Silky ballet solos and irresistible toes come close to dancing

When Fall for Dance ticks all the boxes and puts on a satisfying show, you can’t help but feel a sense of euphoria about this art form and its endless possibilities. But it’s rare. The Downtown New York City Festival, popular for its eclectic programs and cheap tickets, can also give you a bit of a stomach ache – it’s like being at a buffet and making the terrible decision to binge on sushi, of pizzas and every last dessert. the menu.

Saturday night I didn’t feel uncomfortable thanks to two dances, one by ballet choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and the other by tap Ayodele Casel. Ratmansky’s “Fandango”, presented with the Vail Dance Festival, placed New York City Ballet’s recently appointed soloist Roman Mejia in one of his most dazzling performances to date.

It was the first time that it had been performed by a man, but it is not exactly a solo: in “Fandango” Mejia was joined by Alberta Khoury on guitar and Dario Natarelli on percussion, as well as the quartet in Brooklyn Rider ropes. Originally created for Wendy Whelan in 2010, it was later danced by Sara Mearns; “Fandango” offers Mejia, who is always an outgoing dancer, a sumptuous opportunity to explore musicality and nuance.

In this Spanish-influenced dance to the music of Luigi Boccherini, Mejia is almost relaxed as her silky arms stroke the air; his fingers swirl like cream. Everything is etched into the space, including the integrated moments with the musicians – at one point she is handed a tambourine, only to have it removed – but it all feels fresh, spontaneous, and totally without manners. “Fandango”, for all of its rich details and intermediate flourishes, is a seven-minute tour de force that demands explosive attack and surrender and flawless technique.

In the end, Mejia, lost in a flurry of great traveling jumps and propulsive spins, finds herself on the ground – both wiped out and devastated. It’s a thrill. He should dance this at the City Ballet and share it with Mearns and others.

Casel, for whom music and dance also go hand in hand, closed the evening with the captivating premiere, “Where We Dwell”, a downtown commission, to music by Crystal Monee Hall, a singer and songwriter at the rich and creamy voice. , and directed and directed by Torya Beard.

Featuring eight exceptional tap dancers, including Casel, the work, which transforms the stage into a kaleidoscope of vibrant dancing bodies with intricate footwork and ever-changing patterns, is clear about social justice, but also subtle. . In one number, Hall, also credited with conducting music, reinvents “This Land Is Your Land” so that by the time she’s done singing it to five dancers, it’s clear who the land should belong to: everyone. world.

Touching and penetrating Casel reveals an even deeper artistic layer when she pulls up a stool beside Hall and listens to him sing the original song, “Work Me Over”; even seated, her feet cannot stop. She grazes the floor with the tips of her shoes and finally, as if music has entered her body, grabs a mic and makes her own music, scattering as her quick footsteps assemble the lightest and brightest sounds. . She is a dance poet. His language is born from his feet.

The centerpiece of this program, “Bloom”, another Vail co-production, is choreographer Justin Peck’s interpretation of the classic pas de deux. Starring Tiler Peck (a director of the City Ballet and unrelated to Justin) and Herman Cornejo of the American Ballet Theater, “Bloom” is inspired by the glorious “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” by George Balanchine.

Throughout, there are references not only to the music (a collaboration with songwriter Caroline Shaw) and dance, but also to the palette and feel of Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costumes. In “Bloom” the emphasis is more on the energy than the arc as the dancers make gentle nods that refer to the past. But beyond their power and their star technique, it is not always clear Why they dance together. “Bloom” never really blossoms; it is an accumulation of stages – lively and luminous but with little heart.

For once, on the fourth show seen Friday, the best track was the most applauded: “Each in His Own Time” by Lar Lubovitch. Adrian Danchig-Waring and Joseph Gordon, two principal dancers of the City Ballet, started separately in the spotlight, not dancing but listening to pianist, Susan Walters, as she performed excerpts from Brahms’ Eight Piano Pieces (Op. 76).

As with “Fandango”, the music was as much a part of the piece as the dance, giving this City Center commission the feeling of a trio. Walters’ sparkling performance propelled the dancers into motion; they wrapped their arms and their hands tied, almost forming a chain with only two bodies. Their dance – flowery, continuous, devoid of sentimentality – grew larger as they explored the stage with light jumps and tight, quick rotations. But this intimate and luminous world remained contained; the performers weren’t looking outside, they were looking inside, as if they were only dancing for each other.

It was not all that sophisticated. In “Mapping Out a Sky,” a New York premiere for the Philadelphia company BalletX, choreographer Matthew Neenan took an architectural approach to structure, delivering a movement that oscillated between a formal investigation of time and space and something more jazzy – sickening. But the dancers at BalletX were attractive. One of the most charming moments of the evening came when two of them – Ashley Simpson and Blake Krapels – made surprise appearances in the spirited “Meet Ella”, a last minute addition by Caleb Teicher and Nathan Bugh. . Upon entering the stage in their “Mapping” costumes, they found themselves lost in someone else’s dance, a delightful joke for the way they performed it.

The night before, “Meet Ella” had replaced a work by Lil Buck, which was prevented from performing due to an issue with Covid-19 protocols. On Friday, Buck took the stage in “38109”, another presentation with Vail. Named after his Memphis zip code – where he first learned his chosen movement language, jookin street dancing – Buck unveiled a personal piece with music, still by Shaw, and its own text.

In near darkness, he first moved his arms, which were braided at his head, before walking towards the middle of the stage with a pair of immaculate sneakers. After putting them on, he suddenly stood up and stood nimbly on his toes. Waving his arms like ribbons as his feet carried him across the stage, Buck showed just how spectacular a dancer he is. But what about the work itself? Opaque and not much longer than a clip, it died out before it really started.

But what also left me in suspense was the realization that in two nights and seven works, only one was created by a choreographer. What if Casel wasn’t as brilliant an artist as she was? Would she have succeeded in doing so? This counting routine – keeping track of the choreographers’ male-to-female ratio – can get old, but it’s clear we have a long way to go before we’re done.

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