Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Sounddance, photo courtesy of MCDC image galleries
Friday evening’s Fall for Dance program at NY City Center showcased five distinct works – thematically, musically, and choreographically – that demonstrated the festival’s success at bringing together diverse dance companies and artists. The performance opened with Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Sounddance. Ten dancers entered one at a time from behind yellow drapes, and what started out as a simple bending of the knee from the lone man on stage was suddenly part of a tornado of movement. Accompanied by David Tudor’s electronic score, which was occasionally thunderous but more often high-pitched – almost painfully so, the dancers packed the space with myriad shapes and patterns that originated as chance operations. Unfortunately, the program didn’t indicate that Mr. Cunningham utilizes chance operations to structure his works. It would have been an interesting and useful fact for the audience, and perhaps would have helped them better understand Sounddance. Even without fully grasping how Cunningham created this 1975 piece (which has undoubtedly evolved over time), its complex, multifaceted movement is compelling.
In Awassa Astrige/Ostrich, which premiered in 1932, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s G.D. Harris was a warrior imitating “the graceful but powerful movements of the ostrich, King of the birds.” I’ve only come face to face with ostriches a few times, but I don’t recall them being very graceful. They were rather klutzy and disheveled. Choreographer Asadata Dafora clearly had a different experience since the warrior in his piece was poised and elegant as he marched rhythmically around the space with arms flapping and head held high.
American Ballet Theatre contributed the pas de deux from Antony Tudor’s 1975 The Leaves Are Fading, performed by Xiomara Reyes and Gennadi Saveliev. This piece looked dated, and my eyes glazed over from the monotonous arabesque penché and dreary costumes. The dancers looked bored and their performances were uninspired. I’m sure ABT chose a Tudor piece because the company is celebrating his centennial throughout the fall, but this excerpt left much to be desired.
Louise Lecavalier in Crystal Pite’s Lone Epic, photo by Carl Lessard
Montreal-born Louise Lecavalier performed an emotionally intense solo from Crystal Pite’s 2006 Lone Epic, which examined the universality of love and loss. Appearing as the conductor of Bernard Herrman’s music from Citizen Kane, Ms. Lecavalier lunged with her back to the audience, tossed her head, and swung her arms before several music stands. As she flipped over a page on each stand, they revealed words that formed two questions: “Who is she thinking about?” and “What does she really want? Really. Really.” The audience laughed as she proceeded to rush around frantically – her long, frizzy hair further emphasizing the caricature – and tip over the music stands, leaving the questions unanswered. Although the piece might have been humorous on the surface, the slower second part of Lone Epic revealed the character’s underlying pain, desire, and uncertainty. There was no longer an accompanying orchestra; just a lone woman and her emotions. Ms. Lecavalier commanded the space with her fluid movement and strength. She beautifully portrayed both sides of her character – the melodramatic conductor leading the ensemble, and the introspective individual.
The program closed with the feel-good Tap Into Peace, by Sarah Savelli and Ayodele Casel. Stevie Wonder’s vibrant music and the cast of thirteen dancers combined to tell straightforward stories that centered on spreading a message of peace. Several individuals shined in solos, but the dancers looked best as an ensemble. In spite of the lightning-quick sequences, they remained energetic and looked thrilled to be on stage. Tap Into Peace was upbeat and easy to digest, making it a safe choice to close the program. I would have liked to see a riskier, more thought-provoking final piece, but this seems to be rare at dance samplers. Since the long-term goal of FFD is to encourage ongoing dance attendance, perhaps the festival producers didn’t want the audience to leave the theater scratching their heads and feeling even remotely confused by what they saw. Why not? The most stimulating and challenging dances are often the most memorable.