New York City Center’s annual Fall for Dance Festival has always been my “restaurant week for dance.” You can sample some of NYC’s finest choreographers and see dancers in programming that may not be possible when seeing a single company perform. Centrally located in midtown Manhattan, City Center always has a relaxed audience, perfect for those who want to enjoy a world-class performance after work. With every seat in the house priced at $15 for the chance to see some of the best dancers from around the world, tickets to Fall for Dance tend to sell out almost immediately.
I was able to attend the second program of five presented as part of the festival. First up on the program was Pam Tanowitz Dance in a “New Work for Goldberg Variations (excerpt).” I have always been a fan of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and to hear it played so wonderfully by Pianist Simone Dinnerstein only added to my delight. Tanowitz made the most of the dynamic key strokes drawing the eye to brisk footwork in her abstract movement style. A bright pleasant lighting design by Davison Scandrett and whimsical costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung played into the kaleidoscopic mood of the piece that gave Tanowitz’s dancers liberty to express humor through the interactions: dancer to dancer and dancer to pianist. With dancers performing with relatively straight faces, I wondered if Tanowitz was not trying to make a greater commentary about humanity – if only seen through rose-colored glasses?
“Sleep Well Beast” was choreographed by friend and colleague Justin Peck (full disclosure, he is also currently my boss at New York City Ballet) and featuring Patricia Delgado in a meaningful duet. Set to music by The National, the program noted it was an expansion upon Peck’s choreography for “The Dark Side of the Gym” music video. What was special for this performance for me was experiencing a choreographer’s work as interpreted through their own body on stage. Nobody moves quite like Peck, and yet he has time and time again taken his style and made a distinguishable vocabulary through which other muses speak his language. Equally matched is Delgado’s quiet confidence in her stage presence. She is truly captivating. Despite the two dancers’ different performance approaches, they were able to mesh as one to become a beautiful on-stage partnership. Peck, with his characteristic outbursts of lightning fast energy visualized in line, angles, or height, took on an angst-ridden character, a foil to Delgado’s calming presence, both reassuring and transfixing. This piece really resonated with me as The National’s lyrics created a narrative, the dance illustrated what a partnership between men and women could be if we all kept our egos in check. As a dancer, it’s wonderful to feel like I learned something watching others from my tribe weave their magic on a stage. I have no idea what a lay person would feel watching this but as “home team’ support whatever bias that bears, I was moved. Inspired by this dance and its ability to give me hope that we as genders can exist in a place of harmony, in all of our vulnerabilities, and support each other.
Gemma Bond’s “Inner Voices” was an exciting world premiere, showcasing the dynamic dancers of American Ballet Theatre in a new light. Bond’s choreography demanded a lot of from the dancers – and they all executed it with a sense of ease and bravado. The duet in the second movement also hinted at exploring ideas of erasing the inherent adversarial qualities of heteronormative society. Featuring Cassandra Trenary and Janes Whiteside, the duet began with them dancing in a mirrored image of each other, then each dancer asserting oneself, and finally coming together to a point where Whiteside lies his head on Trenary, kneeling beside him in a beautiful image of trust. Have they come to terms with each other or are they one in the same this entire time? The dance ends with another female dancer guiding Trenary to let Whiteside go as he rolls off her knee and towards the audience in a helpless way. As his body just comes to rest, the stage went dark.
The closing piece on the program was Paul Taylor’s “Promethean Fire,” what a fitting end to an evening of dance. The company performed with their souls bared, and did proper tribute to the late Paul Taylor in this impressive work. The music alone created enough drama to please my particular brand of “extra”. However, the visuals created in this work: dancers – HUMANS – piled on top of one another sometimes evoking a wall like structure other times evoking a visceral image of a mass grave. It’s so alarming and impressive that a work created in 2002 would still be so relatable in 2018. Perhaps that says more about the state of our world today but I think it does speak to Taylor’s gift as well. This piece was a tour de force of dance and collaboration between artists stage. There were so many jaw dropping displays of strength and trust in the lifts. A stunning pas performed by Michael Trusnovec and Parisa Khobdeh captivated, but once again speaking from a unique dancer perspective here, the most striking moment of the ballet was when the entire stage of dancers took a collective breathe in the final movement. That’s the stuff that fills my heart with pride. Twenty odd dancers all so in tune with each other and all giving 100% is an amazing thing to experience both on stage and in the audience. The gift is so fleeting but it’s so wonderful to experience an immerse oneself in the diversity of what being a dancer can encompass.