Lightning Strikes Again at City Center Festival

gottlieb nocheflamenca1h Lightning Strikes Again at City Center FestivalSix programs, 28 separate works—the annual Fall for Dance blast at the City Center gives you your money’s worth. In fact, at 10 bucks a seat, it gives you much more than your money’s worth, one of the reasons it’s such a spectacular success.

But the bargain price isn’t the only reason people throng 55th Street every night, hoping for last-minute cancellations or an act of God. Through the ups and the downs, the wheat and the chaff, the homers, bunts and strikeouts, you end up with a pretty fair idea of what dance is up to, here at home and around the world. And even if you snooze through some of the individual acts, you can’t help coming away with renewed admiration for the talent and dedication, the sheer ardor, of so many dancers in so many different disciplines. (A big plus: The programs for this year’s festivities were exceptionally well-balanced and composed.)

Oddly enough, the most underrepresented form of dance on view was ballet—a sparse half-dozen companies showed up, and most of those only in token form. Last year, A.B.T. managed both the White and the Black Swan pas de deux; this year they could muster only Le Corsaire (granted, it featured the nonpareil Herman Cornejo).

As for City Ballet, last year they stretched to six dancers in Robbins’ In the Night. This time round, only Damian Woetzel made it to the City Center with A Suite of Dances, which actually looks better on this stage than it does at the vast State Theater. Woetzel presents it modestly and sensitively, but let’s face it: This is one of Robbins’ thinner efforts, not only unexciting but punctuated with the usual Robbins cutenesses—the shrugs at the audience, the look-Ma-I’m-somersaulting’s. Surely City Ballet could scrape together a small Balanchine piece—Concerto Barocco, Allegro Brillante, Valse-Fantaisie—and ship it eight blocks south.

The appealing dancers of the Boston Ballet made a welcome appearance, but with the apparently inevitable Jorma Elo work—they’re everywhere, like mold. (Stand by for yet another one at A.B.T.’s upcoming season.) This one (Brake the Eyes)—seen only in excerpt, however endless it may have seemed—isn’t his usual thrashing, hurtling, wham-bang gym-class exercise but rather a heavy-handed lark with thin, blond Larissa Ponomarenko as a kind of demented ballet mistress, chirping away in Russian. The action lurches from tedious modern (set to “Sound Design by Nancy Euverink”) to tedious classical (set to Mozart). Twyla Tharp invented this conceit decades ago, most brilliantly in Push Comes to Shove. Sorry, Jorma, but you’re no Twyla.

The most effective entry from a ballet company was the Kirov’s Middle Duet, a 1998 pas de deux—intense, inventive, structured—by ballet’s newest great hope, Alexei Ratmansky. He’s absorbed Balanchine without imitating him—not easy. Everything we’ve seen of his in New York, beginning with the Bolshoi’s The Bright Stream, has been valuable. You can sense the ballet world holding its collective breath over him.

 

ONE OF THE CHARMS OF FALL for Dance is how lightning can strike from unexpected sources. Last year it was a troupe of Carpathian folk dancers. (It’s true.) This year it was Andy and Rick Ausland, a pair of brothers from Minnesota with their backup musicians, calling themselves Buckets & Tap Shoes. They’re fabulous drummers (watch those drumsticks go!), they’re fabulous tappers. No self-congratulation, no narcissism, just amazing, contagious energy and joy unconfined. If later this month you happen to find yourself in Duvall, Wash., or River Falls, Wis., be sure to catch them.

No surprise that Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, which kicked off the festival, was a smash—the City Center audience loves him, and why not? No surprise (to me) that Doug Varone’s mysterious and beautiful Lux made an even greater impression in the generous space the City Center stage affords than it has in smaller venues. And no surprise that the ageless Carmen deLavallade, the Lena Horne of dance, was not only as glamorous as ever (in a clinging red outfit) but was full of beans in The 5th Wheel, a vigorous head-to-head with the terrific saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom.

Alas, it was also no surprise that in the unavoidable Hispanic sweepstakes, both Ballet Hispanico’s Club Havana and Mariela Franganillo’s Tango del Sur were predictable and clichéd. It’s just not enough to sweep around in the semi-dark, swirling skirts and smoking and casting smoldering glances. Ever since we were knocked out by the fabulous Tango Argentino of more than 20 years ago, everything in this vein has looked pallid.

Nobody could call the work of Noche Flamenca & Soledad Barrio pallid. I don’t know much about flamenco, but I know a great performance when I see one. Soledad Barrio is clearly a master—of thrilling steps and passionate movement. She stalks, she circles, she struts, she snaps her head—her feet drill the stage. Her two male colleagues, Juan Ogalla and Antonio Rodriguez, share her complete conviction and control, the musicians and singers are wildly exciting, but it’s Barrio who’s the big story—the Anna Magnani of flamenco.