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  • Writer's pictureLinnea Swarting

Fall for Dance Program 1- City Center's Gift to Audiences

“Fall for Dance” has always delivered excitement in person. Although this year we don't get the intimate feeling in person at New York City Center, the selections in the first program definitely reflected the times. It’s up to the viewer to decide if that means it’s more intimate watching at home, or a little bare with small groups and no theatrical sets.

Ballet Hispanico started Program 1 with excerpts from “18+1” by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano. The dancers were lively and musical, I only wish they had danced more. After two excerpts, I found myself wanting more of this playful spirit, "mambo- driven" choreography, and extremely precise gesture- work. Then came a world premiere piece, commissioned by City Center, from Alvin Ailey’s resident choreographer, Jamar Roberts. A solo work for himself, he stood alone as solid as a rock before peeling away into his movement. I’m not sure if solos and smaller pieces were chosen due to Covid restrictions, but I would be interested to see Roberts’ movement on a larger group of dancers (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen anything else by him- I’ll blame it on leaving NYC). His solo was very fluid, and so natural- looking it almost came off as improvised. The work felt extremely relevant, passing between emotional and meditative, with the racial justice movement on the forefront of the minds of the audience, and likely Roberts. Following this solo was another, a dip into the “American Classics” vault with Martha Graham’s “Lamentation.” Stanford Makishi, VP of Programming, introduced this work and said the choice to include it on the program also was one of relevance to the quarantine situation. I have never viewed the solo through the lens of “social distancing in a pandemic,” mostly because my mind could have never come up with that pre- 2020, but it was definitely relatable in a new way. I always love this solo because I’m a *tortured artist* and truly it was a great mental palate cleanser between the new commissions- expressed beautifully by Martha Graham Dance Company artist, Natasha M. Diamond- Walker.

The last piece of Program 1 was the highly anticipated world premiere by Christopher Wheeldon, “The Two of Us,” featuring Sara Mearns and David Hallberg. This is the first, and as pointed out by David’s co- host for the evening, Alicia Mack Graf, most likely the last, time the pair will dance together, and it will be a treasured memory for anyone who watches this performance. I would say, “Too bad they didn’t pair up sooner,” but truthfully, something about this piece as a one and done works (for them- I hope that this duet will make it on to other partners and other companies). I’m torn between saying it’s extremely human or extremely ethereal. For example, the details of the costume, by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, display this dichotomy as it looks like a romper you might see on an Instagram influencer (especially Mearns’), but the sheer material and texture makes it appear dream- like. Another thing I couldn’t shake was the feeling of quintessential Americana- and not in the cheesy way that makes audiences groan and smile through their boredom. It was like being transported to the “Home on the Range,” watching two kids play and daydream together- full of nostalgia while also feeling like a new discovery. I guess pairing two of the most iconic American dancers with the music of Joni Mitchell will do that, even coming from a Brit. In my opinion, this was the “ballet to pop music” to end them all. “The Two of Us” had a great balance of ballet, American modern dance, and casual moments to where it never felt stagnant, which coming through a computer screen is always a challenge. This was definitely a performance to remember for Hallberg, Mearns, and their audience who was fortunate enough to see their genuine appreciation for each other shine through.

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