Iyar Elezra and Bobbi Smith in Ohad Naharin’s B/olero, photo by Andrea Mohin
The sixth annual Fall for Dance festival, where all seats are just ten dollars, kicked off this past week at City Center. Not surprisingly, the opening program, performed on Tuesday and Wednesday, included easily digestible crowd-pleasers that bring audiences to their feet and (hopefully) persuade them to attend dance performances more than once per year. But the evening also offered an inspirational work by Israel’s Ohad Naharin and a history lesson: This year’s festival honors the centennial of the Ballets Russes and is presenting recreations and reinterpretations of some of the company’s original works.
One of these works was Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, as performed by Boston Ballet. When this landmark work premiered in Paris in 1912, it caused a controversy and shocked audiences due to its erotic undertones, sexually explicit themes, and the final masturbatory gesture. The original program notes summarize the simple plot: “A faun dozes; nymphs tease him; a forgotten scarf satisfies his dream. The curtain descends so that the poem can begin in everyone’s memory.” Moving with the two-dimensionality that Nijinsky drew from Greek and Egyptian reliefs and vase paintings, Altankhuyag Dugaraa shifted between boyish flirtation and an animal-like prowl as he pursued the nymphs. His brief encounter with Lorna Feijoo, during which they barely touched, lacked nuance even though it was filled with erotic tension. In 2009 the piece seems remarkably tame, but Faun was considered revolutionary and is now viewed as one of the first modern ballets. It certainly deserved to be included in the festival, but on Wednesday evening, it didn’t provide the rousing effect that one expects from a festival’s opening piece.
Altankhuyag Dugaraa and Lorna Feijoo of Boston Ballet in Afternoon of a Faun, photo by Andrea Mohin
Paul Taylor Dance Company has appeared in the festival every year, and this time they performed a silly, often irritating work from their repertoire, Taylor’s Offenbach Overtures (1995). Blending theatrics and clumsiness, the cast of fourteen dancers mocked French manners and stuffy classical ballet. Laura Halzack and Orion Duckstein continually switched roles during their pas de deux, frequently leaving one of them hanging precariously in suspense while the other indulged in a solo. In another section that involved a duel between Michael Trusnovec and Sean Mahoney, mutual respect and adoration quickly replaced their machismo attitudes. Each section of the work is far too long to sustain interest, but this flashy, balletic spoof won the crowd over, and it certainly was an effective advertisement for Taylor’s three-week engagement at City Center this February.
Paul Taylor Dance Company in Offenbach Overtures, photo by Paul B. Goode
The other standing ovation of the evening went to tap sensation Savion Glover and the OtherRz in The StaRz and StRiPes 4EvEr for NoW. One by one, the four musicians emerged from the wings, with each adding another layer to the John Coltrane-inspired jazzy sounds. The instrument that was center stage, however, was Glover, whose tapping seemed to take on a life of its own. While conducting and interacting with the musicians (his back was to the audience for the majority of the piece), Glover explored the rhythms and intricacies of the music to phenomenal effect. He was briefly joined by two other tappers, Marshall Davis Jr. and Cartier Williams, and their trio and solos showed innovation and a wonderful sense of musicality. It was delightful to see the tappers and musicians in such good spirits, clearly thrilled to be at the festival and engaging with one another throughout their performance.
Savion Glover and the OtheRz, courtesy of Savion Glover Productions
Without a doubt, the most challenging – and thrilling – piece on the program came from Batsheva Dance Company. Choreographer Ohad Naharin’s B/olero is a richly textured duet for two women. To the unique sound of Isao Tomita’s synthesized version of Ravel’s well-known “Bolero”, Iyar Elezra and Bobbi Smith shifted between unison movements and phrases in which they echoed or fed off of one another. Soft, fluid torsos and moments of calm abruptly changed to aggressive, full-bodied attacks that ate up the space. The women were effortless as their articulate bodies transitioned between restraint and release. Although they remained deadpan throughout the work, the emotion embedded in their movement bubbled to the surface, eventually overflowing and captivating the audience along with the increasingly physical, interactive choreography. The catalyst for B/olero might have been unclear, but upon being swept up into this riveting work, it was impossible not to feel ecstatic. If only every Fall for Dance performance could be so inexplicably, wonderfully transformational.