Performing Arts: Dance
October 10, 2019
In Fall for Dance’s third program, the first three works were about relationships, and juxtaposing them invited questions about power dynamics, different kinds of connections and agency, and what feels “contemporary” now. Also, why is it seemingly inevitable that every piece has to start (and mostly stay) on a darkened stage?

The Mariinsky Ballet’s At The Wrong Time (2019) choreographed by Alexander Sergeev gave us a light, throw-back conception of heterosexual relationships at their simplest. The cuteness began with pianist Vladimir Rumyanstev looking at his watch even before he began to play Heitor Villa-Lobos pleasant piano waltzes. In an oft-seen structure in ballet, each couple reflected a different kind of love (matching the womens’ dresses by Daria Pavlenko): the light blue was young love, burnt orange was reluctant struggle, and yellow was cute and perky. The Mariinsky dancers are gorgeous to watch, in terms body, line and technical ease. Each man got a short solo after dancing with a woman – like a prize for being a good partner. Ballet steps were executed smoothly, archetypes came across sweetly, and not much challenged our expectations.

In contrast, a young voice in the City Center audience was heard asking “Is that ballet?” when the couple from English National Ballet came onstage for Akram Khan’s Dust Duet (2017), costumed in refugee/immigrant garb in plain off-white colors with a kerchief on the woman’s head by Kimie Nanako. They proceeded to burn their struggle into our consciousness with their circling upper bodies, dejected lifts with her slumped over as he held her with one arm, and Khan’s signature mirroring arm gestures as they faced each other, her legs wrapped around and clutching his waist. Erina Takahashi and James Streeter moved with grace and pathos from violence to tenderness and despair, seemingly on a road to nowhere. It had none of the gloss of the previous dance, and somehow compelled us to feel more.

A most stunning display of strength and resolve came next: in Dare to Wreck (2017), Madeline Mansson in a wheelchair and Peder Nilsson as her “stand-up” lover played, struggled and seemed to emotionally hurt each other over and over again. Mansson’s spectacular core control was on full display as she bent backwards, over, and through positions and multiple sequences where her body and her wheels became a part of a pyramidal sculpture, or she was lifted upside down by her wheels, held aloft and spun by Nilsson. Every tricky transition was seamless, and even though the relationship was aggressive and contentious, pity was not part of the equation. Often, it was Nilsson who seemed more wounded and Mansson who showed the way, and in the end, she left him, to our collective relief.

Lazarus (2018) was commissioned by the Ailey company from hip-hop master Rennie Harris. The initial image of dancers on the floor, undulating their arms like snakes in the grass sets a mysterious mood; later Lazarus emerges amidst the joyful group dancing. The music by Darrin Ross ranges from wind sounds, Gospel, jazz, and the words of Nina Simone, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day… and I’m feeling good.” Although narrative clarity was obscured, the Ailey dancers pushed this high-energy finale to its limit. But the most unexpected and moving moment of all was hearing the voice of Ailey himself, speaking his famous thoughts about “blood memories” – still passionate and prescient words today.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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