With its low ticket prices and focus on variety, the annual Fall for Dance festival aims to attract new audiences to dance. But it also brings new forms of dance to old audiences.
Rafaela Carrasco has been called the Twyla Tharp of flamenco, which seems a senseless designation until you see her dance. In her mid-thirties and rarely presented in New York, this Spaniard may honour flamenco’s fundamentals but she extricates them from the usual death-driven, love-parched posturing. Her legs outrun her, as in a Looney Tune; her feet point slightly outward à la Charlie Chaplin so they seem a size too big for the knotty rhythms they finesse.
The effect is not to make a mockery of flamenco but to free it from an increasingly predictable stance. By adding loosey-goosey goofiness to the arsenal, Carrasco confirms that flamenco is not merely a manner of speaking but a language, equipped to say anything.
Companhia Urbana de Dança – made up of young men from the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro – does the same for hip-hop. Too often this street form hits the stage without anyone considering the implications of this change in venue. The stress is still on tricks, reeled out in grandstanding fashion one after another. But in the mysterious and moving ID: Entidades – created this year by Companhia director Sonia Destri and the nine performers – whatever once counted as a trick becomes an accidental scrap of being. Only Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris has taken hip-hop this far.
The distinct yet subdued dancers have their specialities – sideways gyrations of the torso and so forth – but they are in the service of a foreboding, slightly mournful whole. The dance begins with the men sitting on the floor in a row along the back with their arms clasped around their knees. They are waiting and watching for someone to crack the stillness open. Whether in solos or sudden waves of running or walking, they move with a softness I recognise from other Brazilian forms, such as capoeira. ID: Entidades has stripped hip-hop of its bravado and made it as eerie as breathing.
The 26-year-old Taiwanese choreographer Shu-Yi Chou’s  Ravel and Bolero – winner of Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest this inaugural year – also features young people behaving like themselves. But Chou’s people are influenced less by street culture than by German dance-theatre maven Pina Bausch. Except they are happy. The 12 dancers skip, fall on their faces in fits of laughter, and are kind to each other. The dance is infused with such bright hope it leavens its accompaniment, the inexorable Bolero. Like the fan that ruffles the dancers’ hair until someone turns it off, everything, even Ravel, can be adjusted, Chou suggests.
Trained as a composer, Emanuel Gat – the one choreographer among the four with whom New Yorkers are familiar – has also approached the greatest hits of classical music with disarming nonchalance. Here, it is a jazz standard – John Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things” – that he brings gently down to earth. Roy Assaf, whose spine is more wave than rod, embodies Gat’s odd, humble and mesmerising take on the expatiating Coltrane.
If these four festival debuts are any indication, young choreographers are resisting obvious theatricality for the ubiquitous roots of theatre: friends making something up together, a person moving to his favourite things in a piece of music. () Festival continues until Saturday, www.nycitycenter.org