Fall for Dance in NYC

The Fall for Dance Festival at City Center in NYC is a grab-bag of 28 companies in 6 programs over 10 nights. Everybody’s in it, from ABT to The Lombard Twins, and, at $10 a seat, it’s always sold out. 

The audience is mostly young—sometimes too young. Thursday night, the Pichet Klunchun Dance Company was making a stunning entrance: Stage dark except for 6 pools of spotlight on the floor. Two women in elaborate, traditional Thai classical-dance costumes balance on one foot between light pools. From the wings, four other dancers in the same golden outfits begin a slow-motion entrance, raising each foot high. Complete silence.

In the mezzanine, a very small child starts chattering, a single syllable, over and over. After a minute a man calls out, “take that kid out of here!” The audience laughs nervously. The child chatters on. It’s the only sound in the house, and we’re all focused on it. More nervous laughter. At last, a woman gets up and makes her way to the exit, child still chattering on her shoulder.

The company goes on to do an exquisite performance, contrasting the women, who continue to do traditional Thai hand and foot movements (the extraordinary articulation of fingers, the joints seeming to bend in opposite directions) with a single male dancer in modern casual dress, pinstripe pants and dark T-shirt (Klunchun, the choreographer as well as artistic director).

He echoes their movements, then suddenly makes a move that’s fast, individualistic and modern. At one point, he doubles over as if with a stomach cramp. He dances a self-contained solo that threatens to break out into wildness, while the women make a slow-motion exit across a path of light upstage. Finally, he moves slowly across the pools of light and takes his place at the end of the line, falling into the traditional movement pattern.

The style, discipline and control of this company, the interplay of the finely detailed traditional movement with the modern were riveting. The work, Chui Chai, was billed as a world premiere, which made the spoiling of the entrance particularly awful.

Of the 3 other companies, Shen Wei Dance Arts, in excerpts from Map, and the National Ballet of Canada in Soldiers’ Mass by Jiri Kilian also used repetitive group movement with solos or smaller groups, to very different effect. Map’s dancers shift from undulating to herky-jerky to arm movements, always around an upright torso (even when on the floor). The sober, khaki-clad men of Soldiers’ Mass contrast with Kilian’s usually flashy style, moving as one in shifting patterns to a sung score by Bohuslav Martinu. The piece feels long, and when, at the end, the men suddenly stripped off their shirts before falling to the floor, girlish giggles broke out in the audience.

The wildest applause went to the flashiest dance of the evening, Keigwin + Company’s Fire, an excerpt from an evening-length dance, Elements. The 3 dancers, in bright costumes of red, yellow, orange and green, trimmed with corsets and fuzz, were full of individual attitude. In 4 sections, they coyly waved flame-colored streamers attached to their hands (Flicker), leaned on and fell over each other in apparent ennui (Simmer) and in the last and best section, Flame, amusingly satirized hip hop and break dancing to Walk it Out. In a solo, Nicole Wolcott did the ancient chase-the-spotlight routine and lipped off-synch to Patsy Cline singing Crazy. While the comic relief was welcome, on the whole neither the devices nor the sometimes overwrought attitudes of this piece felt fresh.

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