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Review: Fall for Dance Festival at City Center Hits Another Home Run This Year

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, October 11, 2016

Despite the fact the price of a ticket rose from $10 to $15, New York City Center’s annual Fall for Dance Festival remains one of the best bargains in town. Every year, a sampler of various dance companies and performers are brought together, allowing audiences exposure to a multitude of dance styles. It’s a wonderful concept—especially in New York City where there are so many dance performances from which to choose.

First on the program which I attended was Shantala Shivalingappa dancing Shiva Tarangam in the classical Kuchipundi Indian dance style. (A tarangam is a devotional song written by the saint Narayana Tirtha.) As I am not very familiar with Indian dance, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this performance. But here again is what’s so great about the Fall for Dance Festival—I might never have seen this extraordinary performer had I not attended this performance. When the curtain rose, Shivalingappa was posed center stage with four musicians seated to the side. She wore a purple and gold costume, with fresh flowers in her hair and red tipped fingers and toes.

I quickly realized she wasn’t a “folk dancer,” but a professional with complete physical control of her instrument. Whether rising slowly from a squatting position or standing on one foot, she was capable of exceptional balance and was clearly physically strong. She was also a performer with a sense of how to control and play with her audience as well. Her facial expressions were beguiling; her smile lighting up the auditorium, while charming us with her sly glances. The choreography was hypnotic, matching the rhythms set by the musicians. Even though I’m not well-versed on this style of dance, it seemed to me a first-class performance. Now I want to learn more about Kuchipundi dancing and about Shivalingappa.

Next The Nederlands Dans Theater presented the U.S. premiere of Woke Up Blind, choreographed by Marco Goecke and set to songs by the late Jeff Buckley. The dancers moved in very bizarre ways in front of a black backdrop marked with pinpoints of lights. Their arms convulsed as if they had a life of their own, and seemed desperate to communicate with the rest of their bodies (which were doing something else). Separating each muscle to move in different directions made the dancers look like contortionists. It was both astonishing and very weird. The amazing dancers were clearly up to the task of performing this exhausting choreography. As the piece moved forward, the choreography and the music related more to one another. I particularly liked the section in which there were scat-like riffs with voice and guitar. As peculiar as my description may sound, it was actually a very emotionally powerful experience.

The classical ballet dancers Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo then presented the world premiere of Witness, commissioned for the Fall for Dance Festival, with choreography by Wayne McGregor and music by Nils Frahm. Considering that Ferri and Cornejo are such wonderful dancer/actors, I was hoping for a little more drama, but it was a pleasant enough piece of modern ballet. Ferri wore pointe shoes, but there was hardly any pointe work—just enough to show off her famously flexible feet. Ferri proved that it’s not only her feet that are flexible as she lifted her leg up to her ear.

But, ah, the performance…. Ferri and Cornejo work so harmoniously, and are so beautifully attuned to one another that it is such a joy to watch their partnership. Their lovely, sinuous movement flowed from beginning to end, as if it were one, long, exquisite ribbon of dance.

Now to my complaint: dark lighting. I’d like to address all lighting designers out there—I understand “mood lighting,” but for dance I want to SEE the dancers! Also, in this instance, the dark lighting was exacerbated by the column of blindingly bright neon light along one side (and the cylinder of light on the other). Simply put, it detracted from the dancers. It took me a while to adjust to the extremes of light so that I could concentrate on the dancers—which is the reason I was in the theater in the first place.

The final company to perform was Cloud Gate 2, a Taiwanese modern dance group, which performed Beckoning, described in the program as “a zigzag of body language with movements distilled from Taiwanese street-dancing rituals.” I detected elements of Martha Graham, along with street dancing. (Part of that may have been suggested by the women’s calf-length dresses made of stretchy fabric.) The choreography of Cheng Tsung-Lung was often innovative and compelling, and the dancers are especially strong and capable. I was impressed by the intensity of some of the individual solos (uncredited) and especially the groupings of dancers moving in dynamic patterns, but it seemed to me that there was just a little too much repetition.

Although Asian music can be difficult for Western ears, I don’t think that was the case here. I was irritated by the annoying sounds of groaning generators, metallic shrieks, and other off-putting noises. The movement seemed to have its own internal rhythm, but that wasn’t supported by the arbitrary sound effects.

Thank you New York City Center for the opportunity to see this wonderful variety of dance companies and performers. I, for one, would be happy if this kind of programming found its way into the ‘other’ seasons as well.

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Fall for Dance presented by New York City Center from September 26 to October 8, 2016. Review of performance on Friday, October 7, 2016. Shantala Shivalingappa: Shiva Tarangam had its premiere on April 29, 2010 in Paris, France. Choreography: Shantala Shivalingappa; music and lyrics: Sri Narayana and J. Ramash; musicians: B.P. Haribabu (Nattuvangam, Pakhawaj), K.S.Jayaram (Flute), M.Ramakrisnan (Mridangam), J. Ramesh (Vocals). Costumes: D.S.Aiyyelu. Netherlands Dans Theater: Woke Up Blind had its premiere on February 4, 2016 in The Netherlands. Artistic Director: Paul Lightfoot; choreography: Marc Goecke; dramaturge: Nadja Kadel; music: Jeff Buckley (“You and I” and “The Way Young Lovers Do”); scenery and costumes: Marco Goecke; lighting: Udo Haberland. Dancers: Aram Hasler, Anne Jung, Thiago Bordin, Olivier Coeffard, Prince Credell, Jorge Nozal, Rupert Tookey. Witness commissioned by New York City Center and premiered at Fall for Dance 2016. Choreography: Wayne McGregor; music: Nils Frahm; lighting: Clifton Taylor. Dancers: Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. Cloud Gate 2: Beckoning had its premiere on April 24, 2015 in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Founder: Lin Hwai; artistic director: Cheng Tsung-lung; choreography: Cheng Tsung-lung; music: Chung Cheng-da and Quiet Quartet; lighting: Shen Po-hung; costumes: Lin Bing-hao. Dancers: Chan Hing-chung, Chen Yi-en, Hsu Chih-hen, Lin Yin-ying, Liao Chin-Ting, Lin I-Hsuan, Luo Sih-wei, Su-I-chieh, Tsou Ying-lin, Wu Jui-ying.

Cover: Cloud Gate 2 in ‘Beckoning;’ photo: Stephanie Berger


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