Downtown FALL FOR DANCE festival has something for everyone

In a theater nearly packed with spectators, the chatter before the curtain is whether “have you seen the last one?” The “last” referring to the previous evening of programming offered at the City Center Fall for Dance Festival.

Spread over two weeks, the annual Fall for Dance festival features an array of dance artists – Robbie Fairchild and Sara Mearns, Martha Graham Dance Company, San Francisco Ballet and more – in a series of nightly programs. Now in its 19th season, this fall’s performance, to be held September 21-October 02, is the first in three years to feature international artists and companies from France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Bas, from Spain and Ukraine. To support downtown’s goal of making the arts accessible, all tickets to Fall for Dance are $20.

With such a wide range of artists on offer and ticket prices at record lows for the venue, audiences have the rare opportunity to choose between shows; attend more than one, try out a new artist or search for an old favourite. This “choose your adventure” approach to the theater ensures that no night will be exactly the same. The September 24 program, featuring Music from the Sole, artists Melissa Toogood and Herman Cornejo and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had something for everyone.

Sole Music, a tap and live music group, opened the evening with excerpts from “I Didn’t Come to Say”, a tumultuous celebration and tribute to the current revival of the 70s with its roots in the African diaspora. Led by Brazilian tap dancer and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval and composer and bassist Gregory Richardson, the group’s work draws inspiration from Afro-Brazilian, jazz, soul, house, rock and Afro-Cuban styles.

In “I Didn’t Come to Say”, each dancer’s body becomes an instrument, blending seamlessly with the musicians playing on stage. A driving and percussive tap beat underlines a grooving guitar that gives way to playful and lively tap rhythms accompanied by a windy flute. Sandoval’s solo, light and graceful with a subtle hypnotic touch in its complex rhythms, is a delicious contrast to the cheeky and vibrant group numbers. With just six dancers on stage and scrutiny of every sound they make, there have been times when the taps needed a microphone turned a bit higher.

For more than 10 years, the City Center has commissioned new work for Fall for Dance. This year, in collaboration with the Vail Dance Festival, Fall for Dance presented “No Nonsense” by Pam Tanowitz. The work features Melissa Toogood and Herman Cornejo, two dancers whose endless grace and stealthy strength go underutilized in one of Tanwitz’s weakest pieces. The work, set to rhythmic vocals by live musicians presented on the sidelines of the stage, follows Toogood and Cornejo as lovers coming to terms with their relationship. The two dancers, who move seamlessly together in a series of mirrored movements, could have been twins or friends or something more imaginative than lovers. Even if we appreciate the couple’s narration, the dance remains sure, as if it too was confined to something predictable.

While the rhythmic vocals are almost meditative, the work shifts midway to feature a sweet indie pop song sung acapella by Kate Davis. The song is whimsical, witty and well-sung, but it marks what is ultimately a series of random choices. The lovers, the changing music, the fuzzy pink units, the deep shadows crawling across the stage – none of these complement the other, or stand out enough to be their own star. In the end, while Tanowitz, Cornejo and Toogood should have been knocked out together, “No Nonsense” doesn’t quite live up to its name.

Even with “No Nonsense” as a palette cleaner, audiences aren’t quite prepared for Alvin Ailey’s “Busk.” The stunning final number commands the stage in a performance that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. From the mind of choreographer Aszure Barton, “Busk” is built in intricate layers that challenge fitness while honoring the wonders created by the body. Precise, agile and powerful, the dance is captivating, and yet it is the personality of the show that makes it a marvel. Barton identifies how a loose jaw, a raised eyebrow, a flailing hand, a single finger, or a nodding head can capture the full range of human emotions. Throughout the work, the dancers huddle together onstage, a huddled mass in black hoodies and oversized pants, and perform a series of sudden head movements—looking at each other, looking at the audience, life itself— same. This intimacy, perfectly synchronized with a spirited and hard-hitting score, showcases Barton’s sharp originality and the extraordinary technical skills of Ailey’s dancers.

Although no two programs are the same in Fall for Dance, the rich diversity of programming ensures that each night offers audiences a moment to rekindle their own creativity and escape the mundane.

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The City Center Fall for Dance Festival runs from September 21 to October 2. Programming varies. All tickets are $20. Masks must be worn in the theater.

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