By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Lilly Lampe
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
New Yorkers in love with dancing flock to the annual Fall for Dance Festival, now in its sixth year, sometimes standing in line for hours to get tickets $10 for any seat in the house. They schmooz, drink, and dance in the lounge that has materialized in the passageway between 55thand 56th Streets. They chat happily through the pauses that yawn between numbers. They sigh in delight when Edward Villella ("He danced on this stageremember?") appears to present the Capezio Award to Arlene Shuler, who, as City Center's president and chief executive, dreamed up Fall for Dance.
This year's festival, produced by Ellen Dennis, adds to the ongoing centennial celebrations of the birth of the Ballets Russes. In 1909, Serge Diaghilev embarked on his career of shocking Paris with short-story balletspoetic or exoticthat mated dancing with bold designs by contemporary artists and bold music by contemporary composers. A small showing devoted to the company graces the lobby (the material was drawn from Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels: The Ballets Russes and Its Aftermath, the stunning recent exhibit curated by Lynn Garafola that was on view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts all summer). Each of the four FFD programs contains one work from the Ballets Russes repertory or a re-consideration of it.
On the first of five different programs, Altankhuyag Dugaraa, Lorna Feijóo, and a bevy of nymphs from the Boston Ballet performed Vaslav Nijinsky's virgin venture into choreography, Afternoon of a Faun(1912), with its stunning set and costumes by Leon Bakst, its hot-afternoon Debussy music. The dancers brought out the piece's delicate, hovering sensuality, and there was no chance that the FFD audience would be shocked by the uncompromisingly two-dimensional "archaic" movements or the orgasmic arch by the Faun as he lowers himself onto the scarf that the chief nymph has dropped.
On the second program, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal offered Noces, Dutch choreographer Stijn Celis's take on Igor Stravinsky's monumental choral score and the equally stunning ballet it was composed for, Bronislava Nijinska's 1923 Les Noces. Celis, whose version of The Rite of Springis in the repertory of Cedar Lake Ballet, has dispensed with the original scenario's wedding couple, parents, and matchmakers, but he alludes to its formality, its percussive rhythms, and its harshly unromantic view of marriage. Multiple grooms gloomily haul long benches around and arrange them along opposite sides of the stage. The bridesBridezillas in variously skewed hybrids of net wedding gowns and long tutusenter, stomping out rhythms that acknowledge Stravinsky's in faintly argumentative ways. Neither tenderness nor lust intrude on Celis's powerful unison patterns, rife with hunched bodies, beating feet, martial strides, and jumps. A quartet for four men alludes fleetingly to the four little cygnets of Swan Lake.This mass marriage not only looks ritualistic; it looks compelled. The men's makeup gives them twisted mouths and a ghastly pallor; the red-cheeked women resemble dolls. In the striking, if disturbing ending, each man grabs a woman and hoists her in a different awkward way; they look as if they're about to make off with department-store mannequins.
Paul Taylor's 1995 Offenbach Overtures offers a sardonic look at the kind of ballet-bouffe that Diaghilev wasn't averse to presenting. Six naval officers and six army ones have a fairly decorous night out with some Parisian charmers. In this confection with its cleverly minimal red costumes by Santo Loquasto, red stage floor, and red backdrop lit by Jennifer Tipton, the guys are as crazy about falling into splits as any can-can girl. Taylor turns a duel into a dance competition between Michael Trusnovec (army) and Sean Mahoney (navy). While they're cavorting airily in a satirical ballet mode and discovering they'd rather be in love than fight, their seconds (Robert Kleinendorst and Jeffrey Smith) are wrangling pugnaciously.
Maurice Ravel, who composed his Daphnis and Chloe for Diaghilev's original choreographer, Mikhail Fokine, wrote Bolérofor a ballet that former Ballets Russes choreographer Bronislava Nijinska made in 1929 for the company started by Ida Rubenstein, who'd enthralled Parisians in Fokine's Sheherazadeand Cléopatre.Since then, countless orchestras have played it, and a number of choreographersnotably Maurice Béjarthave grazed on those repetitive patterns that build inexorably, like slow-cooking sex, to a braying climax.
Ohad Naharin's B/olero from his 2008 Project 5is set to a version of Ravel's music by Isao Tomita, who's noted for his synthesizer re-envisionings of famous classical pieces. The opening melody sounds as if it's being played on a musical saw.At FFD, only two performers from Batsheva, the Israel-based company that Naharin directs, ride the simmering scores. Iyar Elezra and Bobbi Smith are remarkable. Their short black dresses (designed by Alla Eisenberg) may look like cocktail party attire, but these are fierce, forthright women, without affectations. In my mind, I see them with their legs planted widely, their knees bent. From that base, and in unison, they swing their arms, legs, and bodiesgrabbing the space, thrusting into it, gathering it in. Even in their strongest moves, their joints seem as well-oiled as their muscles. They may wilt, or strike clichéd "feminine" stances for a second, but they always recover andtogether or separatelyfinish the course.