New York City arts institutions make the most of warmer weather by heading outdoors with the crowds and offering concerts, movies, dance, and theater. For two clear, chilly nights this past week, just as summer officially comes to a close and autumn arrives, Fall for Dance Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with outdoor performances at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, hosted by The Public Theater. The festival will continue for two weeks at City Center (and is nearly sold out) with a lineup of companies and artists from around the globe, but at the Delacorte, four NYC-based companies were on the program.
As audience members filed into their seats under an almost full moon, members of STREB Extreme Action Company – wearing bright red unitards and sneakers – warmed up onstage by jumping from 3-story, 30-foot high scaffolding. They soon rushed backstage, shouted simultaneously to pump themselves up, and returned for Elizabeth Streb’s Human Fountain, which is inspired by the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas. “Works well in teams” is clearly a requirement to be a STREB company member. Nearly all of their work requires signaling their actions to others. By shouting and calling out numbers, the dancers took turns climbing the structure and leading the others in graceful jumps – backwards, hanging sideways, spinning in the air – that landed flat on a mattress below. The thud of each dancer was frequently timed so as to occur at the most dramatic moment of the Mozart score. All of it is eye-catching, occasionally comical (due to the melodrama of the music paired with the repetitive leaps), and often terrifying.
Red unitards showed up in New York City Ballet’s contribution to the evening, too. In Red Angels, choreographed by Ulysses Dove in 1994, two men and two women work in pairs to create shapes and angles accompanied by an electric violin solo by Richard Einhorn (and performed live by Mary Rowell). Maria Kowroski, Jennie Somogyi, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and Chase Finlay all seemed to be holding back – perhaps because of the cool weather, or perhaps because New York City Ballet’s fall season just opened and the dancers wanted to prevent injuries early on. Then again, nothing in the choreography lent itself to fluidity or lyricism. There were stops and starts, and little momentum as the piece progressed. It was an odd choice to bring to a festival known for attracting new dance audiences. There’s far more engaging repertoire in the company.
Ronald K. Brown/Evidence offered Upside Down, which explores a community mourning the loss of a friend and the passing on of a soul. Although initially somber in mood, the piece gains momentum as twelve dancers – wearing brightly colored costumes by Brenda Gray – rhythmically stomp and spin, their torsos undulating beautifully to the live Fela Kuti music and Wunmi Olaiya’s powerful voice. The colors, shapes, and shifting patterns of the West-African movement were mesmerizing as the dancers wove on and off the stage, ending with the ascension of a man, lifted overhead and carried away. I look forward to seeing more of Evidence’s work.
The evening closed with Esplanade, Paul Taylor Dance Company’s signature 1975 piece, beloved by dancegoers and a sure crowd-pleaser. Nine dancers joyfully skip, walk, and jump to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major. In the second section, the stage is sparser and the mood melancholy, with just a few dancers appearing to explore relationships among friends and lovers. The piece closes with gasp-inducing slides across the floor, or daring throws into another dancer’s arms. All of the performers, though particularly Michael Trusnovec, are playful, effortless, and inviting. It’s a lovely way to end the summer season of outdoor performances and kick off Fall for Dance.