On Wednesday, the cheerful crowd attending the opening night of the Fall for Dance festival at New York City Center meandered around the block. The cause of the bottleneck was inspection of vaccination records at the door – one of the very few differences between this incarnation of the popular event and the many that preceded the pandemic.
As in previous years, the festival offers value and variety: cheap tickets and five mixed nut programs filled with stars and premieres, although this year each program has been reduced to three acts, with breaks. but no intermissions. The big change from the 2020 version, which was virtual, is the return of the festival’s most distinctive feature – that happy, buzzing, loud, eager to love everything crowd.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, lately bogged down in Washington, looked very happy to be a special guest. His appearance at the start of the show was greeted with a roar. And his work in helping New York’s theaters weather the pandemic was less redundant than when the first act’s MC, Streb Extreme Action, shouted “Make some noise!”
This audience did not need such encouragement, although the MC (Felix Hess) also resorted to a T-shirt cannon and Wave stage. In fairness, it didn’t just shake up the already amplified scene changes, but also covered, disassembly and assembly of Streb’s iconic machines.
The first was a horizontal pole, some 20 feet above the ground, to which three performers were attached by their boots. Over and over they fall and spin backwards, a cross between cliff divers and spit meat, adding small variations in timing or shape.
The last device was a giant trampoline and a mat. Over and over, eight “action heroes,” as they are called, bounce, steal and flop face first. The near-collisions of the superimposed flights create a certain suspense, and the shapes held at the highest points are real climaxes: a throbbing weightlessness effect, the acrobats briefly becoming astronauts.
But in the Streb sensibility, the emphasis is on the splat. And at Fall for Dance, every little twist on the same little idea was also applauded.
“We don’t like a quiet show,” the MC said, and they haven’t had one. But they were followed by a silent act, AIM by Kyle Abraham.
“Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song”, a New York premiere, is set to six tracks by Nina Simone. A group sculpture overture precedes the solos and a duet, but all sections are essentially mood pieces, and the vibe is indigo.
In the recent documentary “Summer of Soul”, Al Sharpton explains how Simone’s tone of voice was “between hope and mourning”, capturing Black “the pain and our challenge”. Abraham listens more to pain. The gesture of opening defines – and is common in his work – hands reaching out behind the back to grab the wrists, a kind of self-embrace that seems tender like an injury.
The persistence of the blues gives “Our Indigo” a similarity. But the choreography and the dancers are never less than beautiful. Most of the sections look thin in the middle, stretched with a curvy vampage, but they tend to end in power: Gianna Theodore’s ground-bound B-girl explosion in “Little Girl Blue”, the krump-type contractions of Jae Neal in “Don ‘t Explain. And the last segment is devastating: Catherine Kirk dresses in a garment with loose gestures that eerily and exactly captures the tone of Simone’s verses singing like” She Doesn’t Know Her Beauty ” .
Going from there to the final act of the program, the Verdon Fosse Legacy, was living the old whiplash Fall for Dance. “Sweet Gwen Suite” is a trio of go-go trios that Bob Fosse choreographed for Gwen Verdon for Television appearances in the late 1960s – Where with Verdon, since the program rightly credits them both. In the roles of Verdon, Georgina Pazcoguin, the soloist of the New York City Ballet who likes to present herself as the “rogue ballerina”.
Ably supported by dancers Zachary Downer and Tyler Eisenreich, enhanced by Bobby Pearce’s fabulous variations on the original costumes, Pazcoguin watched at home. From the smallest details of the hat angle to the big, circular kicks and pelvic bumps, she was precise and stylish.
The main difference between her and the Verdon is that Pazcoguin takes it all a bit too seriously. Even when Verdon’s face was protected by a sombrero, you could see the laughter in his body. Pazcoguin is harder, like he’s trying to prove something.
Amidst the many credits on the program, it’s strange that the composers go unrated, since the sounds of Herb Alpert, Lalo Schifrin and Johnny Mandel are the key to the groovy nostalgia of these pieces. Especially after the twists and turns of Abraham’s deeper work, Fosse’s know-how appears: the number of ideas per bar, the clearly defined entertainment.
There is a lot to borrow, because Beyoncé did it for her “Single Ladies” video.. The cries of some movements were undoubtedly cries of recognition from fans of Beyoncé as well as Fosse – or Verdon or Pazcoguin. But that’s what always happened in Fall for Dance. Groups of fans who would normally be separated come together, merging to blind applause.
Fall for the dance
Through October 24 in downtown New York; nycitycenter.org.