Fall for Dance: The BalletBoyz, Shutters Shut and Christopher Wheeldon
I have to admit that I was not exactly thrilled when I discovered who and what was being presented in this year’s New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival. But, do not be disheartened, there are a couple of programs to get very excited about and Program 1 was the first.
The evening started with Jared Grimes’ “Transformation in Tap“. I am not a big tap fan and for me to like it then it must be awesome, sorry, this was not. Mr. Grimes states he wanted to change the way the world sees tap, but, it was the wrong approach; everything was so predictable and cheesy. He offered nothing new or novel; he should have seen the Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae’s “Something Different” from last year’s Fall for Dance. I am not a tap fan and I would love to see Mr. McRae’s perform this piece again.
Fang-Yi Sheu and Artists gave a breath-taking performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats. The dance is a selection of solos and duets that draw on the unequivocal characteristics of its four dancers, Fang-Yi Sheu, Wendy Whelan, Tyler Angle and Craig Hall. The piece begins with the four dancers moving independent of the others, each making their own statement.
Fang-Yi Sheu, a former principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company, explored movement in ways that were more grounded, her movements emanating from her solar plexus. Ms. Sheu was able to express such a sense of freedom simply by lifting her arms in circular movements above her head, a sense of freedom that follows here throughout the dance.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats was akin to watching an artist create an abstract painting, each dancer a distinct color and each lending unique brushstrokes that together created the whole.
Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle, both principals with the New York City Ballet performed a duet to a compilation of Max Richter’s score and the haunting voice of Dinah Washington singing “This Bitter Earth”. Their every movement was wrapped with emotion and Ms. Whelan, with the simplest gesture was able to convey longing in ways that was sublime.
In a sweeping move Mr. Angle sets Ms. Whelan down and she proceeds to turn and swipes her leg over his head while Mr. Angle turns and swipes his arm over the head of Ms. Whelan. The duet was tight and a technically tour-de-force.
During Ms. Sheu’s duet with Craig Hall, their dancing was projected on the back wall, becoming larger than life shadows. Mr. Hall’s lifts of Ms. Sheu were even more dramatic and enhanced by this effect. Every time I see Mr. Hall perform I am thrilled, he has strength of presence and a movement quality that demands your attention when he steps on stage.
All told, Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats performed by Fang-Yi Sheu and Artists was one of the most memorable and moving performances I have ever seen.
What is there to say about Nederlands Dans Theater’s Astrid Boons and Quentin Rogers performing Sol León and Paul Lightfoot’s “Shutters Shut” except that it was absolutely BRILLIANT! It is a work that is hard to describe because it is so unique in its simplicity.
The program notes states it is “A short study of the poem written and read by Gertrude Stein “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” 1912”. Think e.e.cummings but when he’s had way too much coffee. “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso” is a rambling, tongue-twisting, satirical bit of genius…
With scalpel precision, quick gestures, expressive faces, the movements all in the arms and upper body, Ms. Boons and Mr. Rogers moved in a straight line across the stage matching Ms. Stein’s inflection, meter and rhyme to perfection. It was brilliantly done and had great humor, plus a little whimsical sarcasm thrown in for good measure.
I have been watching the work and progress of the BalletBoyz for some time, so to I was thrilled to be able to see them live. “Void” began with an introductory video explaining who and what the BalletBoyz were about. This I could have done without, it like a documentary and really did not fit with what followed.
“Void” began with a gritty film in an urban setting, there was not so much movement involved as it was about establishing atmosphere for the coming work. The backdrop for the film as well as the projected images during the dance is of a stark, overcast and chilly city scape.
The work was sheer dynamics and adroit feats of athleticism, ten young men had all the hallmarks of causal urban trends, tattoos present with short-cropped hair and wearing jeans and hoodies. They threw themselves through the air and at each other every-way possible and some I did not think were possible. Matt Rees and Leon Poulton are both great stars in the making, they hold you like putty in their hands, such is their skill and artistry.
Was it exciting, oh yes, but was it a bit self-indulgent, sadly I have to say yes also. It was not so much dancing as athleticism; it was all tricks and pyro-technical prowess. But, it is also a strong statement of the state of the male in dancing as a whole. Men are no longer relegated to lifting and supporting the ballerina as their primary function on stage. It is a statement of the level of technical abilities needed to be a male dancer in today’s dance world. Men are no longer forgiven for lack of extension or a stiff movement quality, as was the case in decades past. Now the men are expected to be the technical equal with the women on stage.
“Void”, choreographed by Jarek Cemerek, is a study of the deconstruction of technique found in today’s dance. In this generation of dancers I have found that technique is adapted to the needs of the body as opposed to the body adapting to requirements of technique. Rules are bent in favor of athleticism and it seems that more subtle qualities of technique are sometimes missing.
The Cunningham, Graham or Horton influences are not as evident in today’s choreography as once was. Even Ballet has stepped out of it traditionalism and many ballet dancers and ballet companies explore and experiment with new ways of moving. But, I do not see this as a bad thing; it is simply the evolution of dance in the world today.
Fall for Dance consists of five programs with twelve performances in three weeks at the New York City Center, Sept. 27 – Oct. 13, 2012.