Perhaps the supreme dance festival in New York City, maybe even in the world, New York City Center’s Fall for Dance 2022 is celebrating its 19th year of presenting a panoply of domestic and international troupes.
Initiated by outgoing City Center President Arlene Shuler, this celebration of the many facets of dance has brought some of the best and some of the mediocre representatives of world dance to many thousands of people who have been notoriously uncritical of what has been set before them. And, rightly so. This is an audience that has come to enjoy whatever entertainment is presented—and, at an affordable price.
Program 1 of this year’s five-program edition was typical, presenting one local troupe, a Portuguese classical ballet couple and an all-male French/Algerian company which opened the program with in-your-face energy tempered by woefully mawkish “daddy was mean to me” back stories.
Compagnie Hervé Koubi’s excerpts from Boys Don’t Cry, choreographed by Koubi and Fayçal Hamlat to songs ranging from Diana Ross to the Egyptian star Oum, showed off the brawny, all-male dancers as they pounded the City Center stage with their astonishing break dancing, acrobatic gymnastics, capoeira fused to modern, ballet and ethnic vocabularies.
Dressed in all-white outfits designed by Guillaume Gabriel (whose set also surrounded the all-white dance floor with filmy white curtains), the handsome, hunky dancers approached a microphone one-by-one to deliver halting stories about how their dads disapproved of their artistic paths, preferring instead that their sons become soccer players or enter some other “manly” profession.
These confessions were separated by some fantastic displays of prowess that kept the audience gasping and screaming for more. As heartfelt as they were—and I am not deprecating their meaning to each of the men—they weighed down the breathtaking kinetic experience.
Next Margarita Fernandes, age 17, and António Casalinho, age 19, two Portuguese dancers performed the Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire. These young dancers could certainly do the bravura steps and difficult partnering. Technique wasn’t their problem. Immaturity was.
These kids have been misguided. Sure, they can produce the technical prowess needed for this Pas de Deux, but that doesn’t make them premier dancers. For better or worse, there are hundreds if not thousands of young classical dancers who are pushed to higher and higher technical extremes and never taught about style and content. Perhaps, as a couple appearing on a premier world dance stage, they might have better performed a more youthful duet like “The Peasant” Pas de Deux from Giselle or the “Bluebird” Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty.
The most complex work on Program 1 was NYC-based Gibney Company’s mistitled Bliss, staged to lovely, but repetitious piano music by Keith Jarrett. Choreographed by Johan Inger, the ballet was performed in front of his self-designed wall of sparkling, star-like lights. It’s mistitled because the mood of Bliss is less than blissful, more thoughtful.
Bliss began a bit pretentiously with several dancers walking one by one across the stage in silence. By the time the third dancer did the walk, giggles broke out in the audience. After this meandering opening, things got busier. Groups ebbed and flowed about the stage occupying different corners, then mixing and matching. Occasionally, the full cast of thirteen danced in unison, then quickly dissipated.
A young lady in a red dress which contrasted to the other mildly colored costumes (by Inger and Francesca Messori) became kind of a guiding spirit as she flitted about followed by trios, duets and group dances by this thirteen-member cast of dedicated artists. Lifts were sudden and soft. A very low cakewalk step was performed by one man. Gradually all performed it until they did it in unison in a jaunty, but low-keyed version, bringing this little community together at last.
Fall for Dance Festival 2022: Program 1 (September 21-22, 2022)
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission