hen it comes to watching dance, New Yorkers have a lot of options. The venues range from studios with blackened floorboards, where viewers are lucky to score a foam cushion, all the way up to grand auditoriums where ticket-buyers sink comfortably into velvet armchairs. New York City Center falls into the latter category: its refurbished interior is among the city’s most lavish and most original, a sumptuous Moorish fantasy that sparkles with color and gilt. The dancing here is on a grand scale, too. Typically the season gets underway with a concentrated blast of movement otherwise known as the Fall for Dance Festival, an annual event that audiences love as much for the atmosphere of discovery and shared excitement as for the $15 ticket price. This year the Festival reaches out as never before— all the way into Central Park, to kick off its 10th anniversary season with two free performances in the Delacorte Theater, hosted by The Public Theater, September 16 – 17. Back in the halls of City Center itself, the Fall for Dance programs, September 25 – October 5, will serve a mix that includes ballet, modern, Irish, and classical Indian dance by a host of distinguished and emerging artists. To celebrate the Festival’s 10th anniversary, New York City Center has commissioned premieres from three of today’s most intriguing talents: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Justin Peck and Liam Scarlett.
By Robert Johnson
But Fall for Dance is just the beginning. After an enticing glimpse of Italian ballet star Roberto Bolle celebrating technological progress in a duet from the ballet Excelsior—part of an all-star gala titled Roberto Bolle and Friends, on September 17—Career Transition for Dancers will host its annual Broadway hoedown on October 8. This always-lively event will climax with the presentation of the Rolex Dance Award to Ann-Margret. Up next comes Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty*, the latest fairy-tale ballet re-engineered by the famed British choreographer and his partner in impiety, the scenographer Lez Brotherston. This is the duo whose homoerotic Swan Lake
earned a repeat engagement in New York at City Center in 2010. While preserving some of Tchaikovsky’s score and a few of Petipa’s steps (for a party of mixed-gender fairies with names like Feral and Tantrum), Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty updates the story, placing the birth of Aurora in 1890 and her re-awakening in the present day. “Be prepared for a few surprises,” Bourne cautions, as if the sight of a free-spirited Princess Aurora traipsing barefoot through the castle garden could send balletomanes into cardiac arrest. “Purists may not like it. But I’m not sure who these purist people are, really,” he adds. In his version, Aurora is not only barefoot, but also carrying on an illicit affair with the
gardener, à la Lady Chatterley. “The slightly dirty guy who works in the grounds is always a bit sexy, isn’t he?” Bourne notes. Thanks to her parents’ royal ingratitude the poor princess is still cursed, and forced to spend a hundred years sleep-walking. To ensure that her true love, the gardener Leo, is there when she awakes, Bourne has given him immortal life—as a vampire. A mysterious aristocrat dubbed Count Lilac initiates the young man into vampirism, allowing Leo to follow Aurora into the 21st century, where he duels with Caradoc, Clockwise from top left: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Four Corners, photo by Paul Kolnik; Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in LAC (After Swan Lake), photo by Angela Sterling; Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, photo by Mikah Smillie.
Martha Graham Dance Company in The Rite of Spring, photo by SinRu Ku.
the evil seed of the fairy Carabosse. Caradoc, a son who much resembles his mother (the same dancer portrays them both) seeks vengeance and longs to possess Aurora, carrying the ballet’s good-versus-evil theme all the way through to the ballet’s end. Instead of debouching in a coronation, however, Bourne’s fable ends with the birth of Aurora’s child, who is only half-human. The choreographer admits that when he made his Sleeping Beauty two years ago he didn’t anticipate the stork would also visit Buckingham Palace, dropping off a potential heir to the British throne. “It’s one of those happy coincidences, maybe,” Bourne says. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to fill the holiday season between December 4 and January 5. Loving fans can never get enough of Revelations, the troupe’s signature piece, but artistic director Robert Battle also has some surprises in store. The Ailey engagement includes a premiere by choreographer Aszure Barton and the company premiere of Chroma, an edgy work that contemporary dance maker Wayne McGregor created for Britain’s Royal Ballet in 2006. Ailey’s production of Chroma is being supported by City Center. Chroma means “color” in Greek, and
McGregor has said his idea for the piece involved eliminating colors to focus on the interplay between the dancers’ skin tones and a minimalist white set by architect John Pawson. Although Ailey doesn’t typically employ large set pieces, which are hard to tour, Battle says he sent a team to London to study Chroma’s decor so they could build a traveling version. “When the curtain goes up on this huge, white box, that’s another way of seeing the Ailey company,” Battle says. “People who have seen the company again and again will have a new experience.” After peeking into the studio where Barton is creating her new work to a score by Curtis Macdonald, Battle can report that the premiere will feature a large cast performing rhythmically complex movements. Battle says he has followed Barton’s career from the start, because he used to dance with her sister Charissa in David Parsons’ company. Speaking of Aszure, Battle says, “She has a lot of depth.” He adds, “I think she still is growing and exploring, and I wanted her to explore a little with us and bring a different flavor to the repertory. It’s important that we celebrate the female choreographers who are doing wonderful work, as well.”
