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Jack Anderson

Falling for Dance Again

Fall for Dance Festival
New York City Center, 130 West 56th Street
Sept. 28-Oct. 8, 2006
Tickets: $10
Information: www.nycitycenter.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, Oct. 7, 2006

The excitement continues. The third annual Fall for Dance Festival at City Center was once again a success, possibly even a greater one than its predecessors.

The format was familiar. Thirty companies appeared on six programs, each with five attractions. And this year four additional performances were added to meet audience demand. At all three programs I attended, the theater was full and dancegoers waited outside hoping for spare tickets or cancellations. What inspired much of the demand was the ticket price: all seats at $10, which is less than many movie tickets. Fall for Dance seems ready to become a fall tradition, the festive beginning for the New York dance season as a whole. Arlene Shuler, City Center's president, Elise Bernhardt, the festival's artistic adviser, and their associates deserve cheers for their planning.

Variety of programming and a mingling of dance forms help promote the sense of festivity. Familiar companies often share bills with troupes little-known in New York. If you don't like one thing you see, just wait and there'll be something completely different, maybe something by a group you might want to see again on a program all its own.

To share a few personal impressions, I was very pleased by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in an excerpt from James Kudelka's "Fifteen Heterosexual Duets," to the first movement of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata. Couple after couple crossed the stage in turbulent, yet occasionally witty, choreography depicting constantly changing passions. You could interpret each couple as a separate pair of lovers. Yet those couples might also symbolize the ebbs and flows over time of a single romantic relationship. It was a performance that made me want to see more by this Montreal group.

The impressive way Julie Gardette and Francois Rousseau of the Dutch National Ballet hurtled toward and away from each other in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Before After" both aroused curiosity about this choreographer and served as a reminder that the Amsterdam company has not visited New York for many years. Pacific Northwest Ballet of Seattle should also return here soon. Although Paul Gibson's "Piano Dance" was more notable for its choreographic neatness than for its flights of fancy, the sleek dancers were a pleasure to watch.

Arranging Fall for Dance programs must be both stimulating and maddening. Sometimes, companies that promise to co-exist in a good mix cancel one another out on stage. Thus one assemblage of theoretically varied ballet, modern, and hip-hop styles turned into an evening of unrelieved twitches and fidgets. Some presentations never quite lived up to their promise. For instance, Compagnie Franck II Louise failed to blend science-fiction and hip-hop with consistent imagination, and although Farruco's flamenco outbursts were often volcanic, his on-stage arrogance sometimes seemed excessive, even if one grants that flamenco is often marked by that personality trait. Companies should also be wary of dancing excerpts from longer pieces: certain scenes may make no sense out of context to audiences unfamiliar with their sources. Yet Christopher Williams's brief solo for himself from his "Portuguese Suite" convincingly suggested some of the erotic longing that permeated that long and complex group work.

Fall for Dance arouses serious thoughts about the problems of New York dance in general. Such festivals will surely continue. But what remains to be seen is whether the audiences that flock to them will keep flocking to other dance events. As a result of an audience survey they conducted, Shuler and her staff are hopeful. Six per cent of all respondents and twelve per cent of those under 30 indicated they had never before seen a dance performance. Thirty-two per cent of all viewers (and 56 per cent of those under 30) were making their first visit to City Center. For 14 per cent of the total audience, attending a dance performance was a rare experience. Yet 41 per cent did say that they saw more dance after the festival than they had before.

Let's hope everyone comes back repeatedly to see dance at one theater or another. But there's a problem here: Fall for Dance tickets may be $10, yet the City Center survey noted that the average price for a New York dance performance is $70. How often can audiences, especially young impecunious ones, afford to return so that dancegoing becomes a habit for them? Yet if the performing arts are not addictions (blessedly non-lethal ones), how can cultural events be more than fancy nights-out to amuse the affluent? Of course, I know that many affluent people genuinely love the arts. But culture should never be perceived as the exclusive domain of any social class.

The task of developing and keeping new, enthusiastic, and informed audiences is one that must be tackled by cultural organizations everywhere, especially at this time when, as a result of a diminishing emphasis upon arts education in the schools and high ticket prices at theaters, increasingly many people may find themselves mystified by the arts and intimidated by the venues in which the arts are presented.

Corporate, foundation, and government support for the arts deserves to be increased, and without pressure by special-interest groups. (Major support for Fall for Dance comes from the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Time Warner, and Altria Group, with generous additional support from other organizations.) Any project to call attention to the arts should certainly be encouraged. Fall for Dance is one, as is the Metropolitan Opera's attempt to promote opera-consciousness by occasionally simulcasting its indoor performances outdoors in the Lincoln Center Plaza and in the heart of Times Square.

But arousing attention is not the same as sustaining interest. Newsworthy events could easily turn into self-congratulatory cultural publicity stunts and photo-ops that have their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame without accomplishing anything lasting. Fall for Dance remains exciting. But, somehow, its excitement should last all year long.

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