When cultural institutions bemoan the graying of their audiences, they surely realize that increasingly hefty ticket prices may be a factor. That’s why Fall for Dance, now in its fourth season at City Center, is a godsend for students and anyone else short of funds. For $10, you can attend any of six programs that mix major companies, less-well-known ones, groups and soloists from abroad, and bright up-and-comers. Come see your favorite Paul Taylor work or talented Juilliard students giving Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe a workout, and you get your first glimpse of two beautiful soloists from St. Petersburg’s Kirov Ballet and a gorgeous performer in India’s Kuchipudi style. No wonder that the theater fills up and people beg for tickets on the street.
The two middle pieces on the opening program offered different visions of exquisite control. Alexei Ratmansky’s
Middle Duet (performed last November by Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans of the New York City Ballet) is an unstopping contest. From time to time, partners grab hands and pull against each other, but usually the man reels the woman in and—holding her armpits, waist, hips—bends and twists her as if she were some firm yet malleable substance. Still, in Islom Baimuradov’s grasp, Ekaterina Kondaurova takes charge of her own limbs. And what limbs! Balanchine, who told his ballerinas their extremities should work as pliantly as an elephant’s trunk, would have loved the suppleness with which Kondaurova unfolds her legs and arched feet.
New Yorkers saw Shantala Shivalingappa last December in Pina Bausch’sNefés. Now, accompanied by four musicians, she performs a varnam of her own composition. Striking iconic poses to themridangam‘s beat, whipping off fast footwork and flashing gestures in the technical passages, telling a tale with her red-tipped fingers and expressive face, she’s a wonder, accomplished in every aspect of this demanding form. We may not understand the words sung by J. Ramesh, but Shivalingappa evokes blossoming lotuses, sitar playing, or the amorous flute-playing Krishna as events of the heart.
Two superb American works, Taylor’s 1981 Arden Court and Tharp’s 1972 Deuce Coupe, bookend the program with images of freedom anchored in scrupulous form and dancerly skill. Arden Court begins with six men leaping in various handsome ways across the stage and ends with all nine dancers flying along so exuberantly that your spirit flies with them. One aspect of Taylor’s style is free flow; movements don’t stop at the dancer’s fingertips, and a pointed foot isn’t an exclamation point. And several Arden Court duets, set to excerpts from 18th-century symphonies by William Boyce, juxtapose a pensive, slow-moving dancer to a busy, excitable one. While Orion Duckstein moves pensively through a legato vocabulary of shapes, Amy Young flits around him, rolling under his lifted leg, clinging to his back, using his thigh as a launching pad. While Richard Chen See whips off every bouncy step you can imagine, Parisa Khobdeh runs admiringly around him, then turns controlled while Francisco Graciano frolics about her.
The original Deuce Coupe mingled dancers of the Joffrey Ballet with members of Tharp’s own company. Except for a soloist (long-limbed, lovely Mary Ellen Boudreau) who unspools an alphabet of ballet steps, the Juilliard version’s stylistic texture is more homogenous. The Juilliard dancers, while not as funky or sensuously lyrical as Tharp’s people, are as at home jiving lazily, wiggling, or loping along like jungle creatures as they are in rigorous classical moves (Troy Ogilvie, Jaclyn Brewer, Christopher Voh, and Denys Drozdyuk stand out). In any case, ballet as Tharp approached it in the ’70s was precise but unlaced. Set to great Beach Boys songs and arrangements thereof by David Horowitz, Deuce Coupe is a witty, complex marvel that’s more exhilarating than anything you could inhale back in those flower-child days.