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Fall For Dance's Strong Kick Off

by Tonya Plank
September 17, 2008
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
City Center opened its 2008 Fall For Dance festival, an annual ten-day-long event in which for the price of one $10 ticket audiences are treated to an eclectic ensemble of four to five dance companies per night, on September 17 with a nicely varied program.

The evening began with excerpts from "Map" by Chinese choreographer Shen Wei, who recently choreographed the opening night ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. The piece was set to music by Steve Reich that combined techno-industrial sound with chorals for a hauntingly beautiful effect evocative of lost souls finding their way. The dancers began all lying on the ground, rolling one by one in a row, then propelling themselves up and around the floor by, holding their arms out and turning, first arms, then legs, for a kind of helicopter effect. At times, both when supine and standing, they appeared to be in flight, at one with the air around them. Their costumes were an athletic gray/blue with small red lines on the outer seams of the leg, and their tops contained a darker racer-back area that resembled a parachuter's jacket. On a back wall were painted mathematical formulas, the mid-section resembling a diagram of an aircraft with a complicated configuration of flight patterns. The dance was intriguing and it began well, but it seemed to go on a bit too long like this, simply dancers whizzing around stage and each other, with no real development, and losing steam in the middle.

Second on was the highlight of the evening, to me: Thai choreographer Pichet Klunchun's "Chui Chai." As the curtain rose to reveal several female dancers in traditional Thai costumes, with gilded headwear and long, ornately-embroidered robes of heavy fabric, moving in extreme slow motion, their wrists and fingers bent backward miraculously to make stunningly beautiful lines, the audience cheered, knowing it was in for a treat. Klunchun has explained before, in an earlier piece he did with French post-modern choreographer Jerome Bel, that the rounded-back wrists and fingers symbolize energy flowing back into the center of the dancer, from where creativity, energy originates. Everything is circular. The program notes told us the title stands for "transformation" and the dance tells the story of the princess transforming herself into the king's enemy's queen. About mid-way through Mr. Klunchun himself appears, making a stark contrast to the women with both his modern garb (black t-shirt and jeans) and his more modern movement. It still had the Thai feel, with the hyper-flexed wrists and toes, but his faster movements, his throwing himself into a bend or a kick, resembled more of the western modern dance tradition. I did not really see the story flesh itself out, but the movement was so entrancingly beautiful it did not matter. At the end, when the dancers took their bows, they lay all the way down on the ground, completely prostrate to us. The audience applauded wildly, even giving a standing ovation.

Third on was Keigwin + Company's "Fire," one of the two middle sections of choreographer Larry Keigwin's larger evening-length work, "Elements." "Fire" had not been my favorite from the larger whole, and, judging by what I heard in the audience, others felt the same, wishing he had put on "Air" or "Water." He likely chose "Fire" because it was the least complicated scene- and prop-wise, which is one of the drawbacks of a festival in which the stage must be easy to clear for the next group of performers. The piece is divided into four parts: the first, "Flicker" with three dancers dressed in reds and yellows evoking fireflies flittering about to a Handel aria, the second, turns to a "Simmer" as those dancers walk to the front of the stage and look out at the audience as if looking into a mirror. Eventually one, Nicole Wolcott, takes out a cigarette and begins haughtily smoking, the other two looking on in a bit of shock. In the third, most captivating section, "Burn," Nicole Wolcott, dancing to "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, with high drama, evokes the song's title as she first struggles to stay under a spotlight (as it keeps changing location just as she runs toward its edges), then pretends to talk either to herself or to a lover not onstage, and finally runs about the stage like a madwoman, thrashing about, swirling her arms around and around in endless circles. The fourth section, "Flame," is the most humorous, as three dancers stand in a line casually bopping their heads then break spastically into a hip hop routine to "Walk it Out" by Humphrey, Platt, Roberson, and Simmons. Keigwin is good at juxtaposing dancers with different physicalities against each other to comical effect (ie: a large-boned woman with a tiny guy), and with physiques that don't seem to fit the music or attitude of the dance. The sole male dancer in this section, Julian Barnett, is a small, cute, innocent-looking white man, and his well-acted attempts at playing it cool, at getting the hip hop attitude down, were downright hilarious. This company got the loudest applause of the evening.

Finally, the evening ended with the National Ballet of Canada's rendition of Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian's ballet "Soldiers' Mass," a sorrowful, poignant, poetic elegy to men on the battlefield, created in memory of a battalion of men killed during World War I. As the men lift each other, at times the one lifted a man in need, a fallen man, or a hero, as they rip off their shirts and bundle them angrily into a ball, as they look up at the sky hopefully to the sounds of a helicopter perhaps coming to rescue them, then fall to the ground in unison as if shot by snipers instead, the timelessness of the work's poetic evocation of tragedy and loss is driven home.
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