By Leigh Witchel

For a series with a formula as unbreakable as steel, Fall for Dance isn’t big on structure. The third program of the festival ticked all the curatorial boxes: ballet, modern, western, non-western, big closer and we still didn’t get a neatly structured dance until the end.

Sanjukta Sinha performed a long kathak solo, “KIN-Incede.” It was choreographed by her mentor Padma Bhusan Kumudini Lakhia, even so the number was FFD-ized. The solo began in clouds of stage haze with spotlights piercing the smoke: kathak as Cirque du Soleil. Sinha was revealed in a simple red dress; she picked up her skirt in a move akin to flamenco and her feet slammed into drumming motions. With a clap, the four musicians at the side played. Kathak’s complex rhythms seemed more direct at first: Sinha clapped on a regular beat that she ratcheted up to a more complex meter just as we noticed it.

Sanjukta Sinha in “Kin-Incede.” Photo © Vipul Sangoi.

The solo was mostly fireworks: racing footwork and patter from the musicians. Sinha was freely mixing forms – galloping on the diagonal as well as spinning through charkas. There was only the barest hint of a narrative about Krishna; probably a good call for FFD where the strategy is to excite, and then excite some more. “KIN-Icede” felt as if it had at least four endings, but part of that was meeting it with the wrong expectations. Kathak in recital format is less like a western dance solo (or even other Indian styles) and closer to a tap virtuoso or jazz pianist. It’s a conversation among the dancer, the musicians and the audience: one that lays bare the relationship between the music and the movement, preferably with pyrotechnics. A flourish is a flourish; not an ending. There will be several more flourishes.

Originally made in ‘12 for the Dutch National Ballet, and part of American Ballet Theatre’s current season, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” is a two part-work that was held together in a way that defied logic. A dance for two couples, Ratmansky used emotions as choreographic building blocks, but as if they were steps one could insert at will.

The music is a schmaltzy Tchaikovsky piece, and Ratmansky reacted to it. The first couple, Tyler Maloney and Sarah Lane, met. (Maloney, who was one of the stars of the ABT Studio Company performance in ‘15, had to go in for Alban Lendorf and did a great job). Thomas Forster broke in on them and Stella Abrera arrived. Everyone haz a sad, and there were hints of it in the steps as when Lane threw herself off Maloney’s arms into multiple en dedans turns. Ratmansky showed the same dramatic, tangled relationships in gesture as well as dance steps: Abrera collapsed on the ground in front of Forster, inconsolable. Lane and Maloney kissed desperately when alone if to avoid tainting their love with the other couple’s conflict, and he carried her off as Forster and Abrera gazed at one another sadly from opposite wings.

It all might have made more sense had Ratmansky not immediately thrown the whole situation out the window and made a series of abstract solos to the second movement. Each dancer did an allegro solo to the cadenza, and they massed at the center for slapstick jumps in place. Forster pitched into a forward roll at the close. Sure, just to name one ballet, “Scotch Symphony” dispenses with the story of the second movement in the closing third movement, and Ratmansky and Balanchine work the same way: when the music changes, the story changes. But “Scotch” follows familiar precedents – it’s a gloss on “La Sylphide.” Ratmansky put “Lilac Garden” in a blender with “Other Dances” and came up with Looney Tunes.

Matthew Rushing and Linda Celeste Sims in “Open Door.” Photo © Paul Kolnik.

Ronald K. Brown wasn’t much more interested in sustaining a narrative than Ratmansky. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed “Open Door,” a meandering multi-movement piece from ‘15. After she entered, Linda Celeste Sims mimed putting on her outfit at the side of the stage. Matthew Rushing came out after to dance a related solo: He said: She Said. As in “Souvenir,” Sims was upset, and the situation was clearer because more consistently based on convention, but Brown was no more interested in sustaining a narrative. Emotion was a color on the palette, not the painting itself.

“Open Door” segued into a march for four men, then four women, each entering doing sizzling samba or African dance combinations. The dance went on for several movements too many and Brown has done better works. But if one measure of dancing is letting a beat move through your body – the Ailey dancers are unparalleled.

The Trocks have done “Paquita” for quite a while, which means they’ve had the time to stuff it full of gags that appeal to both novices and cognoscenti. The lead ballerina (Chase Johnsey as Yakaterina Verbosovich) didn’t notice her cavalier behind her until it was too late, and turned around to shriek in shock. In one of the soloist variations, little “Spanish” head motions got amplified until it seemed as if the dancer’s neck was on a spring. You didn’t know whether to look at the choreography or the comedy – it was so dense.

Verbosovich, with her platinum wig and Vaselined beauty pageant smile, embodied that balance. She was hilarious in the outer movements but danced her variation straight, with carefully placed turns and luxurious, finely sculpted port de bras – to show you she could do both.

Like everything else in our post-modern world, someone has probably asked how much of structure is a social construct? Perhaps the cues that pick up structure are, but it’s also something that exists without us, in everything from atoms to seashells. The divertissement, with variations like pop-it beads, may be ballet’s most flimsy construction, but “Paquita” gave you somewhere to hang your glittery, sequined hat.

Copyright ©2017 by Leigh Witchel

Fall for Dance Program 3
New York City Center, New York, NY
October 6, 2017

Cover: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

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