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Motown, Tap Dancing & the Rite of Spring: New York City Center’s Fall for Dance, Program 4….

October 10, 2013
Dorrance Dance in Michelle Dorrance’s SOUNDspace; Fall for Dance,

Dorrance Dance in Michelle Dorrance’s SOUNDspace; Fall for Dance, Photo: Ian Douglas

Why, I ask why, did the first piece seen during the 10th Anniversary of the New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival’s Program 4 have to be tap…come on, anything but tap…snake dancers, badly done Butoh, trained mice that tango, a flea circus…anything but tap…..

I am now fairly certain that the 2013 Fall for Dance Selection Committee have been reading my past posts and discovered my absolute loathing of tap dancing. So, with nothing better to do they have it made it their life’s goal to assuage my view on tap dancing. Really, government is shut down, Detroit is bankrupt and it’s now rumored that there is no pumpkin in Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte…Really, no pumpkin!

Dorrance Dance, photo by Matthew Murphy & Kenn Tam, Fall for Dance

Dorrance Dance, photo by Matthew Murphy & Kenn Tam, Fall for Dance

So, being the gracious sort of person I am, I sit back, grip the arms of my seat tightly and grit my teeth when the curtain rises for Dorrance Dance and Michelle Dorrance’s SOUNDspace. Originally a site-specific work in response to the unique acoustics on NYC’s St. Mark’s Church, the piece had been adapted for Fall for Dance.

Now, it aggravates me to say this, but I was very impressed. The work held me transfixed from beginning to end. The work is not a typical tap piece, there is no music, and instead tap is the music. Syncopated rhythms that varied in degrees of complexity were divided into groupings, the twelve dancers tapped in complete unity that would weave into various duets, trios and the occasional solo. The choreography was by Ms. Dorrance, but the solos allowed the dancers improvisational freedom that added to the whole of the performance by making it seem more personal to each of the dancers. I have to be honest and as a person who loathes tap, I would see this piece again in a heartbeat.

Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc. at Fall for Dance

Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc.. in Doug Elkins’ “Mo(or)town/Redux”; Fall for Dance

Doug Elkins’ Mo(or)town/Redux (adapted for Fall for Dance) is a movement conversation with Shakespeare’s Othello and Jose Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane set to a Motown inspired score. The piece is for two men and two women as is Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane and admittedly the work has its moments.

The soundtrack is a poorly put together compilation of such great songs as James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good and Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness. Seldom is a song allowed to finish before it is interrupted for another to begin. I realize that this is in order to advance the storyline, but I wonder if it would not be a more cohesive and smoother work if the songs were used in full and just not in parts.

If you were not familiar with Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane or Shakespeare’s Othello the plot or storyline would be difficult to truly follow. Desdemona’s betrayal by Emilia and Iago’s manipulation of The Moor is muted by the great music heard. I also felt that there was a lot of great music that was not always utilized to its fullest. Alexander Dones’ solo was a physical tour de force, there is sincerity in Mr. Dones dancing that is just brilliant to watch.

Commissioned by the Fall for Dance Festival, Royal Ballet’ Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett’s Fratres was an interesting work. I am fascinated by this young crop of choreographers who fully understand and utilize the classical vocabulary. Such young choreographers as Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck, Tom Gold and Troy Schumacher are combining and altering classical steps in new ways.  It is exciting to witness the mantel of such former revolutionaries of dance like George Balanchine, Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart carried on and expanded upon.

Royal Ballet’ Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett

Royal Ballet’ Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett

Liam Scarlett’s Fratres was beautifully performed by the Royal Ballet’s Zenaida Yanowsky and Rupert Pennefather. The music for the work was Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for Piano and Cello (Arranged by Dietmar Schwalke) and performed on stage Kate Shipway (Piano) and Peter Adams (Cello).  Brad Fields must be mentioned for the excellent lighting design that was so instrumental in defining the piece.

There was a simplicity to the score that blended in with the stark and sometimes minimalistic aspects of the choreography. Mr. Pennefather would mold Ms. Yanowsky’s body in to sculptural moments with her extensions extended for added emphasis. The two were seldom separate from each other with Ms. Yanowsky usually in front of Mr. Pennefather. Though excellently performed it was not exactly as exciting as I had hoped from Mr. Scarlet.

Martha Graham Dance Company in Martha Graham’s Rite of Spring ; Fall for Dance

Martha Graham Dance Company in Martha Graham’s Rite of Spring ; Fall for Dance

Martha Graham’s Rite of Spring was just as exciting to witness today as it was when I first saw it in 1984. Ben Schultz portrayed the Shaman, dressed in a flowing robe, white in the front and black in the back. The men circled before him wearing only black briefs while the women wore sheer skirts and nude colored tops.

Blakely White-McGuire was the The Chosen One, bound for sacrifice she is compelling as her body trembles with terror of the ritual to come. Ms. Graham’s focusing upon the ritual of the celebration of spring is what makes her Rite of Spring stand apart. I am always thrilled by the commitment and dedication of the Graham dancers.

Martha Graham’s Rite of Spring can be seen again when the Company return to City Center in March 2014.

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