Every year, I am always so excited to see City Center’s Fall for Dance festival. The tickets are cheap, and the festival allows starving artists like me to see some of the best dance around. For the most part, programs I’ve seen have not had a recognizable theme. On the evening of Wednesday, September 23rd, however, I am struck by the way each piece pays homage -- to great artists, to established rituals, to recognizable societal and artistic themes. By the end of the evening, I leave feeling like we had all spent some time looking back at our history, but we had also moved ahead into new and exciting territory.
Wednesday’s program begins with Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun. City Center is honoring the centennial of Ballet Russe,, established by Diaghilev in 1909. Afternoon of a Faun was originally performed by Ballet Russe in 1912 and created lots of controversy with its erotic themes and radical movement ideas. Nijinsky was inspired by Greek and Egyptian friezes, and most of the movement looks like it exists on a vase in ancient two-dimensional space.
The piece tonight, restaged by Ghislaine Thesmar, is danced beautifully by members of the Boston Ballet. Altankhuyag Dugaraa is a wonderful faun. His movement is amazingly controlled, and he takes on his animal-like identity from the tips of his toes to his expressive face. He becomes enraptured by a nymph who leaves her scarf – and her fantasy – behind. Loma Feijoo is a lovely nymph. As I watched, I wanted more of a glimpse into her emotional life, but her dancing is delicate and sweet. She is accompanied by six other nymphs who frame and support her. This is a great start to the evening! We catch a beautifully performed glimpse of a historical work that inspired so many subsequent bold and innovative artists.
The piece that follows is Paul Taylor’s Offenbach Overtures. I must admit that I’m not the biggest Paul Taylor fan, but this is a brilliant piece poking fun at French manners and also exposing the ridiculousness of classical ballet. The structure of the piece is a lot like traditional ballet, except that everything is turned upside down. Laura Halzak and Orion Duckstein who play the “principals” constantly change roles as she’s supported by him but then alternately dropped by him or forced to support him in turn. Michael Trusnovec, Sean Mahoney, Robert Kleinendorst and Jeffrey Smith enact a dancing “duel” that reveals competitiveness and sexual tension underlying traditional masculine societal conventions. Throughout the piece, the audience can’t help but laugh out loud at the “awkward” woman trying her best to fit in, the men alternately fighting and hugging each other, the catfights arising among women competing for male affection. I find myself bothered by the women’s red shoes worn over black tights that cut off the lines of their legs, but I think the dancers are meant to look silly and perhaps to enhance the theme of “bad ballet.”
The second act opens with Bolero, choreographed by Ohad Naharin and danced by Batsheva Dance Company’s Iyar Elezra and Bobbi Smith. The music is a contemporary interpretation of the Ravel classic by composer Isao Tomita. From the moment the piece begins, Iyar and Bobbi are gorgeous and flawless. I am amazed by the grounded strength of their movement combined with heart-stopping flexibility and length of line. They weave in and out of movements that are perfectly in sync and that complement the rhythmic repetition of the music to moments in which one or both of them break away. To me, they are strong women in a world that both celebrates and daunts them. They express sexuality and camaraderie but also seem to put up an endless fight. They move together beautifully but never seem to connect to one another emotionally. Against the backdrop of a piece of music we all recognize readily, new feelings take hold of us as the curtain drop. We are transformed by their spell.
At this point in the program, it is difficult for me to imagine how anything could ever surpass such a strong piece, for I have no idea what is in store. The rising curtain reveals a lone bass player who plays, occasionally tuning his strings and looking out at his audience as if in challenge. After a few minutes, tap sounds can be heard off- and then on-stage as Savion Glover enters the center platform and slowly begins the collaboration between dancer and musician that amazes all of us. At first, Glover doesn’t look at us but rather pensively establishes his tap “instrument”. He then begins interacting with his musicians – leading them, following them, challenging them with his gestures and constantly morphing rhythms.
When Glover’s dancers, Marshall Davis Jr. and Cartier Williams, join him on his platform, the tapping becomes presentational with both individual and group choreography. All three men are breathtakingly original and ridiculously talented. I am reminded of Gregory Hines’ devotion to developing young talent as we see Glover with his two protégés astounding us over and over again! When the two men leave, Glover brings the music to a feverish pitch. By the end, audience members can’t help but jump to their feet, surely wishing the music had continued.
John Coltrane is Savion Glover’s primary inspiration for this piece. Indeed, we hear Coltrane themes throughout, and we are reminded that Coltrane’s brilliant, original ideas helped change the face of jazz music. While this evening is definitely a night of tributes and reinventions of old conventions, I can’t help but feel that we will be paying tribute to Savion Glover down the road as a great tap innovator. By introducing tap as a true jazz instrument, he’s fusing art forms much the same way that the Ballet Russes brought together multiple artists and ideas. Fall for Dance gives great exposure to so many dancers. It also reminds us that the art world is still rich and exciting and worthy of our attention, especially now. Let’s not overlook the innovators in our midst!
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