Okay, Pasha didn’t save ballet; he actually doesn’t have much of anything to do with ballet, other than that he’s touring with Danny Tidwell right now. But he’s on my mind because last night, on my way to Fall For Dance, I stopped by Dance Times Square to pick up my receipt for the long-awaited and highly anticipated “DTS Students And Friends Outing” to the Nassau Coliseum next Tuesday to see Pasha’s tour!!! Er, I mean the So You Think You Can Dance concert tour I chatted with Melanie a bit, and she told me that they’re trying hard hard hard, fingers crossed fingers crossed, to get the SYTYCD tour powers that be to allow us all backstage. Apparently they don’t have a problem with a couple of people, but they freaked a bit when she told them we’re a group of, more like … 40. Still! Come on, we’re a bunch of ballroom dancers, how rowdy can we be??? Please SYTYCD people in power, let us in to see our friend and beloved former teacher! We promise to behave! We promise!!
Okay, on to Fall For Dance. This is a most excellent event that’s taken place at City Center in midtown for the past I think three years now. Each night for about two weeks four or five different dance companies perform an excerpt from their repertoire. Tickets are a miraculously low $10 for the whole night. So, audiences — especially young audiences — can be exposed to several new companies for only $10 a night!
Last night marked the very first performance in New York by a promising new ballet company, called Morphoses, whose mission is to bring new life and new audiences to that most poetic of dance forms that many have feared is getting a bit withery and dried up. It’s founded by 34 year-old Christopher Wheeldon, formerly the first-ever resident choreographer at New York City Ballet. Wheeldon doesn’t yet have a permanent group of dancers, but is using guest dancers from several ballet companies, mainly NYC Ballet. I’ve loved so many of Wheeldon’s pieces that I’ve seen at NYCB over the past couple of years, so I have really high hopes, as do, I think, the vast majority of ballet lovers here. Last night the company performed not a brand new work, but one created by Wheeldon a couple of years ago for NYCB, a lovely duet called “After the Rain.” I see it as kind of a bittersweet pas de deux whose theme is a couple’s attempt to patch things up and find some common ground in the aftermath of a bad fight. It was danced by two NYCB dancers, the really cute Craig Hall and celebrated prima ballerina Wendy Whelan, to Arvo Part music composed of a string and piano section, in which the light tapping of high piano keys actually sounds like rain drops. It goes without saying that Wendy is just such an incredible dancer; when I see someone like her perform I realize it’s not just a choreographer who’s responsible for the success of his or her work. She dances with such conviction, with a fully formed thought in her mind of what her movements mean so that even though she dances mostly abstract ballets, as with this one, there’s just such an intensity and drama to her performance, the audience finds a story anyway. Well, listen to her talk about her work herself. I really love that City Center has done this this year — put up these little audiocasts on their website of interviews with several of the artists whose work is being performed at FFD. Go here to see a list of participating companies arranged by date, click on “info” for a breakdown menu of companies performing on that date, then click on that company to be taken to their info page where you can see an interview. Very cool!
So last night was actually my second night at FFD. I went Wednesday night as well but didn’t have time to blog about it yesterday. Highlights for me have been, in addition to Wheeldon, Keigwin + Company, a rather hip, young modern dance ensemble. I really wish Larry Keigwin, the company’s choreographer, would do a piece or two for SYTYCD. He’s so much fun. They performed “Love Songs” — several humorous duets performed by three different couples, pieces of which I’ve seen before. Each couple had its own distinct ‘couple personality,’ and told its own humorous story of relationship angst. On first and last was a youngish charmingly awkward pair who were obviously trying rather desperately to get to know each other better. They danced to a set of Neil Diamond songs. In another set, a more sophisticated couple, danced by Keigwin himself and one of my favorite modern dancers Nicole Wolcott, performed a voluptuous witty tango-y pas de deux to clever-sounding French music. And the third couple, the most wickedly funny imo, evoked, to Aretha Franklin music, the classic struggle between male and female for the upper hand in the relationship, rendered all the cuter by their mismatched sizes — fleshy woman (Liz Riga, my second favorite female modern dancer), smaller man. At times, when the woman wore the pants, she would drag her beau around, at times lifting and carrying him around the floor, and, when Franklin belted out some of her “let me tell you how it is” lyrics, she’d bop her head at him right along with the words. Then the reverse would happen; he’d have her begging. Then tables would turn, she’d have him back in the palm of her hands (literally with those crazy lifts), but he’d become too needy; she realized she should be careful what she wished for. It was so fun, funny, evocative, and very relatable.
