Fall for Dance Festival
"Agwa," "Weight x 3," "The Return of Ulysses," "Pa Cuba me voy"
Compagnie Käfig, Tao Dance Theater, The Royal Ballet of Flanders, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba
New York City Center
New York, New York
November 3, 2011
By Michael Popkin
Copyright 2011 By Michael Popkin
Popular dance from around the world opened and closed Fall for Dance's fourth program. CCN de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Käfig led off with its hip-hop inspired "Agwa" before Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba's "Pa Cuba me voy" closed the evening with virtually a Las Vegas floor show in Latin style. The large casts of both works, moving in blocks on stage to strong musical and visual rhythms, reaffirmed the gut power of theatrical dance in such popular styles. The middle half of the program was more eclectic, a study in constrasts that struck different chords.
In the best - and they were rivetingly memorable - eleven dancers were strung across the rear of the stage doing a West African inspired number to bongo drums before a tall dancer with Rastafarian hair crossed the stage in somersaults, landing neatly between lines of glasses. Later, another principal first did hip-hop hand spins to an Arabic melody and then turned a virtually endless series of pirouettes (what else can you possibly call them?) balanced on the top of his head - his body straight up, arms and legs splayed out, before coming to rest in that pose and holding still. Hokey, but incredibly exciting and the crowd went mad. According to the program note for the work, "water [is] a vital component of our bodies [and] precious natural resource to be preserved." As a practical matter, "Agwa" paid tribute to the vitality of popular dance and that's a precious natural resource too.
Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba's "Pa Cuba me voy" was a series of numbers for a cast of fifteen women and one man that drew its power from a similar spring, this time Latin. Roughly translated, the title is a colloquialism for "I'm off to Cuba;" but the Cuba we're off to here is strongly reminiscent of the Latin shows you could commonly see in the 50's and 60's in New York when Tito Puente played gigs at Lido Beach night clubs. The dances in this work were specifically mambo, cha-cha, flamenco, conga and salsa inspired, but were executed with a glitzy technique that owed a lot to ballet. Six musicians at the back of the stage (guitar electric base, bongos, an electric piano, some Latin percussion too, along with a singer) provided the score.
Twleve women with their hair in buns danced in red patent leather character shoes with heels, but nonetheless went on pointe for a while to stomp out a flamenco, costumed in tight slacks and gauzy, semi-transparent blouses. After several dances involving equally dramatic changes in costume, the lone man did a vignette flirting with two women before the show ended with a vigorous mambo: a call and response between two groups of six women in traditional Spanish outfits. If the Rockettes did salsa, they'd do it like this; but, as with Compagnie Käfig, the dance impulse was infectious and critical disbelief got suspended.
The middle of the program was an odd segue between two such vigorous and (from the high-brow cultural point of view) innocently unpretentious works; but you expect contrasts at Fall for Dance, where at least four different companies are programmed every night. Apart from the individual virtues of each work, the strength of such contrasts is the perspective it sheds on the different dance styles and traditions. Here, China's Tao Dance Theater's "Weight x 3" was a two part piece to Steve Reich's music. In the first section, inspired by circus and martial arts, a lone woman spun a five-foot long baton continuously to Reich's "Piano Phase" while undulating her body. The effect was gyroscopic as she swerved off center and then returned to plumb over and over with the baton picking up the spotlight like a strobe. It felt like a sword dance. After a pause the lights came up and a couple dressed in white robes (at once vaguely Mandarin and dojo studio) did a lengthy duet to Reich's "Drumming Part IV" holding hands and moving continuously in a fluid line. The entire thing made you question the different aesthetic expectations of Chinese and Western dance, but not profoundly as it flowed by quickly on a two hour program and was itself a decadent westernization of Chinese style, rather like the wire work in a Kung Fu movie.
The Royal Ballet of Flanders condensed adaptation of its 2009 "The Return of Ulysses," choreographed by Christian Spuck, that immediately followed this was a derivative blend of ballet steps and modern dance similar to Mats Ek, to a score that combined Purcell, Piaf and 60's era American songs by Bobby Vinton and Doris Day. Based on Penelope waiting for Ulysses to come home in "The Odyssey," it alternated scenes. First, to Baroque music, Eva Dewaele's Penelope repeatedly fought off seven suitors; to the pop songs, she'd then dance lyrical solos or small ensembles. Dewaele was attractive and interesting; the introduction of the contemporary material lent a Pau Taylor-like irony to the composition; and ballet line - stretched, turned out, and clean, even in the corrupt version presented hre - was particulary interesting to see after what had preceded it during the evening. Strictly judging, though, the work was repetitious and crude (particularly the suitors repeatedly lying on top of Penelope); and her duet with Ulysses (Ernesto Boada) at the end (with no slaughter of the suitors, they just disappeared!) was particularly trite and anticlimactic. But seeing the work here you didn't judge strictly and, given the theatrical excesses present in the other selections as well as this one, were inclined to be forgiving.