Lightning Strikes Again at City Center Festival

Then there were the solo acts. (1) Kyle Abraham, choreographer and dancer of Inventing Pookie Jenkins, for which he wears

Then there were the solo acts. (1) Kyle Abraham, choreographer and dancer of Inventing Pookie Jenkins, for which he wears a full down-to-the-floor white tulle skirt with nothing on top, and does some (but not many) amusing things to music by Dizzee Rascal. (2) Camille A. Brown, whose The Evolution of a Secured Feminine proves yet again what a sublime singer Ella Fitzgerald was (with Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson no slouches either). In this performance, Brown hammed and flirted so shamelessly that her subject seemed more like narcissism than feminism. And (3) Johan Kobborg, who repeated the Afternoon of a Faun he performed as part of the Kings of Dance flop-extravaganza a year or two ago. Kobborg’s a wonderful dancer, but Faun—originally, Nijinsky and nymphs; later, in the Robbins version, a boy and a girl—quickly gets boring as a solo, with the elfin creature darting in and out of pools of light.

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AND ON IT WENT. Some people loved the first offering from India—Shantala Shivalingappa’s Varnam. I like fuchsia as well as the next guy, but I found her too smiley and too repetitious. No doubt others understood why this piece was dedicated to “OM, the primal sound, the pure, eternal vibration, which is the source of the universe,” but I didn’t even understand why she stepped onto what looked like a big plastic potato chip and cunningly steered it up and down the stage.

On the other hand, I rather enjoyed Quick!, in which the choreographer, Nina Rajarani, had eight men—four dancers and four musicians—acting out a day in the life of a group of sharp young Indian businessmen in London against huge projected clips of streets and buildings. Combining the modern context with traditional dance modes seemed witty to me—or at least original.

There were pleasant, undemanding offerings from Trisha Brown and Karole Armitage. And there were Elisa Monte’s well-worn Treading and Christopher Wheeldon’s familiar After the Rain, danced by City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall—not its strongest performance. There was Love Songs from Keigwin + Company, amusing pas de deux for six dancers set to Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond and Nina Simone, which left me gratified that someone out there—Simone, singing Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas—has a French accent even worse than mine.

There were the Urban Bush Women with their popular Batty Moves (to rap), with the seven women (soloists: Bennalldra Williams, Love Muwwakkil and Maria Bauman) shaking their booties all over the place. This piece has become a little formulaic, a little unspontaneous, but it reminded me of how ideas of what’s sexy change: yesterday, the can-can’s flashing legs; today, twitching bottoms.

As if in response to the seven Bush Women, we got Via Katlehong’s nine guys (from South Africa) in extended excerpts from Nkululeko. They stomped and stomped, sometimes bare-chested, sometimes in sleek satin shirts, always on the go. At moments it looked to me as if they’d learned their moves from Michael Jackson, but so what?

And then there were the Euro-entries. Memory, a clever meditation on aging love from Mats Ek. Terrain Vague from the French Compagnie Käfig, in which a bunch of street guys have fun with a girl’s suitcase. The Royal Ballet of Flanders’ Cornered—eight dancers in unappealing lilac tops in a series of serious (or earnest) partnerings, once again in the semi-dark. And the Lyon Opera Ballet with Maguy Marin’s pretentious Grosse Fugue, which proved once more how right Balanchine was when he warned against choreographing to Beethoven. Particularly this Beethoven, so much grander and nobler than the vacuous flailings and convulsings and retchings of the four women in red who presumably stand for the four instruments of the fugue. To be fair, I know people who loved it. Can it be that they don’t love Beethoven?

An unexpected disappointment: I’d been looking forward to seeing Tharp’s breakthrough Deuce Coupe after three decades, but I found the Juilliard Dance group far less exciting than my memory of the original Joffrey production. A few of the boys were zingy, but the wit, the charge, the sense of something important happening were absent. Either Deuce Coupe has aged badly or I have. I suspect it’s the latter.

Lightning Strikes Again at City Center Festival