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Fall for Dance Program 4

Tero Saarinen, Dresden Semperoper Ballett, American Ballet Theatre and Ronald K. Brown

by David Mead

October 8, 2010 -- City Center, New York

The last of this year’s four Fall for Dance programmes certainly packed in variety with a European contemporary and very theatrical solo, followed by two ballets, quite different in nature, before rounding things off with a popularist piece of American modern dance that sent most of the audience home happy.

Undoubtedly the most impressive work of the evening was Carolyn Carlson’s “Man in a Room,” performed by Finnish dancer and choreographer Tero Saarinen. It was inspired by the life and works of Mark Rothko who committed suicide in 1970. But Carlson goes way beyond his abstract expressionist paintings as she delves into the deeper, nightmarish recesses of his mind.

Much of the movement is awkward. Saarinen climbs repeatedly on and off a stool next to his drawing board on which lay clothing and tubes of paint. He moves back and forth, staring out as if crazed or paranoid; forever on edge. Against Gavin Bryars’ score a man talks about poker. A novice will always win his first hand but end up losing, we are told. We hear how to cheat, deal an extra card and hide cards. Are art and gambling closer related than we think? As the voice starts to explain that the gambler’s thrill comes not from winning but the game itself, Saarinen starts to daub paint on his body with his fingers, similarly revelling in the process and the sensation rather than the finished art work.

Saarinen had magnificent presence. His gripping performance took us right into the artist’s irrational mind. He was totally haunting and engaging. That he held the attention for nigh on 25 minutes speaks volumes.

William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude”, performed by five dancers from the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, provided a complete change of tone. It is very much a look back as he pays homage to Balanchine, Petipa and his classical ballet roots. Unfortunately Forsythe is no Balanchine and it shows in the choreography, which, although pleasant enough, rather lacks invention. Even so, with the music provided by Allegro Vivace of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major, “Vertiginous” is a work that should be playful, and be danced with sparkle and fizz. Here the whole thing fell oddly flat. Enjoying themselves seemed to be the last thing the dancers were doing, although the whole mood was not helped by the dreadful sound quality of the recording used. The best thing about it were Stephen Galloway’s costumes, the women in lime-green pancake tutus and the men in purple costumes, both with bare looking backs.

Ballet of a very different nature followed with Hee Seo and Jared Matthews of American Ballet Theatre in Frederick Ashton’s “Thaïs Pas de Deux.” Seo was totally captivating as she extracted every ounce of emotion from the dance. Right from the moment she bourréd on, her face covered by a veil, all sinuous and erotic, she had everyone in the audience holding on to her every move. Everyone it seems except Matthews, who, while as solid partner as anyone could hope for, was somewhat less convincing and never really came to life.

Closing this year’s Fall for Dance was Ronald K. Brown’s “Grace”, originally made for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but here performed by his own Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company. The audience lapped it up. The music of Duke Ellington, Fela Kuti, Roy Davis Jr. and the hymn “Come Sunday”, is certainly upbeat and uplifting. The choreography is full of the expected cultural references with its hip hop and West African influenced American modern dance. For a while it more than holds the attention, but on closer inspection it is quite repetitive with little change of mood or vocabulary, regardless of the music. The dancers, though, could not be faulted. An interesting mix of body shapes and personalities, each brought a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, and a very individual approach to their dancing, that in many ways really did reflect the real, wider, community.

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