Theater archives

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Call Garth Fagan the anti-Ailey. He started a company in Rochester 29 years ago, and it’s still looking good. Where the New York­based Ailey troupe polishes the external aspects of dance presentation, Fagan’s performers seem to move more deeply inside themselves. Rather than flash and punch, they value stillness, slowness, silence, clarity. Fagan’s fusion technique draws on ballet, modern, African styles, and yoga, and sometimes his dances seem little more than demonstrations of classroom exercises. But the performers are so centered, so focused, that the audience sits rapt until it erupts into cheers.

Program A, one of three playing in rotation, features the premiere of the four-part Woza (a Zulu word that means “come” in many senses). Veteran dancer Norwood Pennewell partners Natalie Rogers; she wraps herself around him, nuzzling his neck with her foot. Lebo M’s score sometimes verges on grandiosity; it works best when the ensemble picks out the African rhythms, rather than trying to sustain slow balances against its rapid pace.

Fagan’s 1983 Postscript Posthumous: Ellington, is a highlight. It features the recorded voice of the jazz master himself as well as his classic tunes, within which the performers, especially Pennewell, seem especially at home. Pennewell thoughtfully partners a chair that might be standing in for a missing lover.

“I’m extremely partial to extremely pretty people,” chortles Ellington on the soundtrack. I’m partial to the simple elegance of Fagan’s dancers.

Allan Tibbetts of @ dance masterminds what may be the tightest, timeliest treat you’ll find downtown this season. Continuing in a long tradition of performance artists infatuated with Barbie and her restricted range of motion, he’s assembled a crackerjack team (and a lot of toys) for I Think I Ken, in which the Mattel products endure as vapid a set of lives as any Chelsea boy or Valley girl could imagine.

Just before Barbie pinches her little plastic finger in her pink plastic cell phone, Ken loses his patience. “So much goes over your head, Barbie,” he snaps, “that you need an air traffic controller.” Leah Gray as the leggy, strung-out blonde and Tibbetts as Ken tussle affectionately, stopping only to dance out their fantasies. They’re joined by Marianne Forti as Skipper and Ivan Davila as the buff boy-toy Carlos; the four performers also impersonate the physically challenged, the black, the GI, and the Asian doll friends. The party scene in the actual plastic dream house rocks. Not a movement is out of place, not a syllable wasted; Jason Kordelos’s taut script combines with the collaborative process of Tibbetts, Forti, and Gray to produce a gem. In its delightfully twisted way, it’s a Fantasticks for the new millennium. Anyone who’s ever had a Ken doll up the butt, or contemplated putting one there, needs to see it.

Radio City Music Hall, buffed and gleaming, shelters an older generation of toys and the inimitable Rockettes, pacing several times daily through a series of treacly routines. First the 36 women cross-dress, forming a precise line of soldiers who finish in a domino drop. Next they swell a battalion of Santas, real and
mirror-image. Then, bare-legged in rhinestones and fur, they descend from Macy’s windows. On a screen above, Old Man Winter, a black-and-white version of the Teletubbies’ baby-faced sun, expectorates a blizzard of snowflakes.

The Rockettes reappear as rag dolls in Santa’s high-tech workshop, and then metamorphose into reindeer with luminous antlers. It is, you should excuse the expression, a kick: a family show followed by an infomercial for the Nativity, with real sheep and a camel.