The global pandemic has disrupted so many lives and businesses. It has also completely upended performing arts organizations around the world. Opera, dance, theater are large indoor events where it’s hard for both the audiences and the performers to socially distance. In light of this catastrophe, any new dance content is like a balm for the soul. New York City Center’s annual Fall for Dance festival is an eclectic collection of dancers around the world. This year they had the dancers perform in an empty auditorium and the content was split into two programs that could be purchased online.

Sara Mearns and David Hallberg in The Two of Us
© Christopher Duggan

Program 1 was the weaker program. The selections were empty calories – pleasant but insubstantial. Ballet Hispánico danced excerpts from Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s 18+1 – it was short, fun, and unmemorable. Martha Graham classic Lamentations, danced by Natasha M Diamond-Walker was surprisingly anemic. This number needs a dancer with a more outsized personality. 

Jamar Roberts performed a long solo Morani/Mungu (Black Warrior/Black God) which showed off the dancer’s remarkable musculature and jelly-like flexibility. But it was overlong and wore out its welcome. There was no connection between the different musical pieces for this solo – Black Is, by The Last Poets; Coltrane’s The Drum Thing and Nina Simone’s You’ll Never Walk Alone are all fine pieces of music by themselves but didn’t fit together in one dance.

The most eagerly awaited piece was the collaboration between ballet superstars Sara Mearns and David Hallberg. These two remarkable dancers, who had never performed together before, danced to Christopher Wheeldon's new creation The Two of Us, set to Joni Mitchell songs. There was a solo for Mearns, a solo for Hallberg, another solo for Mearns, and a pas de deux. Both dancers were compelling, Mearns plush and abandoned, Hallberg still the most beautiful male danseur of his generation. Wheeldon’s choreography is pleasant if a bit generic – there’s a lot of floaty arm movements, back arching, and slow développés to match the wistful mood of the Mitchell songs. Empty calories.

Tiler Peck in Who Cares?
© Christopher Duggan

Program 2 was much stronger. It started with a bang – New York City Ballet ballerinas Tiler Peck, Ashley Bouder and Brittany Pollack performed the three female solos from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Tiler Peck’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm solo was worth the price of admission, her trademark speed, daring, musicality and ability to play with the music and steps was a joy to watch. Ashley Bouder and Brittany Pollack didn’t quite match Peck’s brilliance but it was still a joy to see the fast footwork of NYCB ballerinas on display.

Calvin Royal III in to be seen
© Christopher Duggan

Kyle Abraham’s to be seen was set to that most clichéd of musical warhorses, Ravel’s Boléro. As is often the case for dance pieces set to this work, a solo dancer flails about the stage for 15 minutes or so. It shouldn’t work, but oddly it does. Abraham mixes hip hop, modern dance and contemporary ballet in a seamless, controlled way that is very clever and compulsively watchable. Calvin Royal III was stunning as the solo dancer. He has charisma in spades. Every step looked organic. Nothing was forced. He even resisted the urge to over-dance in the final few minutes of the musical crescendo.

Adrian Danchig-Waring and Joseph Gordon in Concerto Six Twenty-Two
© Christopher Duggan

Lar Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two was given a lovely performance by real-life partners Adrian Danchig-Waring and Joseph Gordon. This piece was created in 1986 in the middle of the AIDS pandemic. The feeling is one of friendship and brotherhood. Two figures dressed in white mirror each other’s movements, support each other, and occasionally one lifts the other up. It’s a beautiful, tender and appropriate dance for our times. Danchig-Waring’s strength in partnering Gordon was amazing, lifting Gordon like one would lift a feather. 

The second program ended with a rousing tap solo by Dormeshia called Lady Swings the Blues. Three jazz musicians accompanied Dormeshia as she danced up a storm. She was sassy, she was funny, she was exciting. Her gold tap shoes took on a glow as she moved across the stage with speed and ferocity. The strength of her personality was a fitting metaphor for the resilience of performing artists during this pandemic. 

And so this Fall for Dance ended up being a lot like previous Fall for Dances. No audience of course, but the formula was the same – a multicultural mix of dance styles and dance companies all together on one stage. Let’s hope by next year there will be the raucous crowds that accompany these programs. 

These performances were reviewed from the NY City Center streams