Having been checked for vaccinations and wearing masks, the anticipatory excitement in the theater was palpable. It was clear that the audience was looking forward to a live performance – something, I assumed, that most hadn’t experienced for over a year.
New York City Center’s Fall for Dance is one of my favorite programs, giving a sampling of dance companies, dancers or choreographers. Program 5 included three different pieces:
FANDANGO (Roman Mejia)
Originally presented at the Vail Dance Festival in 2010, Fandango, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to music by Luigi Boccherini featured a solo dancer, Roman Mejia, who is currently a soloist of New York City Ballet. Mejia wore a red jersey, dark pants and suspenders. Behind him, onstage, were the wonderful musicians who accompanied him, including Alberta Khoury, guitar; Dario Natarelli, percussion, and Brooklyn Rider (string quartet) made up of Johnny Gandelsman, violin; Colin Jacobsen, violin; Nicholas Cords, viola; Michael Nicolas, cello.
Mejia was a portrait of masculine grace and professional technique. Punctuating the modern ballet moves with gestures that we associate with flamenco, Mejia sometimes played off the musicians with a gentle humor. Even difficult leaps were performed with seeming ease. It was a charming, easy-to-like piece that showed off Mejia’s gifts. He proved that he’s one of our most talented American dancers today. The audience responded with loud bravos for Meija and for the musicians.
BLOOM (Tiler Peck & Herman Cornejo)
Originally performed at the Vail Dance Festival on August 9, 2021, this pas de deux was choreographed by Justin Peck (resident choreographer of New York City Ballet) to the lovely music composed for that occasion by Caroline Shaw. It showed off a perfect pairing: Tiler Peck, who is a principal dancer of New York City Ballet and Herman Cornejo, a principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre. They hardly get a chance to dance together, so this was a rare opportunity to see them as partners. They are quite simply, sublime. Both have a lightness and fluidity, a quickness and a clarity. Sometimes ballet dancers may make noise with their pointe shoes or when they land, but these two were almost silent. Strength. And they can each change direction on a dime.
Wearing costumes designed by Reid Barthelme and Harriet Jung, Tiler Peck wore a filmy, apricot-colored chiffon dress with a white bodice. Cornejo wore white tights and a purple top (that struck me as looking backward). Onstage, behind the dancers, Brooklyn Rider, the string quartet, beautifully played the music for this piece.
Whereas Peck projects a charming, smiling persona, Cornejo seems more serious and heroic, the perfect regal partner. I hope that they have opportunities to dance together in the future. They are breathtakingly exquisite and Peck’s choreography provided a wonderful showcase for them.
WHERE WE DWELL (Ayodele Casel’s company)
For something completely different, New York City Center commissioned and presented Ayodele Casel’s tap dance company for the world premiere of Where We Dwell. A crowd-pleasing, often rousing production of tap-dancing choreography, it highlighted the various ways that tap dancing can entertain and enlighten. Amplified, it was astonishing to hear all the sounds created by tap shoes on the feet of extraordinarily gifted dancers.
Casel’s company is a very diverse group, whose hair styles, bodies, genders and ethnicities give them individual identities. I’m sorry that the program didn’t name the specific dancers who performed specific numbers, but they all deserve special mention: Besides Ayodele Casel herself, there was Jared Alexander, Amanda Castro, Naomi Funaki, Quynn Johnson, John Manzari and Dre Torres. They were all given solos and also took part in group choreography. More than merely show-off tap dancing, Casel has created some interesting patterns for the dancers, who always appear as if they’re having fun.
Providing the fine musical accompaniment were Kiesel Jiménez on percussion and Maya Kronfeld on piano, but the exceptional song stylist Crystal Monee Hall deserves special mention. Not only is she credited with the music (the mashup and arrangement of songs, I assume), her way with a song is notable. From jazzy blues to soul to folk to the American Song Book, she provided meaning by the way she sang the lyrics with her strong voice along with the rhythms that underscored the dancing. She was very impressive and added immeasurably to the evening’s program. The audience’s response was loudly positive, deservedly so.
Although the three pieces in the evening’s program only took approximately 90 minutes total, I would have happily stayed in my seat and watched the entire program all over again. Bravo!
New York City Center’s 2021 Fall for Dance Festival (October 13 – 24, 2021)
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.nycitycenter.org
Running time: 90 minutes with two pauses