You have to hand it to the planners of Fall for Dance , New York’s annual buffet table of dance. Each of the five festival programs offers a diverse sampling of dance; on Thursday evening, Miami City Ballet, LA Dance Project, Doug Elkins choreography etc and Che Malambo shared the evening. The festival’s greatest strength may be that no program seems markedly stronger than any other – for every lesser-known company or middling work, there’s a showstopper.

Miami City Ballet in <i>Allegro Brillante</i> Choreography George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Photo © Daniel Azoulay
Miami City Ballet in Allegro Brillante Choreography George Balanchine
© The George Balanchine Trust, Photo © Daniel Azoulay

On Thursday, the program seemed to gain strength as it went on. Miami City Ballet’s performance of George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante felt joyful – the dancers all wore beaming smiles – but a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto, rather than a live orchestra, greatly diminished the dancers’ zest.

Doug Elkins’ Hapless Bizarre made light of relationships and unexpected pairings. Oana Botez’s fabulous costumes, with long-legged rompers in zany mod patterns for the ladies, added a nice splash of color to the stage. Elkins proved himself a formidable master of both unexpected partnering and intricate floorwork – his dancers moved with such ease through clearly detailed, tricky weight shares that I wished more than once we’d been able to see a bit more of a struggle. Swimming so easily from one leg-locked twist to the next occasionally made the piece feel as if it lacked dynamics. Deborah Lohse is Elkins’ most talented comedienne (or comedian), able to reach even the back of the house with her rubbery facial expressions and swift command of musicality.

L.A. Dance Project performed Murder Ballads, a flung-limb work by Justin Peck (from New York City Ballet) that makes clever use of canon and spatial patterns and carefully highlights specific musical passages. Though the cast is certainly up to the technical challenge of Peck’s rapid-fire delivery, I occasionally found myself wishing for more performance quality maturity. So much of Peck’s choreography in this piece requires appendages to travel far distances in very short spaces of time; rather than fully completing the dense movement within the pocket of time allotted, and the dancers seemed rushed – one phrase often bled sloppily into the next. The standout of this group is Julia Eichten, who alone brought the necessary gravity and control to the piece.

LA Dance Project in <i>Murder Ballades</i> © Rose Eichenbaum
LA Dance Project in Murder Ballades
© Rose Eichenbaum
But the evening’s surprise hit was the final performance, by Argentinian folk dance and music group Che Malambo. I haven’t seen so much unabashed male virility onstage in a very long time. Clad in black heels, these men strutted on slapping both their feet (all sides) and the drums they carried. Much of the dance and music dialogue felt like a competition to outdo each other; much of it was, wisely, played for humor. One would-be troubadour was yanked offstage by his fellow dancers, just before he really got the chance to sing. Another cast member – considerably shorter than most – unexpectedly trotted out barefoot, instead of wearing the now familiar heeled black boots. This competitiveness is a hallmark of the dance style Malambo, described in the program as a contest dance traditionally practiced by South American cowboys. By the time the curtain came down, audience members were wolf-whistling and stamping their own feet. I, too, couldn’t resist a quick replication. Taking the dance you’ve seen onstage to the streets – that’s a good sign Fall for Dance has succeeded.