I accompanied my friend Carla Körbes to the opening night of Fall for Dance recently. Carla was in town to support the L.A. Dance Project, to which she was recently appointed Assistant Artistic Director. Fall for Dance, a festival that began in 2004, is a great tradition. The cheap, flat-rate tickets and eclectic programming bring out an audience of dancers and true connoisseurs. Everyone there is passionate and knowledgeable about dance, which makes for an invigorating environment.
The evening kicked off with an excellent rendition of George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante by the Miami City Ballet. I am always thrilled by the energy MCB brings to every performance, and they did not disappoint here in one of Balanchine’s most kinetic works. Patricia Delgado danced the ballerina role and she was just lovely. She gave full value to every step, especially in the carriage of her head and neck. She is such a sunny presence onstage and off; she radiated pure joy even in the trickiest cadenza passages.
The corps looked sharp and tight, and my eye was frequently drawn to the very pretty Zoe Zien. The men had clean lines and were perfectly synced in what is one of my favorite passages of choreography of all time: the moment at the end of their first entrance, right before the women reenter, when they perform a simple sequence of cabriole arabesque to tendu derrière four times in a row to Tchaikovsky’s ebbing piano chords. Never has a repeat been so effective, in my opinion.
The only qualm I had about the piece was the canned music. In Allegro, the interplay of the ballerina and the pianist is crucial. Without that spontaneity in phrasing there is some frisson of excitement that is lost. It was unfortunate to have been deprived of Pat’s full musical artistry here. It was also a shame in the measured ritards before the
The less said about the second piece on the program, Hapless Bizarre by Doug Elkins Choreography, Etc. the better. It was too short on choreography and too long on “etc.” for my taste. The dancers worked hard to sell a trite concept set to cheesy music. If it had been a fifteen or twenty minute piece I could have forgiven it, but it was interminable. At one point the whole cast faced front and slowly moved their hips to the beat with jazz hands, making the dancers—who were clearly capable of much more—resemble an amateur cheerleading squad.
Next up was LADP’s presentation of Justin Peck’s Murder Ballades. I had seen them perform this piece at BAM last year and I quite liked it. I enjoyed it again upon my second viewing. Sterling Ruby’s colorfully frenetic backdrop is exquisite, one of the best sets I’ve seen in a while. I like Bryce Dressner’s folksy score too. I have certainly not seen all of Justin’s works—he is so prolific these days—but this piece jives with what I have been exposed to. Namely, though I am always impressed, I am far more interested by his group dances than by his solo and pas de deux work. If ever there was a choreographer who should attempt a riff on Balanchine’s soloist-less, kaleidoscopic Le Tombeau de Couperin, it is him! There is one movement at roughly the midpoint of Murder Ballades in which the dancers face off in vertical lines and charge at each other back and forth across the stage in waves. It is terrific; it incorporates aspects of country line dancing hinted at in the score as well as the aggression of the piece’s title. The ballet finishes strong too with a big finale step that stops on a dime followed by a fast blackout.
Despite their small roster LADP is a formidable company, with a varied rep and some truly experimental collaborations. Even though the level of the dancing is very high overall—it has to be, considering their size—each time I see them I am blown away by Rachelle Rafailedes. She was knockout again in Murder Ballades.
The evening’s closer was a complete surprise. The Argentine company Che Malambo performed Gilles Brinas’s Che Malambo—described in the program as “a centuries-old contest dance traditionally practiced by gauchos.” Fourteen intense men dressed in black with heeled clogs came drumming and hollering from the wings like a rebel marching band. With their tight pants, shirtless vests, wild-flying hair, and eccentrically manicured beards they reminded me of the old SNL skit about Antonio Banderas (“too sexy, too sexy, no!”). The audience laughed and cheered them on gleefully, for it was such an over-the-top display of testosterone that it was hilarious. But the men were definitely in on the joke. They seemed not to know or care if their manly mating ritual was for us or for each other.
After the drum squad opening they broke off into subgroups and had dance-offs in a genre that seemed to be the lovechild of flamenco, Riverdance, and tap. One man sang a ballad, one man emerged for a barefoot jig. Then the bolas came out. The men wielded these balls at the ends of leather whips like lariats never to be thrown, one in each hand. When they got them really spinning it formed a halo-effect above each man’s head. The glowing parabolas of the boleadoras’ paths in the dark lighting made me feel like I was watching a weaponized color guard team perform at a rave. It was magnificent—very silly and a bit dangerous. Carla and I laughed about how dancers always feel crowded onstage no matter what, and here these men were squished together and armed with what were effectively floppy morning stars yet they looked completely at ease. It was a shockingly entertaining ending to the night, and it reminded me that one should always expect the Spanish Inquisition at Fall for Dance!