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Jack Anderson

Fall For Dance: Thoughts on Programming

Fall for Dance Festival
City Center
September 17-27, 2008 (closed)
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, October 3, 2008

Once again, Fall for Dance was a hit. From September 17-27, City Center was the site of sold-out dance performances of extraordinarily many kinds: ballet, modern, folk, tap, hula, Indian, tango, you-name-it. And, like its predecessors, this fifth festival offered all tickets at $10.

A few dancegoers complained about what they called an unbridled eclecticism. But eclecticism is surely part of such a festival's very nature. By scheduling so many different things each evening, Arlene Shuler, president of City Center, and her colleagues may have hoped to whet appetites and widen tastes: people coming for one specific kind of dance might conceivably be fascinated by something else on that bill they had never expected to enjoy.

Fall for Dance truly made City Center a center: a magnet drawing audiences, a meeting place at which dancegoers could gather night after night. Other worthy festivals often scatter attractions throughout several venues. Take London's comparable Dance Umbrella. According to the September issue of Britain's "Dancing Times," this year's Umbrella has scheduled October performances at 13 indoor spaces and at least four outdoor parks and greens (quite optimistic about England's autumn weather, these Londoners seem to be). The scope of Dance Umbrella is impressive, yet I wonder if its impact is somewhat diminished by such a spreading of activities in a city already blessed with a fine spread of dance events.

Fall for Dance made City Center a fun place to be. Of course, City Center can be fun at other times, too. But now it often resembled a sort of club. There was even a bar open to ticket holders and the general public alike before and after performances offering low-priced drinks and snacks (wine at $2 a glass, for instance).

A major issue raised by previous festivals was the discrepancy in price between Fall for Dance tickets and tickets for performances elsewhere the rest of the year. Responding to this concern, Fall for Dance producers distributed discount coupons for several forthcoming City Center events. That's an
admirable gesture, yet the cost of tickets in general remains a perennial, and possibly insoluble, problem: how do impecunious students, let's say (or, for that matter, people of any age who are not affluent), afford tickets nowadays? Possibly even more importantly, how can they afford to return to performances, thereby helping to build the habit of dancegoing and a new generation of dancegoers? Every theater director, manager, and impresario in town would surely welcome bright answers to these questions.

A special problem for Fall for Dance involves length of presentations. Given a season of 28 attractions and several events on each program, works necessarily had to be short and the Fall for Dance producers made sure they moved smartly along. But far too many offerings were billed as excerpts, and watching them sometimes became troublesome. What were these pieces like in their entirety? Were striking snippets extracted from longer compositions typical of those works as a whole, or were they the only admirable sections of otherwise dreary creations? Were mystifying sequences in the excerpts inherently enigmatic, or did they only appear so when seen out of context?

Surely, there are compact and artistically admirable short dances that do not need to be excerpted, and the festival included some: among them on evenings I attended, Merce Cunningham's "Sounddance" (Merce Cunningham Dance Company) and George Balanchine's "Pithoprakta" (Suzanne Farrell Ballet). Companies invited to participate would do well to search their repertories for other such dances, since Fall for Dance presentations should seem coherent wholes, rather than jolly jumbles.

Nevertheless, the festival undeniably does offer much of quality to cheer, as well as quirky and cantankerous choreographic manifestations to puzzle over and argue about, perhaps in the festival's bar. Everybody should be mightily pleased with Fall for Dance, at least some of the time.


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