NYC Fall for Dance II

The second Fall for Dance program I saw, last Thursday, prompted reflections on the differences between modern dance and ballet, and why, over the years, I’ve increasingly gravitated toward the latter. 

The ballet on the bill was The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Pithoprakta, “Action by Probabilities”, choreographed by Balanchine in 1968 for Farrell (his last great muse) and Arthur Mitchell. Set to spiky electronic music by Iannis Xenakis, the ballet had a short life—after Farrell left the company the following year, it was dropped from the repertory. 

Farrell has reconstructed it as part of her Balanchine Preservation Initiative, with a chorus of 12 dancers in sleek black and two soloists in white. It opens on 4 spotlit groups, two with a figure in white at the center, in front of a backdrop that reminded me of a computer circuit board traced out in rope on white. The chorus shifts quickly into group formation upstage. In front, the woman does an extended solo while the man lies on his stomach. She arcs over him, he gets up, and they do a gently humorous duet: he circles her limbs and body with his arms as she slithers through; he extends his arms and does airplane dips and turns around her to the sound of a plane. 

Always the eye is engaged, with surprise and interest, by the counterpoint between soloists and between soloists and chorus. Ballet has a larger vocabulary of movement than most modern dance, but the proof is in its uses. Balanchine understood stillness, too, with a vertical split in the woman’s solo as punctuation.

Next on the program was an excerpt from Love, a solo choreographed and performed by Talia Paz, to a sentimental song by Lisa Germano (“and the world fell down / with the people all around…there is love…it’s a buzz….”) In black briefs and top, Paz did a great many wide-legged pelvic thrusts, with much waving of arms, facing and with her back to the audience. She did a vertical split, too, to far less effect. The repetitive movement quickly became banal, but the audience whooped at the end. 

The Lombard Twins changed the subject with hip-hop riffs to Astor Piazzolla’s music, played live on the stage behind them by the Octavio Brunetti Tango Septet. Long, lean and bare-chested, in tight black jeans with chains at their right hips and silver buttons up their calves, the Twins moved singly and together with energy and humor, playing off each other, the music, and a pair of spotlights. While the dance vocabulary is limited, the pieces are short, so they work.

Kate Weare Company began promisingly, with a red-haired woman in gauzy, flowing white bobbing and dipping before a stationary man, upstage right, in a bar of light. A second woman in gray stands downstage left, at the top of another bar of light across the floor. The soloist moves engagingly, first her head and then her whole body popping up and down, legs straight, birdlike. On the floor in the downstage bar of light she moves her bent legs in 180-degree turns.

But that’s pretty much the limit of the movement vocabulary. There is more of the dance, with the other two joining in, but at a certain point one feels one has seen what there is to see.

Garth Fagan at the end of the program restores our faith in the possibilities of non-ballet movement. To a percussive Afro-beat, his company, in shiny, colorful unitards, moves nonstop through shifting patterns of groups and solos, exits and entrances, with sudden still clusters upstage. One of his saving graces is humor. Dancers sometimes move comically, with rumps thrust out and bent legs, feet twinkling in little double hops. Although you could certainly say his vocabulary is more limited than ballet’s, he understands how to use variation, repetition and counterpoint to keep you riveted. The dance, From Before, was made in 1978, 10 years after Pithoprakta.

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