Kuchipudi, Beach Boys and Bach

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This ambitious dance festival, featuring 28 companies in mixed bills over 10 nights for the lowly ticket price of $10, is not only a bargain, it’s also a huge success. While one dance-goers’s delight may be another’s anathema, with four companies and two soloists on each programme there’s enough variety to satisfy pretty well everyone.

Picking some of the highlights from the performances I was able to get to, I was enormously impressed on the opening night by the dancing and choreography of India’s Shantala Shivalingappa in Varnam, an excerpt from Gamaka. An exponent of south Indian Kuchipudi style, Shivalingappa is a stylist of great precision who interacts with and elaborates on the percussive rhythms of the musicians seated to one side of the stage. Arms rippling and feet stamping, she has amazing control in her sustained balances and precise footwork, particularly towards the end, when she moves back and forth, dancing on a brass plate.

Middle Duet by the Kirov’s Alexei Ratmansky (seen in its complete form here last year) to music by Yuri Khanon featured Ekaterina Kondaurova, a ballerina whose high extensions and dominating style contrasted with her partner, Islom Baimuradov, who quietly controlled her movement with a subtle menace. Flicking from side to side, with fast turns and sudden swerves, this was a dance duel to the finish, with both collapsing to the ground at the end.

Deuce Coupe, Twyla Tharp’s breakthrough ballet – in which one classical dancer (here Mary Ellen Beaudreau) impassively performs elaborate adagio steps while surrounded by a posse of Tharpian swingers swivelling around to The Beach Boys – was given a brilliant performance by Juilliard Dance, who perfectly caught the spirit of this revival first performed by the Joffrey company in l973.

Paul Taylor’s Arden Court was the joyous opening to the excellent programme. Keigwin & Company had the audience captivated as Taylor’s three couples danced to and sometimes acted out songs by Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond and Nina Simone. Altercations and misunderstandings proved hilarious in the hands of big, stand-no-nonsense Liz Riga and her wimpy boyfriend Marcus Bellamy, who only occasionally fought back. Patrick Ferreri and Ying-Ying Shiau were a demure couple who finally gave in to their inner desires, while Nicole Wolcott, draped around and in various ways hanging on desperately to Larry Keigwin, made Simone’s “Ne me quitte pas” a kinetic essay in desperation.

In his solo, Damian Woetzel brought subtlety and exquisite timing to a “duet” with cellist Wendy Sutter playing Bach in Jerome Robbins’ A Suite of Dances; for sheer kookiness, on the other hand, an excerpt from Karole Armitage’s Ligeti Essays would be hard to beat, with the always wonderful Frances Chiaverini being pushed and pulled around by three or four partners in the opening section and, in contrast, a quiet gathering at the end, where everyone paced about with lanterns like carol singers.

The romantic pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain, danced by Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall, lost nothing in being extracted from the main work. Full of invention, with soaring lifts, swooning bends and sharp twists, both dancers were at the top of their form.

Trisha Brown’s Spanish Dance had five white-clad women lined up in front of the curtain who one by one gently bumped into each other. Staying up close as if glued together, they gradually shuffled into the wings to the strains of Bob Dylan singing “Early Morning Rain”. An eye-opener in 1973, it elicited only giggles now – though it must have been quite a year for the then newcomer.

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