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of Fauns, Swans & Gospel House: New York City Center’s Fall for Dance, Program 5….

October 15, 2013
James O’Hara in Sidi Larbi Cherkaou’s “Faun”

James O’Hara in Sidi Larbi Cherkaou’s “Faun”

The fifth and final program on the 10th Anniversary of the New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival began with the New York Premiere of Flemish Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun, performed by Daisy Phillips and James O’Hara. If I had been told to pick only one performance to witness during the whole of the 2013 Fall for Dance Festival, this would be it.

The work premiered in 2009 at Sadler’s Well, and is a reinvention of Nijinsky’s famous ballet, L’aprèsmidi d’un faune, using both the Debussy score and additional music by Nitin Sawhney. With the beginning notes of the oboe, the lights slowly raise to reveal James O’Hara, bent over in a kneeling position with one arm bent on his back, he seems peaceful, perhaps even sleeping. In a dimly lit forest he slowly awakens, his body unfolding and begins undulating in a fashion that can only be seen as animalistic.

Dynamic, acrobatic and loose-limbed, Mr. O’Hara creates a creature that is primal and alive. When Daisy Phillips enters the stage, his attention is directed toward her, but not overtly. He begins a mating dance, a showing off of his prowess as a means to gain her attention. He uses his curly blond hair as an emphasis, like a fowl proudly displaying its plumage.

Ms. Phillips retains a vulnerability but not fragility as she responds to the overtures of Mr. O’Hara courtship. They come together for mating, surrendering to primal instinct and nature’s demand for reproduction, there is an eroticism that is implied, never overt. They weave their limbs into knots of anatomy which progresses into a display of strength, Ms. Phillips demonstrates that if not equal, is worthy of Mr. O’Hara’s attention.

Daisy Phillips &  James O’Hara in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun

Daisy Phillips & James O’Hara in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun

But there is also tenderness and a respect for Ms. Phillips’s vulnerability which allows Mr. O’Hara, despite his animal instinct and the need to dominate, the luxury of emotion. He becomes protective as he cradles Ms. Phillips’ body. The primal need for reproduction is being replaced by caring, by passion. In the end, there is a separation, as if each is looking to go their own way, creatures of solitude that only met for the sole purpose of this brief moment. It was a stellar performance of a stellar piece. I thank the Selection Committee for bring this work to the Festival. Mr. O’Hara has recently been nominated for a Green Room Award for his performance in There’s definitely a Prince Involved with the Australian Ballet.

I’m not sure I possess the vocabulary to describe Richard Siegal’s O2JOY. The work was performed by the L. A. based company, BodyTraffic, the brainchild by Lillian Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett. The music is a mixture of Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Glenn Miller and the dancers seemed to be having more fun than the audience and we were having a lot a blast.

Guzmán Rosado (left) and Miguel Perez perform in Richard Siegel's "o2Joy". Photo: Christopher Duggen

Guzmán Rosado (left) and Miguel Perez perform in Richard Siegel’s “o2Joy”. Photo: Christopher Duggen

There were smiles all during the performance, but the epic moment I sure few will forget was when Andrew Wojtal comes on stage as begins to lip-sync Ella Fitzgerald’s All of Me. He soared as the consummate diva that had to endure an ongoing tiff with his back-up singers/dancers and ensuring everyone understood that this show had but one Star and that was him. It’s a fun work that should be witnessed. BodyTraffic was listed as part of Dance Magazine’s 25 to watch in 2013.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, founded in 1974, performs parodies of the great ballet classics en travesty and en pointe. Tonight it was the Marius Petipa’s Black Swan Pas De Deux, famous for its sequence of 32 fouettés which were first performed in 1893 by the Italian powerhouse Pierina Legnani. (Supposedly the Cecchetti School of Ballet, devised by the Italian ballet master and pedagogue Enrico Cecchetti  were more athletic than their French and Russian counterparts).

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in Marius Petipa’s Black Swan Pas De Deux

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in Marius Petipa’s Black Swan Pas De Deux

A very handsome and somewhat diminutive Prince Siegfried, danced by Innokenti Smoktunmuchsky (Carlos Hopuy), was immediately entranced by a taller and stronger looking Odile performed by Yakatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnson). Unfortunately Ms. Verbosovich was not so taken with Mr. Smoktunmuchsky and was not afraid to let him know. The evil Von Rothbart as performed by Vytacheslav Legupski (Paolo Cervellera)  and ran interference anytime the bewildered Odette, danced by the noted and much respected ballerina Sonia Leftova (Boysie Dikobe), attempted to enter the stage, complete with white tutu and her arms a ripple. Mr. Hopuy, who is originally from Cuba, must be mentioned for his wonderful elevation and the ballon on his leaps.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed Rennie Harris’s Home, a work for which I have the up most respect. Using the sounds of Gospel house music, anyone who was part of the downtown club scene in the early 80’s and lived through those harrowing days that ensued, this piece will bring tears to your eyes.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing Rennie Harris’s Home.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing Rennie Harris’s Home.

This work possesses the spirit of an age, you see and feel again those late nights into early mornings that were spent dancing, sweat drenched, with arms lifted in the air and body swearing to the beat. Those nights were more than just dancing in a club, they were a spiritual celebration of life and the glory of being young and alive.

We discovered the dance floor becoming less crowded as many of those that we had danced with, had embraced and had loved were suddenly absent. Everyone knew someone who was unexplainable losing weight, everyday they were getting weaker and too many found dark spots like small bruises on their bodies, Karsi Sarcoma. This was the beginning, of HIV and AIDS.

Rennie Harris’s Home is a celebration of life, a celebration of being in the moment. The beat of Gospel House surges though the music with the heartbeat of a lost generation.

Bristol-Myer Squibb sponsored a contest, Fight HIV Your Way, calling for stories submitted by people living with HIV or affected by it. Home premiered in 2011 on Dec. 1, World Aids Day and was inspired by those stories. The ten winners of the contest were flown to NYC for the premiere.

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