New York’s Fall for Dance festival is on as we speak and, as always, it's an ambitious undertaking: six mixed-bills programs, with diverse line-ups presented by over 20 dance companies from around the world. Trying to cover it all in a single article would be equally ambitious, if not daunting: fear not, I will only be sharing my thoughts on this evening’s bill (Program 2) an omnibus of shorter works by several iconic choreographers (Lucinda Childs, William Forsythe, Ohad Naharin) and the newcomers – to New York audiences, at least – Sébastien Ramirez & Honji Wang.

The evening opens – unceremoniously, I am afraid – with Lucinda Childs’ Concerto, listed in the playbill as the “masterwork for seven dancers”, set to Henryk Górecki’s repetitious string music. Clad in loose-fitting, neutral black ensembles on a stage awash with general lighting, the dancers performed iteration upon iteration of a limited vocabulary including crossing the stage, leaping, and turning with blank facial expressions. Childs’ style is a modern form fused with classical elements and her choreography, admittedly, is extremely attentive to Górecki’s music, with meticulously set sections of mirroring and unison. There is much value to understatement when it is done well, buoyed by inspired performances, integrated with design elements and strong dramaturgy – none of which was the case here, to a decidedly underwhelming effect. The sum total of what I have observed felt rather utilitarian – more like watching a dance class: a movement study with no narrative and thin on content. I wasn’t quite sure why the choreographer (or the festival, for that matter) chose to include a work that was first created in 1993 – seeing it on the stage over 20 years later certainly made it feel dated, and egregiously so.

Claudio Cangialosi and Chantelle Kerr in <i>Neue Suite</i> © Costin Radu
Claudio Cangialosi and Chantelle Kerr in Neue Suite
© Costin Radu

In stark contrast, Concerto was followed by Semperoper Ballet Dresden’s Neue Suite (2012) by the tirelessly inventive William Forsythe. I have to admit that while I am quite familiar with Forsythe’s contemporary oeuvre created with his own company, this was my first experience of his explorations within balletic territory. Whatever the case may be, it was distinctly refreshing. Performed by an enthusiastic company of dancers, Neue Suite is a sequence of balletic pas de deux delivered with a perfect pitch, intent on exploring the convoluted dynamics of courtship with just the right amount of a comedic touch. While the form is distinctly balletic, Forsythe’s classical form is adrenaline-fueled, embellished with moments of hyperextension and powerful tugs and pulls that give it a distinctly zeitgeisty feel. Not to mention, the performers seem to work their way through the piece with punch-drunk joy, and their palpable pleasure of dancing this piece also infected me with a certain sensation of giddiness.

Next up is AP15, a short work performed by a youthful duet, Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang. Beginning in a deceptively zen-like manner with the silhouette of a woman kneeling against the backdrop of a diaphanous cyclorama, the meditative feeling is puzzlingly interrupted by an (also silhouetted) male figure entering upstage with a jagged, robotic movement. As the relationship between the two characters gradually develops, their choreography becomes increasingly – and impressively – clipped and chopped-up, to the point where it feels like I am watching stop-action animation. It appears that this fearless pair honed their craft on the streets, as much of their movement is a nod to break-dancing and other urban styles. And still, moments of sheer athleticism are blended with fluid, undulating movement and suspensions that create a sensation of weightlessness, and, at times, the feeling of the two dancers being connected with invisible rubber bands. While there isn’t a whole lot of gravitas to AP15 – which I don’t think was the creators’ intention anyway – the work is certainly appealing, and as such, was met with a great deal of enthusiasm from the audience.

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in <i>AP15</i> © Nika Kramer
Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in AP15
© Nika Kramer

Lastly, the iconic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre presented its own omnibus-within-the-omnibus, Minus 16 – collaged by Ohad Naharin by piecing together sections of earlier works (Mabul, Anaphaza, Zachacha and Three) he had created with his own Batsheva Dance Company. While there was a bit too much material in this work to describe in detail, suffice it to say that Naharin’s bold, intense style was delivered loudly and clearly by the company, though I have a couple of observations that beg to be made. First off, while the Ailey company is clearly talented and committed, it is quite difficult to match the precision and the intensity I have seen displayed in the very same works referenced in this compilations, most of which I had previously seen performed by the inimitable Batsheva. Secondly, it was somewhat disappointing to see the impact of those original works – both intensely personal and deeply political – be diminished by sampling “the best of” of sorts, with a tendency to cater to the lowest common denominator, by singling out the unabashedly crowd-pleasing sections. That was clearly the intent here – and clearly, it worked – as Minus 16 received a roaring ovation at the end of the evening.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about this program – in addition to the evening being uneven overall, I also felt that the program showcased predominantly renowned boundary-pushing choreographers whose works were “toned down” here for the uptown audiences. While the integrity of those works, in my opinion, was compromised, at the same time, one should applaud the festival’s sustained effort to cultivate the appreciation of the dance field within a fairly wide demographic.

***11