Go With OOA: Fall for Dance 2018

Go With OOA: Fall for Dance 2018

New York City Center‘s Fall for Dance Festival is now one of its cornerstone annual events, bringing together a diverse, innovative range of dancers and dance companies from around the world and making them accessible to a wide audience. Featuring five different programs across two weeks, audience members can get a taste of wildly different dance styles and find new favorites.

This year, for the 15th anniversary of the Fall for Dance Festival and New York City Center’s 75th anniversary season, fellow Arts Ambassador Gabrielle Goubran and I organized a Go With OOA outing, taking a dozen or so Hunter students to Program 3.

The program included:
Tayeh Dance with Heather Christian, Reclamation Map (World Premiere)
Dance Theatre of Harlem, Balamouk (World Premiere)
Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Midnight Raga (US Premiere)
National Ballet of China, The Crane Calling (excerpt) (US Premiere)

The first piece was striking and captivating from the first moment, when the curtains opened to a dark stage and three women began singing. Reclamation Map is a modern dance piece and features four dancers and three singers, each bringing their own talent to the piece and elevating it to something beyond. I had known about choreographer Sonya Tayeh for some time, although I had never really seen much of her work. She is most widely known for her choreography for So You Think You Can Dance; most recently, she choreographed Moulin Rouge! at the Colonial Theatre, starring Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo.

I could see my fellow Hunter students leaning forward in their seats, not willing to miss a single moment, truly immersed in the dance and the music. There was an eerie and harrowing but also urgent quality to the choreography and the dance. It felt both solitary but also sweeping and about the intimate connections of the dancers. The music and choreography perfectly complimented one another, elevating one another to a higher level but never with one overwhelming the other. Stephanie Geier, a senior, says that “[Christian’s] voice, combined with emotional dance and golden lighting, created a surreal performance that I will never forget. I honestly felt like I was in another world.” I did too, and I eagerly gave them a standing ovation, feeling breathless and unable to say anything as I took in the depth and emotions of the dance.

The second piece, Balamouk, was just as amazing. Dance Theatre of Harlem is one of NYC’s top dance and cultural institutions, known particularly for training and supporting Black dancers. It was the first Black classical ballet company and continues the tradition and legacy of bringing Black and brown bodies to the stage. Balamouk showcases a fusion of dance styles, bringing together ballet, modern, African, and Latin influences. Afro-Brazilian dancer Ingrid Silva had a truly stand-out performance. I’ve been following her for some time, inspired by her work as a dancer and as an activist in both the United States and Brazil. This piece, too, transfixed the audience, and several of the Hunter students said that it was their favorite performance of the night.

The second half of the program was where things got interesting, and we all had more mixed feelings about the dances. Midnight Raga is a highly experimental piece by Nederlands Dans Theater 2. The Dutch modern/contemporary company is world-renowned, and the second company helps to develop young talent for the main Company, often performing its own repertory unique from the main Company. I’d always wanted to see NDT but also went into Fall for Dance with no idea what to expect. During intermission, I was talking to two students about European companies and how they differ from American companies, especially in that many European companies have more room for experimentation because of their funding models. NDT 2’s performance ended up being a great example of that.

Midnight Raga features just two male dancers set to music by Ravi Shankar but replacing classical Indian dance with the choreographer’s “untraditional, contemporary style” (quoted from the Playbill). Untraditional and unconventional are two great descriptors for the dance. The blue lights and jerking movements of the choreography, paired with upbeat, eclectic music, still had a sense of intimacy and quiet. I think many students were confused or thought the piece incredibly strange, but there were also humorous moments when audience members laughed. Though strange, we got to witness the true strength and control of the two dancers. I don’t know if everyone understood this fact, but behind all the jerky and seemingly flailing moments was incredible control and swiftness. At times, the slight pauses and gaps said more than the movements themselves.

The last dance stood in stark contrast with the NDT dance. The Crane Calling is very much a classical ballet piece. As a ballet dancer and enthusiast, it was very interesting to compare and contrast the National Ballet of China’s dancing to that of American companies I’m accustomed to seeing, especially American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. I’ve also watched the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi in the past, and the National Ballet of China had its own flare. It seemed as though I could tug out some of the differences and understand them within the context of Chinese culture. Those differences made sense to me. The softness, hand movements, and gestures drew heavily upon traditional Chinese dances, and the dancers are less concerned with power and “attack” than many of their American counterparts. Instead, there’s a deep nuance in each movement, every turn of the head, every twist of the hand. It’s also fascinating to compare different ways of portraying birds through dance. I thought about Swan Lake versus Firebird versus The Crane Calling, and each is a distinct representation. Even with knowing that this was an excerpt of a full-length ballet, it was very hard to follow the different parts and storylines of the ballet, and it was obvious that there was a story but it wasn’t one I could piece together. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the moments of sweetness, of grandeur, and even of humor.

While The Crane Calling felt like an underwhelming end to the very strong program, I was so glad at the end of the night that this was the one Gabrielle and I decided to attend with Hunter students. Both Stephanie Geier and fellow Hunter senior Amy Zhen said that they loved seeing New York City Center’s commitment to exploring dance and the “cultural and stylistic diversity in dance” (Geier). Zhen also said that she felt that she was “able to discover more of [her] own preferences.” Neither, like many of the other Hunter students in attendance, come from a dance background, and that’s the beauty of Fall for Dance. One of the students sitting next to me said that she had been excited to see Tayeh Dance, but she was blown away by NDT 2. I, too, am now excited to see more of Tayeh Dance and Dance Theatre of Harlem, as well as check out the music of Heather Christian, whose voice was one of the highlights of this fabulous program.

I think that Geier captured it best when she told me, “The performances not only reminded me about the beauty and exhilaration of dance itself, but also why we need diversity in art.”

Gabrielle Goubran and I thank New York City Center and Hunter College’s Office of the Arts for making this happen!

Want to join Office of the Arts for our next Go with OOA outing?