Fall for Dance, Program #1
STREB Extreme Action: Molinette, Add / Pole Vaults, Air
A.I.M by Kyle Abraham: Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song
The Verdon Fosse Legacy: Sweet Gwen Suite
New York, City Center
13 October 2021
Back in Action
There really is no audience like a Fall for Dance audience: buzzing, generous, excitable, and happy just to be there. Take note promoters: Fifteen dollar tickets are the key to getting people excited to go to the theater. At the opening last night, packed to the rafters, you could feel the pent-up energy of the crowd even before the curtain went up. No matter what came next, the evening was already a success.
This year, the formula has been slightly altered to account for Covid-19: the programs include three companies rather than four, and there are pauses instead of intermissions between numbers. But the idea is the same, to present an eclectic mix of dance. The first program delivered on this front, with acts of physical courage by STREB Extreme Action followed by a quietly introspective piece by A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, closing with a sly suite by Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. It’s almost impossible to like everything (well, not for this crowd), and almost sure that you’ll like something.
Each piece exhibited a different facet of what dance can do. Kyle Abraham’s Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song, a new suite of dances set to Nina Simone recordings, offers dance as feeling, expressed through the beauty and articulation of the body. Abraham’s six dancers are avatars of his silken, liquid movement style, in which backs ripple, torsos buckle, legs and feet glide, and skin touches skin. The sensuousness and rootedness of the movement matches Nina Simone’s voice, as she sings, with deep feeling and fluttering vibrato, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Don’t Explain.”
Each of three solos, and one male duet, explores aspects of loneliness, desire, love, sadness. The duet for Jae Neal and Donovan Reed is especially effective, full of cartwheeling moves and slides, buckling bodies and caresses. Generally, the movement for the male dancers is more interesting than that for the women, though the restrained “Images,” with its moving lyrics (“she does not know her beauty, she thinks her brown body has no glory”) is a moving portrait of vulnerability, beautifully danced by Catherine Kirk. But the mood never changes, nor does the lighting; Our Indigo begins and ends in the same place, with little development in between.
Nothing could be more different from Abraham’s sincerity than Bob Fosse’s irony and flash. The Sweet Gwen Suite contains a trio of dances he created for TV, all originally danced by Gwen Verdon, wife, muse, and co-creator. Her role is taken here by Georgina Pazcoguin, from New York City Ballet, dancing alongside Zachary Downer and Tyler Eisenreich. Everything here is style, surface, attitude, and architecture. The tip of the hat, the pout of the lips, the swish of the derriere, the jut of the hip, Fosse shines a light on each, deconstructing movement and attitude to their minutest elements.
Wearing a gaucho hat and bell-bottoms, Pazcoguin and her co-dancers are sexy, slinky, and full of preening self-confidence. Pazcoguin, who recently wrote a revealing memoir of her life in ballet, seems especially in her element, released from the confines of classicism and the understated style City Ballet is known for. She uses her face – in a kind of blank, hyper-sophisticated, ironic moue – especially well. Finally, a star!
Opening the evening, Elizabeth Streb, the choreographer, did what Streb does, which is to present dancer-athletes doing adrenaline-thumping stunts, using industrial structures, mats, poles, trampolines, and anything else that comes to hand. The dancers are muscle-bound daredevils: diving off of high bars, falling from great heights, briefly conquering gravity until they hit the mat, with a great splat, only to rise up with gleaming smiles on their faces. All this to thumping music and introduced by an MC who exhorts the crowd to make some noise and do the wave.
But the crowd-exhortation was unnecessary. The audience was there to cheer, whatever came its way.