Naturally the Ailey season will include Ronald K. Brown’s newest hit, Four Corners, a mystical allegory in which angels stand guard over the earth. That piece received its premiere at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in June. Battle also will import one of the most popular works by modern master Bill T. Jones. The 1989 D-Man in the Waters, set to Mendelssohn, is a lyrical piece that combines pedestrian movement with spectacular feats of athleticism, and alternates between tenderness and whimsy. The piece stands as a tribute to Demian Acquavella, a member of Jones’ company who died of AIDS in 1990, but not before giving his all on stage each night. D-Man reveals an indomitable spirit and the unquenchable thirst for life in all its facets that keeps people dancing until they can dance no more. In addition to this season’s premieres, the Ailey company is mounting new productions of Alvin Ailey’s The River and Pas de Duke, both to compositions by Duke Ellington; and the troupe will celebrate the 20th anniversary of star dancer and guest artist Matthew Rushing. The New York Flamenco Festival, which returns to City Center March 6–9, is more than a local event. The Festival extends the reach of Spain’s vibrant dance scene, where flamenco is in the enviable position of a national art form enjoying a renaissance. Presenting a curated mix of prominent and emerging artists, the Festival has established itself as a favorite with New York audiences. The stream of talent coming from Spain seems inexhaustible. This year’s edition opens with a gala featuring Antonio Canales, celebrated veteran of the Ballet Nacional; along with Carlos Rodríguez, bad boy of the Nuevo Ballet Español; Mexican-born Karime Amaya, a great-niece of the legendary Carmen Amaya; and the fresh-faced Catalan, 27-year-old Jesús Carmona.
The main attraction, however, will be an artist well known to New York: Eva Yerbabuena, who presents two evening-length programs with her Ballet Flamenco. Both Lluvia (Rain), from 2010, and her most current work, ¡Ay!, feature music by her husband and collaborator, guitarist Paco Jarana. Sexy publicity photos show Yerbabuena dancing blindfolded in a downpour, but she says those images are a metaphor for what she intends to convey in Lluvia. There is no actual water in the piece, but “a shower of feelings and of lived experiences,” she says. Lluvia recalls the emotions that may swirl around a person looking out the window on a rainy day. Yerbabuena explains that this dance “speaks of loneliness, of the failure to communicate, and of mistreatment, especially when a person feels misunderstood.” To generate ideas for the piece, the dancer visited a clinic for blind and deaf children who come to know the world through their fingertips. Solitude is the central theme— meaning forced isolation, and not the quiet one seeks as a respite. The passions of the work become concentrated in the solo that Yerbabuena dances wearing the bata de cola, the flamenco dancer’s characteristic dress with a long, ruffled train. This costume, Yerbabuena says, is “a second skin” and “an extension of the self.” Dancing in the bata requires a special technique, but more than that it demands a particular mindset. “You have a conversation with it,” Yerbabuena says, noting that this dialogue can be sad, sweet or ironic, but always deeply personal. In the case of Lluvia, her volcanic bata solo reflects “what happens when love is broken.” She is not always alone in Lluvia, however. Yerbabuena dances the Milonga with Eduardo Guerrero, an up-and-coming dancer for whom she predicts great things; and
the cast of musicians features the outstanding cantaor Enrique el Extremeño. At one point, the piece incorporates sign language for the deaf into choreography for a corps de ballet. ¡Ay! is more intimate, a dance with minimal scenery that marked Yerbabuena’s return to the stage earlier this year, after 13 months of maternity leave. She decided to perform ¡Ay! as a solo, carrying the weight of the whole show just as she had carried the weight of her child. It could not be otherwise, she says, for who else could express her feelings? Yerbabuena’s latest show drew on a profound experience, recalling the fear, the hope and the waiting of a mother-to-be. ¡Ay! is not a cry of pain, however. “It’s the first word that Marieta, my second daughter, spoke,” Yerbabuena reveals. “Not only that, but she said it in a very affectionate way, because when she says ‘Ay’ it means she wants to give you a hug.” The New York Flamenco Festival will be followed by another international visitor. Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will perform LAC (After Swan Lake), choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot’s provocative rethinking of the ballet classic, from March 14–16. Maillot (whose Roméo et Juliette, performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet, delighted City Center audiences last season) created LAC in 2011 with the help of novelist Jean Rouaud. This production explores the fears of childhood, while condemning parents who manipulate and traumatize their offspring. Coming of age, the ballet’s hero becomes the victim of a dastardly triumvirate led by Her Majesty, the Night—a new, female incarnation of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. Expanding the villain’s part, Maillot has fashioned a showpiece for company star Bernice Coppieters. Bringing the City Center dance season to a close, March 19 – 22, is the Martha Graham Dance Company. The company’s engagement will include premieres by
From top: Dance Theatre of Harlem in Gloria, photo by Matthew Murphy; Eva Yerbabuena, photo courtesy of Flamenco Festival.
international stars Nacho Duato and Andonis Foniadakis, along with a new one-act production of Graham’s Clytemnestra. The season also features the 70th anniversary celebration of Appalachian Spring and the 30th of Graham’s The Rite of Spring, as well as an opening-night gala performance with special guests. Robert Johnson is a freelance writer and dance critic for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. He has written for many publications including daily newspapers and scholarly journals, and is currently working on a history of Garth Fagan Dance. *Leadership support for Sleeping Beauty has been generously provided by Rosalind Walter and Douglas S. Cramer & Hubert S. Bush.