BAAND Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Restart Stages, its effort to bring normality back to its campus, brought five major dance companies to the Damrosch Park stage. It’s called the BAAND Together Dance Festival, which stands for Ballet Hispanico, AAmerican dance theater lvin Ailey, AAmerican Ballet Theater, NOTew York City Ballet and Dance Harlem Theater.
New York City is unlikely to see these five troops sharing a stage again. It was a festive occasion despite the uneven and not particularly representative tone of at least two of the major dance companies. The pretentious program notes were thankfully only available online, so they couldn’t spoil the visceral enjoyment of many of these works in Program One.
After a jovial introduction by the artistic director of the Ailey Company, Robert Battle, his company, always on the alert, opened the show with a sample of “Lazarus” by Rennie Harris. The program notes indicate that this excerpt from the second act is one of a group of works that “address racial inequalities in America.”
While none of that was explicitly expressed in this work – at least in my opinion on the choreography – it filled the Damrosch Park reboot scene with vibrant movement. The big cast, in which the wonderful veteran of Ailey Clifton Brown stood out, first appeared in an atmospheric (lighting by James Clotfelter) scene, a large group slowly advancing on a single dancer. As the band wore off, the initially quiet music (Darrin Ross) suddenly erupted into thrilling percussion, movements – swinging arms, stomped feet, throbbing hips, and floating heads.
Marc Eric’s dark, layered costumes flew in all directions as the dancers crossed the stage in a crescendo of solos and duets alternating with full sections of the cast. Their almost frantic but controlled beating turned these thrilling dancers into a village of like-minded people who seemed to have traveled from a dark place to light.
Loud curtain calls drew cheers, boos and a universal standing ovation from the full capacity audience, many of whom had waited patiently in the lines that meandered around the corner and up Columbus Avenue.
The unusual contribution of the New York City Ballet (Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan, artistic directors) has been the solo “These Names We Bear” by the hugely popular Kyle Abraham to “Gnossienne No. 3” by Erik Satie, a serene work, soft to serene, soft music with yet another affected program note: “… to celebrate our queerness and color in a way that hopefully underlines its importance, fragility and strength.
Rising NYCB star Taylor Stanley had the difficult task of keeping up with Ailey’s daring dancers and being something of a “queerness” symbol, but managed to generate a standing ovation for her serene performance.
Beginning in stillness, Stanley seemed to float to the music. Tiny accents in the melody were signified by leg lifts. His arms shifted from gently framing his face to coming straight out as he melted into arabesques. Despite wearing loose street clothes – a white T-shirt and dark pants – he cast an otherworldly glow.
DTH (Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director) came next with an upbeat duo, “It Don’t Mean a Thing” from the complete work “Harlem on My Mind,” choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie for, as the title indicates, jazzy pop music. An eye-catching duo who struggled to blend elements of ballet and ballroom, they were nonetheless saved by the puppy and cheerful performances of Amanda Smith (on point, in a colorful little outfit) and Anthony Santos (almost naked in tight purple dance shorts) who rushed through flirtatious ballet jumps, pirouettes, all punctuated by sassy wriggles and nimble partners.
ABT (Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director) continued the pop duo’s similar vein program with Jessica Lang’s “Let Me Sing Forevermore” on a batch of songs performed by the ever-green Tony Bennett.
Once again, two wonderful dancers saved the day. The lovely Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell in casual blue Bradon McDonald suits, pleasantly lit by Brad Fields, danced to classic tunes like “Steppin ‘Out With My Baby”, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Fascinating Rhythm”.
Perhaps only Balanchine and Tharp managed to blend classical vocabulary, modern dance and dance steps in any meaningful way. Jessica Lang isn’t quite at her level at this point in her career, but her “Forevermore” has at least gone beyond the show off stages to make it clear that the two special dancers are developing a shy relationship.
The Ballet Hispánico (Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director) closed the program with a bang with the wacky “18 + 1”, in reference to the nineteen years as choreographer of the choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano. “18 + 1” is set to a collection of Latin rhythms composed by Pérez Prado as well as songs like the hilarious “Mama, Teach Me to Dance”, a kitsch pop song from the fifties.
Dressed in dark, layered costumes that were at times stripped down to reveal vibrant reds, the ten handsome dancers performed in unison for much of the work, with Ramírez Sansano flaunting them in various patterns on the stage. Using an odd combination of semaphore-like robotic arm movements over sexy hip and foot work, he seemed to mock the ever-changing rhythms. The dancers made the most of his repetitive movements and patterns, their unwavering energy and silliness giving “18 + 1” an ironic quality as if the choreographer was usurping these inherently Latin dance styles.
Each night of the BAAND Together Dance Festival will feature a different program with contributions from each of these five wonderful dance companies.
BAAND Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center (August 17-21, 2021)
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Restart Stages
Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, 62sd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets: call 212-875-5456 or visit http://www.TodayTix.com
Duration: one hour