Fall for Dance Festival 2022 Review: Program 4
September 29, 2022 | New York City Center – New York, NY, USA
City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival annually graces its New York City stage inviting dance companies from across the globe to showcase their talents over a week of mixed bill performances. For 2022, City Center presented a total of 15 works over ten days of sold-out shows.
On Thursday evening, The Ballet Herald had the honor to attend Program Four, a line-up presenting Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Robbie Fairchild and Sara Mearns (from New York City Ballet), and Kyiv City Ballet.
Fall for Dance Festival 2022 Review
The program began with Indestructible presenting choreography by Abby Zbikowski and a warrior ensemble of seven dancers from Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
The curtain rose to reveal an entirely stripped set – the cyc lifted upstage to reveal City Center’s belly, the wings removed from the sides revealing the stagehands in the offstage corners if you had a seat in the audience at the right angle to see them. Six naked, caged Edison lightbulbs lit the stage from above, but the minimalist approach was abruptly interrupted by red flashing lights and loud, pulsing electronic music over an empty stage.
The music cut out and throughout the duration of the ballet, the dancers made the music onstage percussively with their vocals: counting, yelping, and grunting while executing undeniably difficult phrases of choreography.
All seven dancers, male and female, wore sweats, knee pads, and sneakers and flew across the stage in a relentless stream of intense break-dance-inspired movement falling into planks and quickly switching from the floor to jumping into the air.
At times, the intention swayed from aggressively movement-based to a more humorous, sometimes even nonsensical attitude that elicited small laughs from the audience: some dancers inch-wormed across the stage leaving their butts in the air, or a dancer galloped around vocalizing silly whoops and hollers. As the phrase work continued to build and never ease in difficulty, beads of sweat ran down the dancers’ exposed skin, and their counting and shouts became more labored.
The audience was incredibly impressed and involved in the performance, often gasping when a dancer defied physics by executing any step on their knees – and I was beyond impressed with the strength and formidable power of the ensemble.
Moving with such complicated choreography, with much gusto and all in unison without music to drive, is not an easy task.
However, I felt the stripped-set, no-music concept driving the piece wasn’t strong enough to carry through the duration of the performance and lacked continuity. The blaring, electronic music, and flashing lights would pick back up at random moments as the dancers exited the stage and I couldn’t make sense of how it added to the piece other than to provide the dancers short breaks.
My loose interpretation was it all served as a metaphor that reflected how oftentimes the stage disguises the very human effort that goes into a surreal performance – although even that argument, I feel, could easily be refuted.
Overall, the dancers were all so strong and impressive, I wish a better concept had housed their impressive talent. But the crowd appeared altogether pleased.
New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns and Robbie Fairchild followed up the athletic opening with a sentimental duet set to Joni Mitchell music titled "The Two of Us" choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.
The piece had premiered virtually mid-pandemic in October 2020, but in a live-theatre setting, my initial reaction to the choice of Joni Mitchell music was that the decision was cliché, especially when factoring the sound of two audience members close to me humming along to the lyrics.
The choreography began with a series of duets passed between Mearns and Fairchild, and at first, my sentiment was the same as the opening work: the execution of the steps was masterful by the performers (I would expect nothing short of perfection from the seasoned City Ballet dancers), but I wished the concept showcased their talents in a more flattering light.
However, by the time Mearns and Fairchild combined forces for a flawless pas de deux, I was swept right off my feet. Combining the silky pajama-like fabric costuming and the dancers moving against a dimly blue-lit background, the pas felt like a dream.
Mearns and Fairchild gave the simplest gesture of a hand or a foot the deepest meaning while the most complicated signature-Wheeldon passes of turns and lifts appeared effortless. Wheeldon’s choreography weaved a world the audience was able to immerse themselves in for a short while – a welcome break from worries, thoughts, and distresses.
The evening of the festival line-up closed by welcoming the Kyiv City Ballet to the stage from Ukraine.
In a New York premiere, they debuted excerpts from Thoughts with choreography by Vladyslav Dobshynskyi.
Melancholy and weighted, a large cast of corps dancers appeared to embody the thoughts of two soloist dancers dressed in white, who broke out in duets and solos and showcased their impressive facilities both in strength and in lines. The mood was heavy and the choreography was set to ambient, electronic piano music, although the entire cast of dancers moved with freedom.
A mesmerizing moment stood out when the corps made a manège of a series of warped saut de basques around the circumference of the stage and their large numbers feeding in from the wings created an inviting illusion.
After the serious ensemble performance, the evening concluded with a joyous dance where the men from the Kyiv City Ballet put on an impressive show of character tricks set to traditional Ukrainian folk music. Wearing blue and yellow t-shirts, the men dazzled the audience by executing sky-high c-jumps, barrel turns, split jumps, and turning sequences that concluded with a standing ovation from the audience with even a few holding up the Ukrainian flag to express solidarity with their nation.
City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival concluded on Sunday, October 2 with more sold-out shows throughout the weekend. The venue picks up its fall dance programming welcoming Twyla Tharp onto their stage running from October 19-23.
Featured Photo for this Fall for Dance Festival 2022 review of Sara Mearns and Robbie Fairchild in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Two of Us. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
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