Fall for Dance 2017 – A Consumer’s Guide.

Two Weeks, Five Programs, 20 Acts, 15 Bucks. And it’s hell to get a ticket. Here’s how to navigate it.

By Leigh Witchel

City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival, now in its 14th year, has gained traction as one of the best dance bargains in New York, and one of the hottest tickets. It’s a grand scheme to introduce new audiences to dance, and even if you are already a fan, the programming close to guarantees you’ll see something unfamiliar to you. The hope is you’ll see something new that you like, and go again – and there are coupons and offers in the program to sweeten the pot.

Program by Program: My survey is ballet-centric because that’s my home base. There’s plenty more if your interest lies elsewhere.

Program One: Miami City Ballet is a bottom-up company; the cohesive corps de ballet is its great strength. It’s bringing a new work by NYCB soloist Troy Schumacher that’s a “meditation on childhood.” It’s a theme he’s returned to often – perhaps too often – and I’m interested to see if he finds a new take on it. I’m also excited to see Trisha Brown’s dancers, who are so skilled at the rebounding style that Brown pioneered that they turn looseness into virtuosity.

Program Two: As Stephen Petronio has gone from being enfant terrible to elder statesman, his company has taken on the mantle of preserving the legacy of postmodern dance. His dancers are as marvelous as Brown’s but with a more incisive attack, and they’ll bring it to the works of postmodern giants Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton. This is also a chance to see Pennsylvania Ballet again, bringing Christopher Wheeldon’s early work to Martinů, “Rush.” A few years ago, Angel Corella took the company over with a scorched-earth transition where almost 40% of the company left or was let go. It’s fully his company now – let’s see what that means.

Program Three: This show involves several heavy-hitters, and looks like a good bet. American Ballet Theatre will bring Alexei Ratmansky’s Tchaikovsky piece, “Souvenir d’un lieu cher.” Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform Ronald K. Brown’s “Open Door.” His “Grace” is one of their signature works. Sanjukta Sinha, new to the festival, combines whirling and percussive Indian kathak with a more contemporary idiom. Those hairy-chested ballerinas, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo finish it all off with a glamorous, Spanishy “Paquita.”

Program Four: If classical isn’t your jam, this is your program: MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham creates a new high-energy work for the festival, and NYC gets a look at Ballet BC, a Vancouver-based group that has developed a more European, contemporary slant. Sara Mearns is a force to be reckoned with but also – like Katharine Hepburn – an artist who turns almost everything she does into her brand. Here she’s working with a German choreographer of Korean descent, Honji Wang. I’m looking (and hoping) for Mearns to be pulled out of her comfort zone.

Program Five: Almost as if it were finding equilibrium, the festival closes with a nearly even mix of classical and contemporary. Danza Contemporanea de Cuba makes its festival debut, and Chicago represents with its powerhouse celebrating its 40th season, Hubbard Street Dance. “Solo Echo” is by Crystal Pite, one of the hottest names today in contemporary work. Helgi Tomasson choreographed “Concerto Grosso” for San Francisco ballet back in ’03 as a pièce d’occasion, but it’s persisted as a showcase for male virtuosity, and his way of pointing out his rising talent. The program’s star powers get activated when David Hallberg and Mark Morris join forces – Hallberg dancing in a world premiere solo created for him by Morris.

Danza Contemporanea De Cuba, , Photographed in Furth, Germany, 2016

Here are The Log’s tips to enjoying the festival – and on getting in.

If you’re a newcomer, pick any program. For the past few years, if each program has had diverse acts, they’ve all been constructed with the same formula: A mix of Western and non-Western dance, something classical, something modern and a big closer. And this year, one program is pretty much as good as the other. Most programs have a headline draw (Mearns on Program 4, Hallberg on Program 5), every program has at least one thing I’d like to see. There isn’t a standout program. Just go to the one you can get tickets for.

Go to anything, but not everything. Unlike some of the city’s epochal dance Festivals: the 1972 Stravinsky Festival, the Ashton Festival in 2004, this isn’t a multi-course meal for the faithful. It’s a buffet to give tasting portions to the uninitiated. The bargain price makes it tempting to gorge, but that isn’t always a good idea. The times I’ve gone to all five shows, by about the fourth show I was cranky from the hodgepodge and didn’t enjoy things I would have been fine with on the first show. The dishes change, but the general idea doesn’t.

Tickets go on sale on Sunday, September 10 at 11 am and are sold online and at the box office. They will sell out within hours. Also, don’t assume $15 gets you an orchestra seat. It might, but the best tickets in the center orchestra and grand tier are held back for VIPs – presenters, patrons and yeah, critics. It runs against the ethos of the festival, but it’s essential. FFD has been where the deal got closed for several groups to longer, better gigs.

Online is more convenient but also more costly – there is a service charge. Also, at least a few years ago, the servers were not up to the sudden crazy rush of orders and stalled or crashed on people trying to get tickets. However, that’s changed. City Center has followed the lead of the Royal Opera House and other places with a first day rush and is using new technology.

“The easiest way to purchase tickets is on the new, mobile-friendly New York City Center web site,” said Thomas Mygatt, Director of Marketing. “We use a digital waiting room to improve the ordering experience. Visitors to our site on the morning of September 10, will be assigned a random number when tickets go on sale at 11 am. They will be able to monitor their place in the digital ‘line’ and see the approximate wait time for purchasing tickets.”

If you’re buying in person, get to the box office EARLY on September 10. I did it a few years ago to see what was possible: I got there three hours before the box office opened. The line was long, people had begun queuing two hours prior. Once the box office opened, the line moved quickly, but by the time I got to the ticket window, orchestra seating was already gone for about half the shows.

If you don’t get a ticket early, try for return tickets on the day. Line up at the box office – it will sell the tickets that have come back for resale.

Cover: Gauthier Dance – Program Four. Photo © Regina Brocke.

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