The Fall For Dance festival, an annual fixture at New York City Center since 2004, is one of the staples of the city’s arts calendar. This year’s iteration was expanded from 10 evenings to 12, and featured an incredibly varied lineup of companies from around the world in five distinct programs. Fare ranged from the crowd-pleasing to the avant-garde: there was ballet, tap, hula, and flamenco, performed by both soloists and ensembles numbering in the dozens. Ticket prices this year climbed from $12 to $15, but for the frugal dance enthusiast, the festival remains the best deal in town.
One of the great thrills of Fall for Dance is that the performances I enjoy always come as a surprise. Last year, most of my favorite pieces happened to be choreographed by American or British artists. This year I was mostly drawn to pieces by women. Most of my favorites also had the luxury of live musical accompaniment. Below — listed in the order they were performed — are my five favorite performances of Fall for Dance 2012.
Juilliard Dance in Pam Tanowitz’s Fortune
The dance students of the Juilliard School have proven time and again that they are as talented as any professional company, but they looked even stronger than usual in Pam Tanowitz’s Fortune, which opened Program 2. The technically demanding piece was choreographed on 21 students — all in their fourth year at Juilliard — last autumn; it explodes with surprises. Dressed in sherbet-colored costumes, the dancers struck classical poses and held difficult one-legged balances that recalled the choreography of Merce Cunningham, while four Juilliard musicians played a challenging, mysterious score by Charles Wuorinen. Balletic movements broke suddenly into ape-like knuckle-dragging or boxing poses. Some partnering was abstract, while other passages resembled ballroom dancing. Duets and solos took place concurrently in different parts of the stage and unfolded at different speeds, warping one’s sense of time. It was a visual feast, and one that was impossible to digest after just one viewing. I immediately wanted to see it again.
American Ballet Theatre in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite
While I far prefer Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs to her Sinatra Suite, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the condensed version, which was beautifully danced in Program 2 by Herman Cornejo and Luciana Paris of American Ballet Theatre. The work’s four clever duets, all set to well-known songs by Frank Sinatra, show a couple in various states: ecstasy, intimacy, and inebriation. Dramatic back bends and abrupt changes of direction abound. My favorite passage is usually the tumultuous “That’s Life” pas de deux, in which the pair take turns shoving each other angrily and the man, chewing gum nonchalantly, drags his partner unceremoniously across the floor. In this performance, however, the highlight was Cornejo’s tender solo to “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).” It’s not often that Cornejo, who is often cast in spitfire roles, has an opportunity to show his romantic side. Watching his elegant phrasing and light touch, I wondered why.
Moiseyev Dance Company, Moiseyev’s Classics
Fall for Dance hit its peak when the Moiseyev Dance Company capped Program 3 with a suite of four short character dances, all of which were superb and rightfully brought down the house. The Russian folk ensemble was founded in 1937 by Igor Moiseyev and has more recently enjoyed great success touring the West, but their last Manhattan season was 12 years ago. May they return much sooner next time. The company’s first piece was “Dance of Malmyk,” a charming all-male trio in which Ramil Mekhdiev twitched like a wind-up toy while Roman Ivashchenko and Yury Chernyshkov boldly stomped, skipped, and strutted around him in large symmetrical patterns. In the Tartar dance “Tatarotchka,” Olga Volina warmed up the stage with gleeful kicks and forward and backward sprints before Oleg Chernasov and Evgeny Masalkov charged in to make a flirtatious trio. Impeccable precision and fiery attack were on full display in “Suite of Moldavian Dances,” the rollicking finale for the entire company. When the dancers waved farewell as the curtain came down, I had to wipe the tears from my eyes, overwhelmed by such joyful dancing.
Shantala Shivalingappa, Shiva Ganga
The other superb performance from abroad was the celebrated Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa’s Shiva Ganga, which opened Program 4. The solo depicted both Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction) and Ganga (the goddess who personifies the river Ganges). While four seated musicians played and sang at stage right, Shivalingappa — channeling Shiva’s masculine energy — held an assortment of statuesque poses and knelt deeply on the floor, throwing her torso back and forth dramatically. In the second half, as the feminine Ganga, she created a mesmerizing illusion of water, allowing movement to begin in her wrists and ripple up the arm and down to the fingertips, and finished the solo by circling the stage twice in rapid-fire, low-to-the-ground turns. This final tour de force elicited gasps from the audience, but in general Shiva Ganga was one of the festival’s more subtle performances, revealing Shivalingappa’s greatest gifts to be her complete clarity of movement and physical control.
Jodi Melnick, Solo, Re(Deluxe) Version
Jodi Melnick’s performance in Program 4 was, like Shivalingappa’s on the same evening, accompanied by four live musicians, but here they comprised a rock group. The musicians — Steven Reker and People Get Ready — often crawled over each other on their makeshift bandstand to trade instruments and move electrical cords. Meanwhile, Melnick, wearing a reflective silver hooded sweatshirt, introduced her piece with a solo passage that was both mechanical and relaxed, walking and kicking, throwing her arms straight up and out, as if following an exercise routine, pausing occasionally to run a hand through her red hair. When three other dancers materialized, they established a movement vocabulary that was casually pedestrian, with hints of classicism: an arm was held curved overhead but the body slouched while doing it. One occasionally felt like a voyeur watching the performers dance, particularly when the two women stared forward intensely as though facing a mirror. The piece was too long and uneven, at times boring, but at its heart utterly mesmerizing.
Did you attend Fall for Dance 2012? Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Share your thoughts by commenting.