The other one I loved Wednesday night (along with the crowd) was Urban Bush Women‘s performance of its most famous piece “Batty Moves.” They tell you in the program notes that Batty is a Caribbean word for rear end, and the piece is a rather fun, raucous celebration of the African-American female form. The women sang rap lyrics, called out to the audience encouraging proud black women to rise, then launched into solo after solo of amazing combination African / modern dance. The audience was on its feet; a perfect ending to Wednesday night’s show.
Unfortunately, I felt really badly for ballet Wednesday night. The audience was filled with young and /or newcomers to dance and people related so much more to Keigwin and Urban Bush Women. The two ballets performed — one by Royal Ballet of Flanders — was a very abstract and rather slow-moving meditation on the passage of time and consisted of four couples dressed in generic pink leotards and white shorts doing abstract movements center stage while others dressed in black simply walked slowly around the stage’s perimeter.
The other ballet performed Wednesday night was NYCB’s small-scale one-man performance of Jerome Robbins’s “A Suite of Dances,” in which a male dancer interacts with an onstage violinist, at times almost cutely competitively. Robbins is my favorite “old time” choreographer, but he did most of his great work in the 1940s and 50s. And even though this particular piece had its premiere in 1994, the movement still had a very 50s feel to it, like Fancy Free. I love many of his ballets (particularly Fancy Free, as it’s often performed by my favorites like him and him), but I feel like every time I go to the ballet nine times out of ten they’re putting on something decades or centuries old. The audience was so much more into the aforementioned two pieces, not the ballet. I left with the feeling that ballet is encountering some serious relevancy problems. Kristin Sloan and I had an interesting little back and forth regarding “Suite” in the comments section on this post. I understand what she is saying, that’s it’s a softer sale, but I don’t know if the audience is really automatically pulled into a man’s own playful encounter with music. At least it doesn’t have the same urgency or speak to the human condition in the same way that glorifying a body Western Culture has long deemed “other” does. I don’t know, perhaps I would have had a different reaction if one of my favorites had performed the piece. There’s something about Marcelo‘s very being that is somehow always contemporary and relatable. It’s an extremely interesting discussion, though, classical ballet’s ability to speak to modern audiences, and I’m very interested to know what others think.
Anyway, that’s why I was so happy last night to see the Wheeldon. It was contemporary, meaningful, relatable, and gorgeously, poetically danced. Also standing out to me in last night’s program was the piece immediately preceding Wheeldon’s, “Inventing Pookie Jenkins” by Kyle Abraham. It began with Abraham, an African American man, sitting in a pile of white tulle, which, when he stood, was revealed to be a long skirt reminiscient to me of Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake. He moved about, first on the ground, then standing, at times jerky, at times with beautiful lyric fluidity, to a soundtrack of gunshots and ambulance or police sirens. Then the soundtrack changed to a provocative / celebratory hip hop song, “Respect Me” by Dizzee Rascal. Abraham’s movements alternated between hip hop and lyrical modern, as he seemingly tried to break free of … of what? A policeman’s custody, stereotypes superimposed on him, even his own self-image — which took on both a racial and gender significance. It really just blew me away and if you ever get a chance to see him perform, by all means do!
Tomorrow night is, sadly, the last night of the festival. I’ll be looking forward to “Quick” by Indian company Srishti, in which several ‘London businessmen’ use classical Bharantanatyam technique and South Indian rhythms to deal with today’s cut-throat corporate climate. Interesting! I’ll also be looking forward to “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine” by Camille A. Brown, which I’m dying to see just because of its name alone! (go here for Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s audio interview with Brown), Jorma Elo’s Brake the Eyes, which I blogged about before, and South African troupe Via Katlehong Dance.
Finally, I’m very excited about the illustrious Vanity Fair contributing editor James Wolcott’s commenting on my last post on Nureyev!!! Apropos of that post, apparently there was a big book party for author Kavanagh, which he attended and wrote about on his blog. Sounds fun, albeit a bit nerve-wracking! There were many members of the ‘glitterati’ there, including Jay McInerney, an abundance of “New Yorker” people, and even our favorite Sir Alastair It made me think of the book parties I’ve been to — only two: one for my former Feminist Jurisprudence professor, Drucilla Cornell, a comparably very academic, toned-down affair, and one for a friend of a friend, Ben Schrank, at which I made a flaming fool of myself in front of favorite author Colson Whitehead, a story which I’ll have to save for another day since this post is now 500,000 words long.
Anyway, while I’m kind of on the subject, for reasons that are too ridiculously complicated to explain, I haven’t been able to set up a “recent comments” column here yet, so just want to point out that artist Bill Shannon whose work “Window” I reviewed earlier, left a comment on that post, along with a YouTube link; and Ruth left a comment on my Suzanne Farrell post inviting interested people to participate in a Farrell fan site she’s set up.
Okay, I’m finally done blabbering. More on my final FFD later this weekend