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Review: The City Center FALL FOR DANCE Festival Has Something For Everyone

Review: The City Center FALL FOR DANCE Festival Has Something For Everyone

The Festival’s diverse programming lets audiences choose their own adventure through the arts.

In a theater nearly bursting at the seems with audience members, the pre-curtain chatter is all about whether "you've seen the last one?" The "last one" referring to the previous night of programming offered at the City Center Fall for Dance Festival.

Spread over two weeks, the annual Fall for Dance Festival features an array of dance artists -- Robbie Fairchild and Sara Mearns, Martha Graham Dance Company, The San Francisco Ballet and more -- in a series of nightly programs. Now in its 19th season, this fall's performance, held September 21 to October 02, are the first in three years to present international artists and companies from France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Spain, and Ukraine. To support the City Center's goal of making the arts accessible, all tickets for Fall for Dance are $20.

With such a broad range of artists on offer, and ticket prices at record lows for the venue, audiences have the rare opportunity to choose between shows; attending more than one, trying on a new artists, or seeking out old favorite. This "choose your adventure" approach to the theater ensure that no one night is exactly the same. The program on September 24th, featuring, Music from the Sole, the artists Melissa Toogood and Herman Cornejo and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had something for everyone.

Music from the Sole, a tap dance and live music group, began the evening with excepts from "I Didn't Come to Say," a riotous celebration and an homage to the current 70s revival with its roots in the African diaspora. Led by Brazilian tap dancer and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval and composer and bassist Gregory Richardson, the group's work draws from Afro-Brazilian, jazz, soul, house, rock, and Afro-Cuban styles.

In "I Didn't Come to Say," each dancer's body becomes an instrument, blending seamlessly with the musicians playing live on stage. A driving, percussive tap beat underscores a grooving guitar that gives way to playful, lively tap rhythms accompanied by a breezy flute. Sandoval's solo, light and graceful with a subtle hypnotic edge in its complex rhythms, is a delightful contrast to the cheeky, vibrant group numbers. With just six dancers on stage, and such intense scrutiny on each sound they make, there were moments when the taps craved a microphone turned just that extra bit higher.

For more than 10 years, the City Center has commissioned new works for Fall for Dance. This year, in collaboration with the Vail Dance Festival, Fall for Dance presented Pam Tanowitz' "No Nonsense." The work features Melissa Toogood and Herman Cornejo, two dancers whose endless grace and stealth strength is underutilized in one of Tanwitz's weaker pieces. The work, set to rhythmic chanting from live musicians featured side-stage, follows Toogood and Cornejo as lovers coming to terms with their relationship. The two dancers, who move seamlessly together in a series of mirror movements, could have been twins or friends or anything more imaginative than lovers. Even if one enjoys the couple narrative, the dance remains safe, as if it too is being confined to something predictable.

While the rhythmic chanting is almost meditative, the work shifts midway to feature a soft indie pop song sung acapella by Kate Davis. The song is whimsical and witty and well-sung, yet it scores what is ultimately a series of random choices. The lovers, the music shift, the fuzzy pink unitards, the deep shadows crawling up the stage -- not one of these items complements the other, nor stands out enough to be its own star. Ultimately, while Tanowitz, Cornejo and Toogood should have a been a knockout together, "No Nonsense" doesn't quite live up to its name.

Even with "No Nonsense" as a palette cleaners, audiences aren't quite prepared for Alvin Ailey's "Busk." The showstopping final number commands the stage in a performance both thoughtful and thought-provoking. From the mind of choreographer Aszure Barton, "Busk" builds itself in intricate layers that challenge the physical form at the same time it honors what wonders the body creates. Precise, agile and powerful, the dance is captivating, and yet it is the personality within the performance that makes it a marvel. Barton identifies how a slack jaw, a raised eyebrow, a waving hand, a single finger or a nodding head can capture the entire range of human emotion. Throughout the work the dancers cluster together on stage, a huddled mass in black hoodies and oversized pants, and execute a series of sharp head movements -- looking at one another, at the audience, at life itself. That intimacy, timed perfectly to a spirited, percussive score, showcase Barton's sharp originality and the Ailey dancers' extraordinary technical skills.

While no two programs in Fall for Dance are the same, the rich diversity of the programming ensures each night offers audiences a moment to reignite their own creativity and escape the mundane.


The City Center Fall for Dance Festival runs September 21 to October 2nd. Programming varies. All tickets are $20. Masks must be worn in the theater.

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