High on Speed

A City Center sampler of dances that take off and rarely hit the brakes

Pantsula originated in the ’80s, among the Zulu, I believe; the word itself refers to a sharp dresser and, according to one encyclopedia entry, one showing “challenging self-confidence.” That description would fit the three guys in silk shirts who twirl canes and step lively. That Pantsula and Hip Hop have bonded leads to more crazy-legged moves. I’m wilder about the Gumboot dances, though. They’ve come a long way from their brave origins in the dark, wet mines where men labored in semi-slavery. The bold, bright rhythms created by clapping, the stamp of rubber boots and the slap of hands against legs and feet speak of joy and empowerment through shared art-making.

The only slow item on this Fall for Dance program was Elisa Monte’s famous 1979 duet Treading, performed by Tiffany Rhea and Matthew Fisher. Looking now at its smooth, sensuous unfoldings to music by Steve Reich, you can see it as an early example of a classical pas de deux voiced in modern dance. Almost throughout, the performers are on the floor—the man lying with raised legs, say, and the woman wrapped around his feet like a small mammal on a smaller perch. Arching and rolling, the two manipulate the erotic into the sculptural without ever quite losing their heat.

How wonderful it feels to be in City Center and see the seldom-used second balcony filled, and people from just-past-toddlerdom to old age having a wonderful time watching dance. For $10 a pop! At the intermission and after the show, the audience spills into the passageway between buildings that bridges 55th and 56th Streets to buy drinks and snacks, chat, and try out dance steps. Fall for Dance is a great gift to the dance world and to the city.

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