The greatest thing about New York City Center’s annual “Fall for Dance” festival is its variety, which makes it ideal for both dance connoisseurs and those who know nothing about dance whatsoever. Friday night’s program included tap, hip-hop, ballet, and contemporary, and its sub-two-hour length made it shorter (and way less traumatic) than “Black Swan.”
Unfortunately, being two minutes late forced me to be shut out of the theater by an unsympathetic usher, who not-so-politely informed us that we could watch the first piece on the TV in the hallway. Lucky for us, Jared Grimes’ “Transformation in Tap” was infectious enough to be charming even through a screen. Featuring one guy with five backup dancers, the dancing was a hybrid of tap and hip-hop. At one point, the music turned into spoken word as Grimes himself explained via a recording what he was doing: “I’m percussively choreographing on contemporary music.” The tongue-in-cheek mood carried over into the movement, as Grimes stopped dancing to slowly retie his tie and his shoes while the others continued dancing. At the end, the five dancers exited and Grimes broke out on his own to “The Lady Is A Tramp,” looking like a cross between Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson.
Next up was Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists: physical perfection. “Five Movements, Three Repeats” started in silence as four dancers—two male, two female—undulated and snaked in place. The music, classical string music composed by Max Richter, started and each danced individually in separate corners of the stage. This movement was short and disjointed and would be repeated two more times, alternating with solos and duets among the dancers. One of the best movements by far was a pas de deux with Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle, both New York City Ballet principal dancers. In pointe shoes and a ballet skirt, Whelan danced as though she were moving through water, a movement quality perfectly complemented by Dinah Washington crooning “This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight.” The movement’s beauty quite literally brought tears to my eyes.
But Nederlands Dans Theater, a contemporary ballet company that’s well known in the ballet world for innovative and interesting choreography, was the star of the show. Two dancers, dressed in stark black and white costumes reminiscent of a mime’s apparel, performed repetitive, spastic movement to a recording of Gertrude Stein reading her poem “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” Pointing fingers and peeking at the audience, they resembled a married couple bickering. Titters from the audience quickly turned into full-on laughs when Stein starts repeating and jumbling words at the end. Unfortunately, the performance was short-lived: It ended abruptly after only a few minutes. Many in the audience turned to each other with bewildered expressions, asking, “Is that it?”
After such a strong first three companies, the fourth and final company, BalletBoyz, was a major disappointment. The company is all-male and seem to be trying to prove to skeptical audiences that ballet can be hardcore and masculine. I respect that, I really do. On the other hand, anything that floods the audience with dry-ice fog and uses giant video screens in the background of the dancing is bound to read gimmicky. At one point, the dancing disintegrated into a bunch of shirtless guys wrestling and convulsing to electronic music. It was a supreme waste of talent and 20 minutes that I wish had been allotted to Nederlands Dans Theater.
But, the show as a whole—even BalletBoyz—accomplishes Fall for Dance’s goal: to show people that dance isn’t one-dimensional. It’s not all pretty tutus and classical music. It’s a brilliant program for anyone who wants to see incredible dancers.