The appeal of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival, which engages 20 dance companies over a period of ten days, was perfectly apparent in Lil Buck’s The Swan, a solo dance performed on opening night.
This reimagining of the eponymous variation from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, known best in the dance world as the music for Fokine’s The Dying Swan, is a three-minute illustration of everything that makes the festival so fascinating. Fall for Dance offers a chance to see vastly different dance styles on one stage; Lil Buck’s Swan is a visually arresting confluence of classical ballet and Memphis street dancing (jookin’). While a few of his showier tricks feel a bit jarring against the fluid score, there is a lot to like here: this talented dancer’s liquid flexibility is mesmerizing, and his choreography is filled with moments of surprising musicality.
The Swan was preceded on Thursday by Mark Morris’s All Fours, a brilliant response to Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4. In the first movement of the piece, swirling clusters of dancers give unstable form to Bartók’s edgy score. In black, against a blood-red backdrop, they metamorphose as they move: in one phrase, they lift eyes and hands as if in prayer; in the next they become a murder of crows as they let their sternums collapse and hang their elbows on the air like wings. The third movement (of five) is contained within two duets for dancers in white, loose-fitting clothing — the first for two men (Aaron Loux and Dallas McMurray), the second for two women (Rita Donahue and Michelle Yard). Here, movement is constant and quick and sometimes hints at weariness. One of the best moments occurs in the first duet, when the men are carried horizontally across the stage by two of the dancers in black: you think this might be the end for them, but as soon as they are placed on their feet they are dancing once again. At the center of the piece these four dancers seem weighted by the ponderous music: they are slow-moving, pensive. Near the end of this section, after they have left the stage and then returned, two of the dancers stagger backwards from opposite corners with their arms opened wide as if they could hold all the cares of their partners (who stumble towards them) on their chests.
Trisha Brown’s Rogues, set to a sound score by Alvin Curran, was an interesting juxtaposition to All Fours. Like Mark Morris’s piece, this new work features two men who dance a duet, with one sometimes lagging slightly behind like a reverberation. This, though, is where the similarities end. The duets of All Fours move along hurriedly like surface of boiling water, but Rogues suggests a meditative tranquility. Dancers Neal Beasley and Lee Serle bring a lovely, natural quality to the choreography.
The sole piece danced in pointe shoes, the Joffrey Ballet’s Woven Dreams, is a tangled mess despite strong work from the lead dancers. Created by Edwaard Liang to music by four composers, it often seems to flounder for new ideas. Still, upcoming programs will feature performances by other ballet companies (including the New York City Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon’s astonishing Polyphonia), so hopefully some of those new to ballet will have another chance to fall for classical dance.
Fall for Dance continues, with changing programs, through November 6. For more information check out New York City Center’s website: nycitycenter.org.