BAAND Together Dance Festival
Program 1 featuring Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Hispanico
New York, Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center
17 Aug 2021, running until 21 Aug 2021
It’s hard to do justice to the excitement generated by the first night of Lincoln Center’s BAAND Together Dance Festival. For me, and I imagine to many others in the packed audience it was the first large scale live dance performance since the start of the pandemic. The atmosphere at Damrosch Park was electric as Alvin Ailey’s director, Robert Battle, took the stage to welcome the crowd. People were ready to finally see some dancing.
BAAND is a five-night festival in which a handful of the city’s top dance companies – Alvin Ailey, New York City Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and American Ballet Theatre – share the stage for a program of short works, or excerpts of works. The advance press has made much of the fact that these five companies have never before appeared on a shared program, and it must be said that there is something rather exhilarating about seeing so much excellence in a single evening. It’s not just the pandemic speaking: these dancers are phenomenal. How lucky we are to live in a city filled with so much talent.
The high point, without question, of this first evening, was the finale of Lazarus, Rennie Harris’s tribute to Ailey, performed by the Ailey dancers. The dancers crackled with energy. It seemed that Jeroboam Bozeman, who opened the dance and is featured throughout, might simply explode into a nebula of sparks. The dance is itself a kind of apotheosis, a non-stop barrage of energy and movement in the vein of Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, set to driving house music. The dancers, in sneakers, glide across the stage in geometric patterns, executing skating steps that make them look as if they barely touch the ground. The gliding step is infectious, it gets into your bones. At this performance the dancers seemed almost superhuman, buoyed by their evident pleasure in performing together before a large crowd.
Another moment that stood out was the performance of Jessica Lang’s Let Me Sing Forevermore by American Ballet Theatre’s Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell. The pas de deux is one of those breezy, slightly cheesy Americana ballets, full of snaps and jazzy moves, that crowds love. The soundtrack is a clutch of Tony Bennett recordings. Perfect for a setting like this one. But it must be said that Hurlin and Bell took the material to a new level. In a year in which dancers have struggled to stay in shape, they seem, against all odds, to have only grown in style, amplitude, and confidence. Hurlin, with her breezy facility, has always had an innate star quality, but, still young, she has learned to deploy it with greater timing and knowingness and importantly without overdoing it. Bell, a real virtuoso, has often seemed recessive onstage, as if uncomfortable coming out of his shell. Not anymore. It is exciting to imagine the new heights these two will reach.
The only misfire of the night was the closer, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s 18+1, for the powerful dancers of Ballet Hispanico, a sly and mannered piece that toys with irony and awkwardness, set to mambo music by Pérez Prado. It succumbs to the law of diminishing returns. The other two works, Kyle Abraham’s Ces Noms que Nous Portons and an excerpt from Darrell Grand Moultrie (It Don’t Mean a Thing from Harlem on My Mind), were more like amuse-bouches, too short to make much of an impression. Ces Noms was created for virtual consumption last year as part of Gay Pride Month, for the elegant Taylor Stanley, who danced it with as much poetry as he could muster on the cavernous stage. It is perhaps too intimate and too quiet a piece for a celebratory open-air event of this type.
How good it felt to get swept up by a dance again. And to see these fantastic dancers, looking energized and ready to move.