Performing Arts: Dance
October 16, 2019
Fall for Dance’s last program ended with a most prescient note: the Martha Graham Dance company in a heart-felt rendition of Chronicle, her masterwork from 1936. Created after her refusal to perform at the Olympics as a protest against Hitler and the rise of fascism, the Graham dancers commanded the stage with fierce, precise and urgent dancing. Sequences of speedy, flying jumps across the stage and a strongly delivered solo by Leslie Andrea Williams made that warning explicit, and the resistance clear.

The program began on a lighter note, with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal offering Dance Me (2017), a series of excerpts by Ihsan Rustem and Adonis Foniadakis to music by Leonard Cohen. On a darkened stage in a downspot, a woman was continually wrapped around her partner, never touching the floor, in a labored sequence to Cohen’s "Suzanne."

Foniadakis’ sections – one doused in falling snow – included a series of duets and trios with liquid contemporary movement that built into sculptural groups, extending a balletic line throughout. The finale with sexy costumes by Philippe Dubuc (pants and bras or vests) to a funky beat gave Les Ballets Jazz its current glamorous gloss. As often happens, fantastic dancers needed more meaty choreography to transcend just being cool.

Kim Brandstrup’s Blancfor New York City Ballet’s Sarah Mearns and Taylor Stanley had some big ideas that ultimately did not come across. In a reference to Romantic ballet’s “ballet blanc,” (the supernatural scenes with fairies, sylphs, etc.) Mearns appeared looking extremely distraught, as Stanley – the apparition – came and went out of her reach.

Accompanied by loud noises like the shutting of a metal door and some Beethoven, Gonashvili and Schumann, the evocation of the 19th century “empty space that the elusive apparition attempts to fill” (according to program notes) felt contrived. It’s hard to make a dance as good as these dancers are – one never tires of watching them. But the sameness and sadness of mood throughout this extended meditation made one lose interest.

In a brilliant curatorical move, the melancholy was quickly banished by Monica Bill Barnes’ fantastic adaption of The Running Show, a group piece narrated by Robbie Saenz de Viteri and danced by Barnes and dancers from each location where it is performed, this time with excellent dancers from CUNY’s Hunter College Dance Department.

Funny anecdotes about the life of a dancer – from the strange obsession with being a ballerina at a young age (danced by a very cute Charlotte Anub from the New York Theatre Ballet School) to the pride of a 46 year-old dancer being in better shape than younger cast members, this piece both demystified and elevated dance as a valuable, enjoyable, and challenging pursuit that attracts special kinds of people. But the message was also that dance belongs to everyone, with the promise of tangible and intangible rewards just one sweaty, humorous work-out away.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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