Good Dance, Better Music

One of the fun things to go to in New York every autumn is the annual Fall for Dance series at City Center. There are generally four or five separate programs, each of which presents four different sets of performers in an evening, so no one thing goes on for too long. The pricing is great—only $15 for any seat in the house—and as a result all the seats are taken by an audience filled with young, enthusiastic dancer-types as well as a varied collection of dance fans.

This year I opted for Program Three, mainly because all the other programs were nearly sold out by the time I logged onto the ticket site a mere three hours after it opened.  (You have to get up early to snag those bargain seats, especially if you’re buying from California.) I was satisfied with my purchase, though, because this program would allow me to see not only José Limón’s masterpiece, The Moor’s Pavane, danced by American Ballet Theatre, but also an interesting-sounding Irish soloist, Colin Dunne, and two other groups, Ballet Hispanico and Introdans, that I’d never seen before.

The Moor’s Pavane was fine, though its Othello could have been stronger, and the taped music did some injury to the lovely Purcell score. But this dance was stellar compared to the other two group dances on the program:  a smarmily snazzy, extremely lightweight confection called Sombrerísimo danced by six extraordinarily skillful men from Ballet Hispanico; and a leaden, pseudo-ethnic performance called Sinfonía India (supposedly inspired by “the ritual dances of the Mexican Indians”) from Introdans, a Dutch company.  The latter, choreographed by Nacho Duato to music by Carlos Chávez, was like warmed-over Agnes DeMille mixed with overly stylized Martha Graham. Both its repetitive gestures and its hokey music were so anodyne, indeed so retrograde in modern dance terms, that I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for us to be told it had all been a joke.

The highlight of the evening turned out to be Colin Dunne, not only because he was the only dancer performing with live music (a string quartet), but also because his percussive feet turned out to be music of a different kind. His choreography in his solo dance, The Turn, borrowed from Irish dancing and American tap, but also from Spanish flamenco, reminding me of something I had forgotten—that the “black Irish” are reportedly descended from survivors of the Spanish Armada, which wrecked on the coast of Ireland in 1588. Dunne, while possessing the same ramrod-backed, relaxed-arms style of the more typical Irish dancer, has managed to incorporate something of flamenco’s fiery darkness into his dancing as well, and seeing him made the whole evening worthwhile.

I used to write more about dance than about music, mainly because I knew more about it. But these days it seems the chances of having a really good time at a concert are better if you opt for music rather than dance. At Bargemusic, one of my favorite places to hear music in the whole world, the chances are even better than average, and last Saturday’s concert fully lived up to expectations. Steven Beck, on piano, and Joel Noyes, on cello, played an evening of works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Debussy, and Britten. The Britten (which was the only solo piano piece—all the rest involved both instruments) was a fascinating thing called Holiday Diary, Op. 5 that I’d never even heard of before, much less heard; and Beck, who is a consummate artist, executed it beautifully.  Beethoven’s rousing Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major made a lovely opening for the concert, and Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in D Major an even more intriguing (because less familiar) close, while the Debussy Cello Sonata filled out the evening with its nicely jazzy rhythms. The concert as a whole couldn’t have been better, and the two players—each a wonderful performer in his own right—melded their tones in a way that exhibited long hours of practice together.

The Barge, which rests at the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn and looks out through a glass backdrop onto the lower Manhattan skyline, was filled that night with appreciative listeners, each of whom clearly felt he or she had lucked out. And they were right.  Unlike the enthusiastic audience at Monday night’s Fall for Dance performance, which cheered equally loudly for the gripping Turn and the atrocious Sinfonía India, the Bargemusic crowd knew the difference between good and bad.  So when all 140 of us (maximum capacity for the old converted coffee-barge) burst into strenuous applause for Beck and Noyes, it may not have sounded as loud as the crowd at City Center, but it meant more.

 

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One Response to Good Dance, Better Music

  1. A nice reminder for we who live in NYC — we should get out more!

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