Saturday evening and Sunday’s Fall for Dance program offered an attractive sampling of works, two of which were exceptional. I chose this program, in part, because of three of the choreographers: Aszure Barton and Christopher Wheeldon’s works have impressed me, and Hofesh Shechter‘s background in percussion and dance (he formerly danced with Batsheva Dance Company) is intriguing. The excerpt from Shechter’s Uprising was not only the highlight of the performance, but also one of my dance highlights of the year. If only they had shown the full work and not just an excerpt.
Hofesh Shechter Company (with Shechter second from left) in Uprising, photo by Andrew Lang
[bjm_danse] Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal performed an excerpt from Ms. Barton’s Les Chambres des Jacques, “an exploration of the inner life and drama of the individual dancers”. The ten men and women revealed their eccentricities to music ranging from Vivaldi to a Klezmer band to Vigneault. Playfulness was apparent, but the dancers were poorly lit from the waist down, making it challenging to appreciate Barton’s multidimensional choreography.
The pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre, was slow and mysterious, a “counterpoint” – according to the program – from the rest of the ballet. There were a few beautiful images, such as the repetition of a dip with Alison Roper’s back to the audience and her leg and arm at sharp angles. But it would have been interesting to view the entire ballet in order to understand how the contrasting pas de deux relates to the rest of the piece.
Madhavi Mudgal and Arushi Mudgal, photo courtesy of NY City Center
Madhavi Mudgal was mesmerizing in the world premiere of Odissi: Pravaha, an invocation to Shiva, the Lord of Dance. There was incredible precision and detail in her hands and feet, accompanied by a clear sense of rhythm. Her niece, Arushi Mudgal, was equally interesting to watch in the second section, although Madhavi seemed more grounded and serene in both her technique and artistry. The live music and vocals were superb, and I occasionally got caught up watching the seated musicians playing the pakhavaj, sitar, and manjira.
In Jane Dudley’s 1938 Harmonica Breakdown, Sheron Wray immersed herself in the blues harmonica music of Sonny Terry and Oh Red, her torso undulating to its rhythms while she skipped or stomped her feet into the floor. Her repetitive walk throughout this brief solo exuded the pride and bravery that Dudley surely possessed when she performed it in the 30s.
Hofesh Shechter Company in Uprising, photo by Chris Taylor
In the September issue of Dance Magazine, Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter said, “Put a lot of guys together in one place, and they’ll either play or fight. Uprising tried to catch that sense of male randomness”. Set to a powerful percussive score that Shechter mainly composed on his laptop, Uprising, in its New York premiere, depicted organized chaos among seven men (including Shechter) through shifting patterns, rhythms, and groupings that covered the stage’s vast space. The sudden blackout of the house lights was replaced with fog, the pounding score, and a beam of white lights as the men, dressed in long-sleeved shirts and combat pants, briskly walked to the front. The excerpts that followed portrayed intensely athletic, aggressive movement interspersed with moments of tenderness, anguish, and intimacy. It was remarkable to see the dancers transform themselves so effortlessly – and suddenly – from friends to foes (I couldn’t help but think of Golding’s Lord of the Flies). At one point, a circle of friendly back-slapping turned into a violent brawl. Elsewhere in the piece, the dancers skimmed across the floor on their feet and knuckles, appearing primal and eager to attack, or they pressed their heads to the floor while lifting a shaky, twitching arm to the ceiling. Their raw energy and ferocity were intoxicating, and considering how emotionally invigorating and draining it was to watch Uprising, I can only imagine how intense it must be to perform. Hopefully Hofesh Shechter Company will return to New York City soon, with Uprising in its entirety.