Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Restart Stages, its push to bring normalcy back to its campus, brought five major dance companies onto the stage at Damrosch Park. It is called the BAAND Together Dance Festival, which is an acronym for Ballet Hispánico, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem.
It’s unlikely that New York City will ever see these five troupes sharing a stage again. This was a festive occasion despite being uneven in tone and not particularly representative of at least two of the large dance companies. Pretentious program notes were fortunately only available online so that they couldn’t mar the visceral enjoyment of several of these works in Program One.
After a jovial introduction by the Ailey Company’s artistic director, Robert Battle, his company, always an audience rouser, opened the show with an excerpt from Rennie Harris’ “Lazarus.” The program notes indicate that this second act excerpt is part of a group of works that “address racial inequities in America.”
Although none of this was explicitly expressed in this work—at least to my estimation of the choreography—it filled the Damrosch Park Restart Stage with vibrant movement. The large cast, in which the wonderful Ailey veteran Clifton Brown stood out, first appeared in an atmospherically lit stage (lighting by James Clotfelter), a large group slowly advancing on a single dancer. As the group dissipated the initially quiet music (Darrin Ross) suddenly burst out in heart-pounding percussion, the movements—swinging arms, stomping feet, pulsating hips and free-floating heads.
Marc Eric’s dark, layered costumes flew in all directions as the dancers flowed across the stage in a crescendo of solos and duets alternating with full cast sections. Their almost frenzied, but controlled thrashings turned these exciting dancers into a village of like-minded people who seemed to have journeyed from a dark place into the light.
Rowdy curtain calls elicited cheers, hoots and a universal standing ovation from the capacity audience, many of whom had waited patiently in lines that snaked around the corner and up Columbus Avenue.
The New York City Ballet’s (Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan, artistic directors) unusual contribution was the solo “Ces noms que nous portons” by the hugely popular Kyle Abraham to Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 3,” a serene, gentle work to serene, gentle music with yet another affected program note: “…to celebrate our queerness and our color in a way that hopefully stresses its importance, its fragility and its strength.”
The up and coming NYCB star Taylor Stanley had the hard task of following the audacious Ailey dancers and being some sort of symbol for “queerness,” but managed to generate a standing ovation for his serene performance.
Beginning in stillness, Stanley appeared to be floating upon the music. Tiny accents in the melody were signified by lifts of the leg. His arms went from softly framing his face to jutting straight forward as he melted into arabesques. Despite wearing loose street clothes—a white t-shirt and dark pants—he projected an otherworldly glow.
DTH (Virginia Johnson, artistic director) came next with an upbeat duet, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing’ excerpted from full-company work “Harlem on My Mind,” choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie to, as the title implied, jazzy pop music. A snappy duet that uneasily mixed ballet and ballroom elements, it was nevertheless saved by the puppyish, gleeful performances of Amanda Smith (on point, in a tiny, colorful outfit) and Anthony Santos (almost nude in tight purple dance shorts) who dashed through flirtatious balletic jumps, pirouettes all punctuated by sassy wiggles and some nimble partnering.
ABT (Kevin McKenzie, artistic director) continued the program in the same pop duet vein with Jessica Lang’s “Let Me Sing Forevermore” to a batch of songs interpreted by the evergreen Tony Bennett.
Again, two wonderful dancers saved the day. The lovely Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell in jaunty blue costumes by Bradon McDonald, pleasantly lit by Brad Fields, danced to classic tunes like “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Fascinating Rhythm.”
Perhaps only Balanchine and Tharp have succeeded in meshing the classical vocabulary, modern dance and ballroom steps in meaningful ways. Jessica Lang is not yet up to their level at this point in her career, but her “Forevermore” at least went beyond the show-off steps to make it clear that the two special dancers were developing a coy relationship.
Ballet Hispánico (Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director) brought the program to a boisterous conclusion with the wacky “18+1,” referring to choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s nineteen years as a choreographer. “18+1” is set to a compendium of Latin rhythms composed by Pérez Prado plus songs like the hilarious “Mama, Teach Me to Dance,” a kitschy fifties pop song.
Wearing dark, layered costumes that were occasionally stripped down to reveal vibrant reds, the ten good-looking dancers performed in unison for much of the work, Ramírez Sansano spreading them in various patterns across the stage. Using an oddball combination of fast-moving semaphore-like, robotic arm movements over sexy hip and foot work, he seemed to be making fun of the ever-changing rhythms. The dancers made the most of his repetitive movements and patterns, their unflagging energy and silliness giving “18+1” a tongue-in-cheek quality as if the choreographer were spoofing these intrinsically Latin dance styles.
Each evening of the BAAND Together Dance Festival will feature a different program with contributions from each of these five wonderful dance companies.
BAAND Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center (August 17-21, 2021)
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Restart Stages
Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, 62nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets: call 212-875-5456 or visit http://www.TodayTix.com
Running time: one hour