The ultra-clever Basil Twist came up with his Petrushka Suite, three supple and ingenious puppets presenting the famous Blackamoor, Ballerina and Petrushka himself, as manipulated by a group of masterly puppeteers. It’s a fascination to watch how the puppets are worked, but the law of diminishing returns eventually sets in, and the Twist version ends up as an amusing footnote rather than a valid interpretation. The ballet is reduced not only because there’s no crowd, no fair, no magician, but because the Petrushka puppet (he looks a little like Snoopy) has no soul to struggle to the surface. On the other hand, how often do you get to see a puppet playing a puppet?
Let’s skim past Ohad Nahrin’s B/olero, two women doing mostly parallel dancing, and Mark Dendy’s Afternoon of the Faunes, two men now doing the parallel dancing (and jogging). In Monica Bill Barnes & Company’s I Feel Like—set to the music of the Big Two: Bach and James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)”—three women, including Monica Bill Barnes herself, were clearly having a good time. And let’s tip our hat to DanceBrazii’s Culture in Motion, a super-charged (and over-extended) exercise in Capoeira’s mix of martial arts, acrobatics and—oh, yes—dance. Stripped torsos, cartwheels, combat—the works!
Worst in show (and then some) was Softly as I Leave You, choreography by the husband-wife team known as Lightfoot León, resident at the Nederlands Dans Theater—the very heart of Eurotrashland. A woman comes out of a standing orange box and anguishes. A man anguishes and goes into the box. You can savor—and partake in—their anguish when Softly as I Leave You is presented as part of the Morphoses/Christopher Wheeldon season in October.
NOW TO THE happy news. Thrills went up and down everyone’s spine at the glory of Gabriel Missé’s tango dancing in an excerpt from Natalia Hills’ Tangueros del Sur. Hills is a splendid dancer herself, in her “fuck-me-but-don’t-fuck-with-me” mode. But Missé is on a level all his own. The unbelievable rapidity of his footwork—at times you literally can’t see the feet moving—is executed with no sign of strain or difficulty: Everything is dignified and manly. He makes Savion Glover look like a postadolescent showoff.
From City Ballet came Robbins’ brief, pretty Four Bagatelles (Beethoven), featuring the company’s most musical and appealing young dancer, Tiler Peck. Again, with no seeming effort, she works with the music and within the music, ravishingly delicate and accurate and pleasing. Her partner, Gonzalo Garcia, looked as happy as I’ve seen him since he made the move from San Francisco. Memo to Fall for Dance: remember—some of us actually like ballet.
Finally, a magnificent performance of Mark Morris’ Grand Duo, a work created in 1993 to the then-recent Grand Duo for Violin and Piano by Lou Harrison. This is Morris at his absolute best, where we haven’t seen him very often in the past 15 years. It’s an ensemble work, superbly organized, with a very specific and highly charged vocabulary—pell-mell yet clear, as electrifying as the music. This was the most exciting full-scale event of the season, and it left me very happy that my Fall for Dance marathon this year ended with such a bang, after all the whimpers.