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Hula hoops and the hula, too, at Fall for Dance

By JOCELYN NOVECK/AP National Writer
Oct. 16, 2012 at 5:16 a.m.


NEW YORK (AP) - There were gasps and moans of empathetic pain on a recent night at New York City Center, as the audience watched a female dancer from the Australian troupe Circa walk all over her male partner, who was bare-chested, in red stilettos.

It was challenging, but was it dance? On the other hand, who really cared? The Fall for Dance festival is such a delightful mix of offerings that a little S&M-tinged circus hardly seemed out of place.

Where else can you cheer a woman doing some seriously admirable hula hoop work, and also admire Adonis-like Hawaiian men performing traditional hula? How about vigorous hip-hop from South Korea? Classical Indian dance? Good old American tap?

And the most important element: the price, $15 for every seat in the house, guaranteeing a theater full to the gills of happy dance fans every night.

Although extra evenings were added to this year's festival, which ended over the weekend, the formula remained the same: Four companies in each of five programs, for a total of 20 radically different experiences. They came from all over: from India to England, Indonesia to Spain, South Korea to Australia to Minneapolis to, yes, New York as well.

The best performances were often those performed to live music, like that of the masterful South Indian classical dancer Shantala Shivalingappa. What astounded the audience was her strength and control, and the buoyancy of her jumps.

On the same evening, the lovely Carla Korbes and her partner Seth Orza from the Pacific Northwest Ballet performed a duet from Christopher Wheeldon's "Carousel," to live piano accompaniment. Korbes, a former New York City Ballet dancer, melded passion with delicacy and precision; happily, the PNB will be back in February.

Then it was on to choreographer and dancer Jodi Melnick, in a silver hoodie, with an absorbing contemporary piece. And then the crowd-pleaser: the Hawaiian male hula dancers of Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La (say that fast). If you thought there was something wimpy about this kind of dance, you had only to look at the hunks performing in the front line, wearing only loincloths at one point. It took a lot of masculinity to pull off another costume, best described as giant giftwrap ribbons - but they managed.

Is tap your thing? Jared Grimes, a talented performer of tap and hip-hop, opened the festival with "Transformation in Tap," a story of his journey through the dance form. The same program boasted the New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's "Five Movements, Three Repeats" by Fang-yi Sheu & Artists. The highlight was a stunning pas de deux for the wonderful Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle, both of City Ballet, to Max Richter's remix of Dinah Washington's "This Bitter Earth." No one does Wheeldon like Whelan, and vice versa; theirs is a terrific and enduring collaboration.

The Nederlands Dans Theater's "Shutter's Shut," by choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, was a fun oddity - a duet to the voice of Gertrude Stein reciting her 1912 poem "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso."

Not nearly as pleasant: "Void," by Jarek Cemerek, danced by the athletic BalletBoyz, a British troupe. It was dark and gritty and ultimately a little grim.

Another program featured Shen Wei Dance Arts, the modern dance company, and its accomplished "Rite of Spring," to Stravinsky. What a switch, then, to move to the South Korean group LDP/Laboratory Dance Project, and its display of somewhat frenzied hip-hop, performed by agile young men who took their shirts off at the end.

Then came Circa, and that stiletto walk - the male dancer who experienced it could be seen rubbing his skin after the show. The company's many circus-like feats brought some of the most enthusiastic cheers of the festival.

The evening ended with flamenco, courtesy of Maria Pages Compania of Spain. It was a delight to have live her singers and musicians onstage: the selections were most notable, though, for the costumes, especially when Pages negotiated the huge train on a black-and-white ruffled number, or when she later came out in a huge bright red gown, with fabric billowing around her.

The festival that has everything even had a treat for reality-show fans: the Ballet West company, based in Salt Lake City and the subject of "Breaking Pointe" on the CW network. The company, opening the third program, showed that its dancing is worth following as well as its dancers' romances; it offered a substantial (if overly long) excerpt from the old 19th-century standard, "Paquita."

The Nan Jobang company, from West Sumatra, Indonesia, presented both traditional singing and dancing; it was the singing that was more interesting. But the evening's highlight was a truly splendid performance by the Moiseyev Dance Company, a traditional Soviet-era dance troupe that had the audience gasping at its virtuosity.

In the Kalmyk dance - there were four dances, based on separate regions - Ramil Mekhdiev was as memorable for his wonderful arm and shoulder flutters as he was for his terrifically buoyant jumps. In the Tartar dance, Olga Volina evoked murmurs of admiration for the incredible speed she amassed while circling the stage.

There's always room for humor at Fall for Dance, and the Minnesota-based Tu Dance got the audience laughing from the outset with a fun piece to the song "High Heel Blues," by Tuck and Patti.

In the song, a pair of high heels in a store window call out to a woman, who caves in, against her better judgment. "You need to wear us," they say. "They'll go with everything in your closet."

Ouch! We know how that story goes.

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