical showpiece it remains after nearly 50 years. They were saddled with unfortunate costumes; her pink dress was similar to what is usually worn, but with too full and heavy a skirt, and his purple and lavender outfit with a low neckline was distracting. Webb's expansive phrasing and engaging openness were definite assets, but she displayed a tendency toward over-emphatic punctuation of her phrases. Walsh, while not a paragon of elegant line, delivered a crisp, intelligently musical performance.
Always a must-see performer in the great dramatic roles of the Martha Graham repertory (and also a longtime performer with Taiwain's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre), Fang-Yi Sheu founded LAFA & Artists Dance Company last year with choreographer Bulreyaung Pagarlava. In a mesmerizing excerpt from "Single Room," a 2002 work by Pagarlava, Sheu brought her shimmering serenity and impeccable control to an extended, meditative duet with a large table. Seen in silhouette until the final moments, she approached, caressed, embraced and withdrew from the table in what seemed to be one extended, uninterrupted fluid skein of movement. Her sophisticated artistry made the delicate unfurlings of her elegant limbs resonate with poignancy and longing. At one point, her lean, supple body appeared to be floating. The beautiful lighting and gently propulsive music enhanced this magnetic performance.
The Gentlemen of Hälau Nä Kamalei demonstrated that men can wear grass skirts and sway their hips with their own robust charm, as they performed "Kahikilani" choreographed by artistic director Robert Uluwehi Cazimero. He also created the score and costumes, and served as ceremonial leader and musician, chanting with resonant intensity. The curtain rose on what looked like a misty, timeless scene, with the men proudly assembled and Cazimero, on robes and garlands, standing center. What followed did not quite live up to this vivid opening tableau; the ten men moved mostly in unison, through blocky formations. It served as a charming, if abbreviated, sampler of yet another of the many varieties of dance that Fall for Dance attempts to include. But it appeared naive and limited when compared to the varied, witty and more ambitious hula programs that have been performed here by the San Francisco-based Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu.
Photo: courtesy of Beijingdance/LDTX