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Fall for Dance – Program E

Modern dance and classical ballet shared the stage in the final program of Fall for Dance 2017.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in a scene from Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo” (Photo credit: Stephanie Berger)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Diversity in programming is the hallmark of the New York City Center’s Fall for Dance and the final program of this year’s celebration of all things dance didn’t disappoint.  Fall for Dance, with its reasonable ticket prices and catholic programming, has become an essential, must-see event, attracting young and old and dance fanatics and newbies in equal measure.  You can trust me when I say that the Fall for Dance attendees are, by far, the most enthusiastic and appreciative I’ve witnessed.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago opened the program with Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo,” a work for seven dancers to several pieces of Brahms chamber music.  It was a dark work in every sense of that word: somber emotions spread across a darkly lit stage (the too moody lighting designed by Tom Visser).  Dressed in oddly formal costumes by Joke Visser and Ms. Pite, the dancers, seen mostly in shadowy silhouette, appeared to be wandering in a cruel purgatory where these seven slender people meet, wrestle in complex entwining of limbs, wander alone and in groups, all movements impeccably executed.

A major problem with “Solo Echo,” in addition to not being able to see the performers clearly, was the disconnect between the lush Brahms music and the agony unfolding on the stage.  If it were a purposeful, ironic choice by Ms. Pite, it failed.

San Francisco Ballet in a scene from Helgi Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso (Photo credit: Stephanie Berger)

The San Francisco Ballet offered “Concerto Grosso,” choreographed by its longtime artistic director, Helgi Tomasson to a bubbly Baroque score by Francesco Geminiani for five soloists dressed in Sandra Woodall’s single-colored unitards.    “Grosso” was little more than a display of one-upmanship capably performed by five soloists:  Max Cauthorn, Diego Cruz, Esteban Hernandez, Wei Wang and Lonnie Weeks.  After introducing the quintet dancing in unison, each had a solo that established their ballet bona fides. The finale brought each on stage to perform bits of their individual solo choreography, ending in an exciting, if clichéd, socko finale.

The highlight of the program was watching the world-renowned premier danseur David Hallberg perform a work specially commissioned for him by Fall for Dance.  Mark Morris, the equally famous and respected choreographer, chose Benjamin Britten’s “Twelve Variations for Piano” as his score for the coyly humorous “Twelve of ‘em.”

Pianist Colin Fowler and dancer David Hallberg in a scene from Mark Morris’ “Twelve of ‘em” (Photo credit: Stephanie Berger)

The tone was set by Isaac Mizrahi’s wry costumes for both Mr. Hallberg and the adroit pianist Colin Fowler who was totally in synch with Morris’ tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.  Both wore ancient Greek-like flowing tunics over t-shirts and jeans.

The silly, but cerebral, approach was made clear by the very first section in which Hallberg, standing calmly center stage, listened to the music until, on the very last note, he extended his straight right leg in a tendu, his foot beautifully arched.  Thereafter, Hallberg gleefully pranced about, skittered in second position, hung off the pianist and otherwise connected with the child within, all while displaying his pure classical technique, for better or worse.  It bordered on being a waste of his stupendous talent, but the audience ate it up.

Danza Contemporea de Cuba in a scene from George Céspedes’ “Matria Etnocentra” (Photo credit: Stephanie Berger)

The final work was Danza Contemporea de Cuba in “Matria Etnocentra,” choreographed by George Céspedes who also provided the colorful casual streetwear costumes.  The score by Nacional Electrónica and Hermanos Expósito began slowly but increased in speed and loudness to support the ever-quickening movements performed by the 24 dancers moving about the stage en masse.

The sole bright point of the “Matria Etnocentra” lay in the fascination of watching 24  dancers perform rhythmically complex movements—body undulations, stomps, circling of arms, the whole Afro-Cuban vocabulary—in total, harmonic unison.  It was like watching a combination of a Carnaval parade and an aerobic class.  As an artistic achievement, it doesn’t rate high with its unimaginative repetitions and unsubtle use of the group, but the sheer mass of performers on stage was impressive.

Fall For Dance – Program E (October 13 & 14, 2017)

New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.nycitycenter.org

Running time: two hours including one intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (226 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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