Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar
The fifth and final program of the New York City Center Fall for Dance Festival 2023 followed the hallowed guiding principle of this valuable artistic treasure trove: Give the audience a smorgasbord of dance and always include non-Western companies.
The first work was Bijayini Satpathy’s Sitāharan, in the style of Odisi, one of the major classical dance forms of India.
Performed to live music, Sitāharan began with Satpathy skittering onto the City Center stage in a delightful run, wearing a colorful Indian costume designed by Gulam Rasul Tailor. As her four musicians played and sang, she combined agile footwork with arm and hand gestures that suggested—without program notes—a scenario involving gods and goddesses, hunting and romance.
Satpathy is a master of this curvy, energetic style. Her gestures were crystal clear, combining form with beauty. Her footwork was sensational and musical to a fault as her four musicians buoyed her with their artistry. Sujay Saple and Itohan Edology handled the lighting which brought out all the nuances of her movement.
Maurice Béjart’s Songs of a Wayfarer, one of his minimalist treatments of major musical works, starred two Paris Opera Ballet étoiles, Germain Louvet (in a blue unitard) and Hugo Marchand (in a red unitard, costumes by Joëlle Roustan). The title referred to the vocal work by Gustav Mahler. Neither the orchestra nor the bass vocal soloist were identified in the program notes, but it was a first rate interpretation.
As the mournful music unspooled, the two impeccably trained, lithe dancers performed Béjart’s follow-the-leader choreography, one man extending a leg followed by the other as if Marchand were guiding Louvet as a spiritual mentor. The actual steps were simple and classical: pirouettes, arabesques with reaching-beseeching arms and odd variations on basic ballet positions, all somehow given weight by the Mahler score and text (also written by Mahler) which is mostly dark and remorseful.
It takes great acting to find the heart of this under-choreographed duet. Although Louvet and Marchand are splendid exemplars of the French school of dance, they were more impressive in their technique than in their emotions. It was difficult to get beyond their expression of physical perfection. Were they lovers? Friends? No, they were ballet dancers moving to a richly emotional score.
The original rich lighting design by Roger Bernard was skillfully recreated by Carolyn Wong.
The final work of Program Five was the Brazilian troupe, Grupo Corpo’s Gira choreographed by Rodrigo Pederneiras. It was a Rite of Spring style ritual featuring a cast of beautiful bare-chested dancers—yes, women, too—in loose, layered white skirts designed by Freusa Zechmeister.
The immediate impression of Gira was of the semi-circle of lights designed by Gabriel Pederneiras and Paulo Pederneiras (the Grupo Corpo artistic director) and their somber illumination of the twenty dancers—an impressively large cast—that heightened the ceremonial tone of the very repetitious choreography. The music by Metá Metá varied from ominous rumbles to full-out thumping Latin rhythms.
The dancers filled the stage with stomps, twisting torsos, wildly abandoned runs and quickly morphing groupings. They formed circles around soloists and spread across the stage in their recurring movement patterns, quite effective dramatically in a sweaty, sensual way.
The audience was bowled over by Gira as they were, for different reasons, by the other works on this very varied program.
The end of this season’s Fall for Dance Festival ushers in a City Center schedule full of more dance and theater.
New York City Center Fall for Dance Festival 2023 (ended October 8, 2023)
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time (Program Five): two hours including one intermission