This week and next, the hottest tickets in town are also the cheapest. For the fourteenth Fall for Dance Festival, the fine dance minds at the helm of New York City Center have scoured the planet and brought back twenty examples of the way we move now, from as far afield as South Africa to as close to home as the other end of West 55th Street. And equally fine fundraisers have put together rosters of sponsors, enabling them to invite the young, the old, the green, and the already besotted to fill the seats at $15 a pop.
The opening bill included Christopher Wheeldon’s 2001 Polyphonia for eight members of the Miami City Ballet, to György Ligeti piano works played live by Francisco Rennó; the young dancers did a creditable job with the complex music and ingenious, sometimes manipulative choreography — even the parts that treat women like furniture or naughty children. Also on tap was Vincent Mantsoe’s Gula, his 1993 solo of transformation from man to bird and back again, accompanied in part by his own whistling. Commemorating the recent death of postmodern legend Trisha Brown were two members of her troupe, Cecily Campbell and Jamie Scott, dancing her enigmatic 1995 You can see us, in which one dancer always faces away from viewers, and another, mirroring her actions, never does, in filmy dresses by Robert Rauschenberg, who also provided the score. The grand finale of the program was the latest iteration of Michelle Dorrance’s mesmerizing Myelination, commissioned by New York City Center for Fall for Dance, in which tap and break-dancers face off on an amplified floor, to live music by six fine players including Aaron Marcellus, whose jazz scat phrases offered a perfect background to the virtuosity of the eleven movers.
By the time you read this, that first program will be history, but fear not: You’ll have two whole weeks to catch Dorrance Dance at the Joyce in December (and NYCB is dancing Polyphonia this month). To be sure, one of the several purposes behind the founding of this wildly popular festival was to provide a collection of live “trailers” for dance shows coming to city stages in the coming months; the eclectic nature of its five different bills insures that audiences who show up, for instance, especially to catch the Miami City Ballet will also be exposed to Dorrance Dance’s innovative tap artistry and a favorite work from the oeuvre of the late, great Brown, and perhaps find a new dance crush. To further encourage spectators, the playbills contain discount codes for the City Center 2017–18 season’s six remaining dance presentations.
Opening today is a program including another Wheeldon work, Rush, making its local debut performed by members of the Pennsylvania Ballet; the Stephen Petronio Company showing excerpts from Yvonne Rainer’s landmark Chair/Pillow and Steve Paxton’s Goldberg Variations; and pieces by France’s Cie Art Move Concept (starring hip-hop stars Soria Rem and Mehdi Ouachek in Nibiru, which blends circus, mime, and contemporary dance) and, from Argentina, German Cornejo’s Tango Fire, making its Fall for Dance debut with live music and tango champions from Buenos Aires’s great tango houses.
The third bill, playing Friday and Saturday evenings, features the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ronald K. Brown’s 2015 Open Door, to a collage of Latin jazz, and four members of American Ballet Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher, to music by Tchaikovsky, which Ratmansky originally made for the Dutch National Ballet and which will be included in ABT’s two-week run later this month at the David H. Koch Theater. Also on that program is the all-male Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s inimitable comic-yet-dead-serious version of Paquita, the nineteenth-century Russian classic; and IceCraft Dance Company presenting Sanjukta Sinha, who blends classical Kathak and contemporary dance with live music, in another festival debut.
Next Wednesday and Thursday, this cornucopia of international work pours forth Andonis Foniadakis’s Streams, performed by Gauthier Dance//Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart, as well as members of Ballet BC making their festival debut in Bill, choreographed in 2010 for Batsheva Dance Company. A world-premiere festival co-commission is No. 1, created by Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang and performed by Wang and NYCB star Sara Mearns; another world premiere is Kyle Abraham’s Drive, a high-energy piece to club music, the most upbeat work he’s produced in years.
Closing out Fall for Dance next weekend will be Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance in Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo; a male quintet from San Francisco Ballet performing Helgi Tomasson’s 2003 Concerto Grosso; a brand-new solo from Mark Morris, Twelve of ’em, for ballet star David Hallberg; and the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, making its festival debut in George Céspedes’s Matria Etnocentra, an explosive work for a large ensemble to driving music that attends to the tensions between dance and the regimentation of daily life in Cuba.
So successful has the Fall for Dance strategy been, since its launch in 2004, that it has spawned imitators in other cities; this week (October 4–6) Toronto will see ten troupes over three performances at the city’s SONY Centre, including the world premiere of Charles Moulton’s sublime 72-Person Precision Ball Passing, first developed here in smaller formats close to forty years ago.
Also in the mix for this festival, just prior to selected performances (which start at 8 p.m.), are free dance classes (at 6:45 p.m.) open to all in City Center’s Grand Tier Lobby. Tickets for a couple of the remaining programs can still be had, both at the box office (go there; fees for phone and online orders are just nuts) and by lurking in front of the theater on show nights.