Somehow Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, under the direction of Louis Robitaille, has morphed into a modern dance company if “Dance Me” is any proof. Perhaps it’s just an anomaly.
“Dance Me” is a three-part work to songs by Leonard Cohen, a cultural hero in Canada, performed as part of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance 2019: Program 5. After hearing a recording of Cohen himself tell of the creation of his beautiful song, “Suzanne”—turns out there was a Suzanne who lived by the river—a dance to that song, choreographed by Ihsan Rustem, began. It was a beautifully lit—by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard and Simon Beetschen—duet that turned an eerie romance into something ephemeral.
Adonis Foniadakis choreographed the next two sections, “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Nevermind” with bigger and bigger casts. The former began with a gentle snowfall through which the cast flowed, forming sculptural groupings out of which solos and duets emanated. The final section started dramatically: a procession of dancers marched across the stage, breaking into interweaving lines that created fascinatingly suggestive stage pictures.
The costumes varied from tight-fitting dancewear to formal looking vests and black pants, designed by Philippe Dubuc, lit with dramatic clarity by the above-mentioned artists.
Sara Mearns and Taylor Stanley, both stars of the New York City Ballet, next performed “Blanc,” choreographed to electronically mutilated music by Beethoven and Robert Schumann with some modern additions by Hamlet Gonashvili. Choreographer Kim Brandstrup was commissioned by the New York City Center and this was its world premiere. The set, uncredited, consisted of two ghost lights and two wooden chairs. The dramatic lighting, probably the best element of the work, was by Fabiana Piccioli.
These two fantastic dancers were wasted in this over-produced, pretentious, phantasmagorical duet. Stanley, dressed in a loose, white outfit, moped about seemingly forever, slowly crawling, falling, looking infinitely wounded until an angelic Mearns, in a diaphanous dress entered. The lighting made her glow. He guardedly approached her leading to bouts of very simple partnering and classical ballet steps that seemed out of place in this dreamscape.
Certainly, these two powerful dancers fleshed out what they could, but they could not overcome the arbitrary dreariness of the work.
Monica Bill Barnes totally changed the mood with her thoroughly delightful “The Running Show” which used physical contests as a metaphor for dance. Barnes stood in the midst of sixteen students from Hunter College as her creative partner, Robbie Saenz de Viteri, acted as a sports announcer, egging the large group on as they performed complicated patterns of finger snapping. Saenz de Viteri was the backbone of “The Running Show,” his narration, in turn witty, humorous and deeply thoughtful, drove the action which included more competitions; Barnes trying to beat her turning record; and an appearance of a young ballet dancer, Charlotte Anub. She was clearly too young to dance on point, but she had a natural stage presence as she turned and performed basic pointe work, charming the audience. “The Running Show” left a positive buzz in the audience, casting a quiet spell.
The final work was by the modern dance matriarch, Martha Graham. Her “Chronicle,” choreographed in 1936 as a response to ghosts of the First World War and the ongoing Spanish Civil War, was filled with angst and tension, beginning with a stirring solo, “Spectre,” performed by Xin Ying to Wallingford Riegger’s stirring score.
She was discovered sitting atop Isamu Noguchi’s platform set, contracting her torso, bending and finally rising in defiance to reveal the blood red lining of her flowing dress, designed by Graham.
The second and third sections, “Steps in the Street” and “Prelude to Action,” featured the entire chorus of ten—looking like hundreds through Graham’s magic—marching in various patterns across the stage, at first holding their arms and legs rigidly and then performing tiny travelling steps, their upper bodies held in angularly distorted positions all expressing toughness and strength. They all wore Graham’s long black dresses making for a vivid stage picture.
Amidst the starkness of part three, Anne Souder and Xin Ying performed memorable solos.
Watching “Chronicle,” it was clear that Graham’s choreography and blatant political posturing has lost some of its effectiveness. Nevertheless, we should never forget her contribution to dance and art in general and look forward to the Martha Graham Dance Company’s upcoming City Center season in April 2020.
Fall for Dance 2019: Program 5 (October 12-13, 2019)
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