New York Dance Fall Sampler

Written by:
Joanna G. Harris
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A scene from “Vollmond” by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Brooklyn Academy of Music
Photo by Jan Szito

New York Dance Fall Sampler, 2010

Fall for Dance, City Center
Off the Wall, Whitney Museum
Vollmond (Full Moon), Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Brooklyn Academy of Music
New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center, David H. Koch Theater
Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2010

Fall is the time when dance events abound. As my colleague headed west for a busy set of concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area, I headed to New York City for a weekend of diverse performances. Each was unique; each served to demonstrate how rich and varied dance offerings are today.

Of the 20 companies in the Fall for Dance Festival, I was able to see four: the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in “Xover;” Gallim Dance; Madhavi Mudgal (Odissi dance); and “The Golden Section,” choreography by Twyla Tharp danced by the Miami City Ballet. While the Gallim Dance gave us many laughs with their quirky bits in “I Can See Myself in Your Pupil,” set to Balkan Beat Box music, and the five dancers of Madhavi Mudgal were impressive in their unique Indian rhythms, and the Miami Ballet tore through “The Golden Section” with spirit but insufficient pizzazz, it was Cunningham’s “Xover” that was the stunning work of the evening.

Outfitted in simple white leotards and tights (décor and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg) to music by John Cage (“Aria” with “Fontana Mix”) the 13 dances displayed that exceptional tensile strength that characterizes Merce’s choreography, choreography that creates sculpture. As its name implies, various couples and individuals “cross over,” zig-zagging the stage space, developing marvelous arrangements and patterns. Each dancer is a star but special kudos go in this piece to Brandon Collwes and Emma Desjardins for their work in the long duet. Beyond the usual pas de deux, this couple held, balanced, fell and supported one another in amazing moves. Bravi! And kudos also to soprano Joan La Barbara, whose voice is out of this world.

Moving uptown, the Whitney Museum celebrated the almost 40 years since Trisha Brown presented “Another Fearless Dance Concert” there in 1971, by presenting “Off the Wall: Seven Works by Trisha Brown.” In the second floor gallery at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, the Trisha Brown Dance Company entertained the eager audience, seated on the floor and standing against the walls, with five pieces from Brown’s repertory. The works dated from 1968 to 1973, a true retrospective. It is always fascinating to see how Brown takes the basic tasks of leaning, falling, “accumulating” and wiggling (in “Spanish Dance”) and thus redefine what dance can do. She made a serious mark in those postmodern early dances by having dancers walk on walls (“Why waste the space,” she said), which they did wearing support devises and at right angles to the gallery walls. Later that day, Stephen Petronio walked down the museum’s five-story wall on 75th Street. Elizabeth Streb did the same the following day. At age 74, Brown and her company continue to set the standard for what is “far-out.”

The highlight of the week was, of course, “Vollmond” (Full Moon) performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. This was the first time the company had appeared at BAM without Bausch, who died in 2009. Nevertheless, “Vollmond” was choreographed by Bausch and has been in the repertory since 2006. The company is now directed by Dominique Mercy, a dancer with the group since 1973, and Robert Sturm, Bausch’s former rehearsal assistant.

Tanztheater is, as its name says, both dance and theater. Bausch’s work, with the collaboration of her company, seeks to explore deep human relationships; dancers speak, sing, cry, wear outlandish costumes, parading before the audience as they demonstrate love, anguish, and in “Vollmond,”a kind of intense manic behavior that can be associated with the full moon. Tides respond to the moon, and in this piece, the upstage area is flooded with water. The dancers splash and swim and sometimes jump from a giant boulder. Although women, young and old, in full evening dress, dominate the work (in response to the moon’s phases), the men approach, kiss, bite and fling themselves away, often into the puddles, flailing, rolling, kicking. Only Mercy seems to stay downstage, crossing back and forth in a long, beautiful solo, as if he might be trying to exercise control and order.

In previous works, Bausch covered the stage with flowers, sometimes with trees, or fallen bricks. “Vollmond” washes the dancers and the audience in a sea of energy, tension, daring and commitment rarely seen in dance. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has opened an extreme world of tensions, emotions and associations that intensely affect artists and their audiences. She has influenced generations of choreographers the world over. All the dancers deserve standing ovations: alas, no photos in the program allow the viewer to give them individual applause they well earned.

To complete the dance week, I returned to the New York City Ballet, a company I’ve been watching since 1948, when Balanchine first brought them to the City Center. Now, at Lincoln Center at the beautiful David H. Koch Theater, City Ballet is home to the work of founders Balanchine and Robbins as well as to guest choreographers Benjamin Millepied, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alexei Ratmansky, among others. For the first time in many years, City Ballet offers a fall season. This matinee program gave four Balanchine pieces and “The Magic Flute” (not Mozart’s), a “school” work brought back to the repertory after many years by Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins. “The Magic Flute” is in the tradition of historical ballet, a 19th century “pastoral,” somewhat like “La Fille Mal Gardée.” It incorporates comic characters in the commedia style and festival waltzes. Unlike the stark, black-and-white 20th century look so characteristic of the Balanchine period, “The Magic Flute” is all frolic and color. It gives an opportunity for children of the ballet school to be on stage. For the Oct. 3 performance, Tiler Peck and Joaquin de Luz were the capable and delightful lovers executing a pas de deux of admirable romantic style.

But for me, NYCB is always Balanchine, and the works presented–“Chaconne,” “Monumentum Pro Gesualdo,” “Movements for Piano and Orchestra,” and “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”–refreshed my memories of his great ability to delight us with stage design, musical exposition, and innovative yet classical steps. I am always impressed when dancers on toe make no clumpy sounds as they land. There were many outstanding dancers; I was moved to see Wendy Whelan and Sébastien Marcovici in “Chaconne” and to hear music by Gluck, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky well played by the City Ballet orchestra, Andrews Sill conductor. Long live City Ballet and the works of Balanchine as well as the vitality of the New York City dance scene.

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