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Fall for Dance: Vuyani Dance Theatre, Sara Mearns & Company, Trisha Brown Dance Company, National Ballet of China
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Fall for Dance: Vuyani Dance Theatre, Sara Mearns & Company, Trisha Brown Dance Company, National Ballet of China

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NY City Center
Fall for Dance – Program III

Vuyani Dance Theatre
Sara Mearns & Company
Trisha Brown Dance Company
National Ballet of China

At New York City Center
www.nycitycenter.org

Arlene Schuler, President & CEO
Mark Litvin, Sr. VP & Managing Director
Stanford Makishi, Associate Producer
Ilter Ibrahimof, Artistic Advisor
Clifton Taylor, Festival Lighting Director
Leon Rothenberg, Festival Sound Supervisor
Press: Helene Davis Public Relations


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 14, 2014


Vuyani Dance Theatre
Umnikelo (2011): Choreography by Luyanda Sidiya, Music by X. Bongwana, I. Molelekoa, A. Ndebele, N. Nhlapo, and L. Sidiya, Scenery by Oliver Hauser, Costumes by L. Msila, Lighting by O. Hauser, Lighting Director; Alexander Farmer, Musicians: I. Molelekoa, A. Ndebele, N. Nhlapo, Performed by the Company.


With three musicians on vocals, percussion, and stringed instrument, the Vuyani Dance Theatre, from South Africa, presented Umnikelo, a word that relates to “offering” a dance to the Gods. Eight dancers in similar, silver costumes performed Luyanda Sidiya’s choreography, as repetitive as the echoing chants. There was flexibility and versatility in the eclectic motion, with directional and stylistic shifts, all in sync with the punctuated rhythms. Five composers are listed for the score, which is African traditional in form. It seems the Fall for Dance motif is now to open each program with contemporary or ethnic pulse, but some of these works begin to mesh in the memory. It might be interesting, in future seasons, to have one entire evening for stark, modern dance, one for pointe ballet, one for ethnic, percussive dance , and so on, just to absorb the gestalt. However, the visceral challenge of this piece was spellbinding, at times, with each dancer taking on a unique style and personality, equaled by the entertaining band.


Sara Mearns & Company
Stairway to Paradise (2014): Choreography by Joshua Bergasse, Music by George and Ira Gershwin, Costumes by Jeff Johnson-Doherty, Lighting by Laura Bickford, Production Manager: Laura Bickford, Performed by Sara Mearns and the Company.


Josh Bergasse’s Stairway to Paradise is a visual love letter to Sara Mearns, a principal with City Ballet. This too-brief ballet is also a preview to his Broadway choreography in the new production of On the Town, to which I look forward with eager anticipation. Ms. Mearns wears a sexy, sequined, showgirl costume with décolletage and tassels, designed by Jeff Johnson-Doherty,. Eight male Broadway styled dancers use their hands for Ms. Stearns to climb that Stairway to Paradise, then their arms for her to use as a hammock. Lots of flourish, flirtation, and fun, with Ms. Mearns glowing from within. The recorded Gershwin score filled the hall with mesmerizing melody, as each man, individually and collectively, tried to get the girl. The best visual, appearing more than once, was Ms. Mearns, legs straight out and crossed, horizontally carried atop the ladder of arms. This piece was glitzy and glamorous. Mr. Bergasse will surely be a rising star in Broadway dance, based on this preview.


Trisha Brown Dance Company
Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981): Choreography by Trisha Brown, Music by R. Ashley, Costumes by Judith Shea, Lighting by John Torres, Stage Manager: Dathan Manning, Performed by the Company.


I last saw the Trisha Brown Dance Company in a 2011 Fall for Dance program. At that time I noted the improvisational nature of the isolated muscle movement, and, once again, that’s what came into focus tonight. Seven dancers slouch, swirl, swing a leg, and….Robert Ashley’s music is mechanical and repetitive, like the dance. Casual earthiness can be enhancing, but here it was exhausting. In fact, in Son of Gone Fishin’, the motion became tranquilizing, like fishing, itself. This piece may be more meaningful in a minimized setting, a small stage in the round, where nuance is engaging.


National Ballet of China
The Peony Pavilion (2008): Produced by Zhao Ruheng, Adapted and Directed by Li Liuyi, Music by G. Wenjing, C. Debussy, M. Ravel, O. Respighi, G. Holst, and S. Prokofiev, Music Arranged and Orchestrated by G. Wenjing, Choreography by Fei Bo, Scenery by Michael Simon, Costumes by Emi Wada, Lighting by Michael Simon and Han Jiang, Performed by the Company.


In 2012, I saw and reviewed a full-length version of The Peony Pavilion, produced and performed by the China Jinling Dance Company, choreographed by Ying Zhiqi, Lu Ling, and Wu Ning. Tonight we were shown a completely different ballet, in one act, of a similar narrative. A short synopsis was slipped into the programs, although one gets caught up in the high theatrics and loses sight of any plot. This version was choreographed by Fei Bo, and was again about a young woman, Du Liniang, who falls in love with a scholar from her dreams, while napping in her garden pavilion, and later dies of a broken heart. As Fall for Dance is a multi-company program, bringing in sets, during a brief pause between dances, was an ambitious feat.

Zhu Yan and Ma Xiaodong, as the maiden and scholar, danced with sumptuous rapture and stylized elegance. There could not have been a starker contrast to the previous work. It’s just that contrast and eclecticism that generate the attraction of the Fall for Dance Festival. With a combined score by Debussy, Respighi, Holst, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Guo Wenjing, the music’s arranger and orchestrator, each ensemble scene and pas de deux was riveting. I suggest, in the future, using the overhead, projected narration, available at City Center, used by opera and other companies. Yet, the visual and musical gestalt of this ballet was totally splendid.



Sara Mearns & Company
in Joshua Bergasse's "Stairway to Paradise"
Courtesy of Whitney Browne




National Ballet of China's Zhu Yan
in Fei Bo's "The Peony Pavilion"
Courtesy of Si Tinghong



For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net