Celebrated ballerinas _ and a giant ladder _ at dance fest

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — As the annual Fall for Dance festival opened this season at New York City Center, the usual admonition to turn off those phones was missing. In its place was a request: Take them out. Shoot and tweet away!

There's always a boisterous feeling at Fall for Dance, a 10-day affair that ended this weekend, in large part because it's a smorgasbord of performances by 20 companies from around the globe. The $15 price tag makes it much more affordable than other dance fare, and the house is always packed and vocal.

Though the clear highlight this year was the appearance of not one, not two, but three much adored ballerinas — two who have retired from the ballet stage — the festival was also notable for its great diversity of offerings.

Opening night was especially boisterous, thanks to the Brooklyn-based Streb Extreme Action, a troupe that performs high-flying, injury-defying feats that often include dancers slamming their bodies into the floor from nauseating heights.

Their new piece, "Airslice," involved not only said body-slamming, but also a series of maneuvers aboard a huge spinning ladder. Dancers swung from its rungs and otherwise tempted fate (and bodily harm) as the ladder kept speeding up. You could have cut the tension with a knife — perhaps that's where "slice" came from — but for the gleeful looks on the faces of the dancers, who clearly have found an outlet for their thrill-seeking tendencies.

In later programs came the ballerinas. First up was Wendy Whelan, who retired from the New York City Ballet two years ago but has been busy exploring contemporary dance. A beloved New York fixture, Whelan appeared not in pointe shoes but in sexy black heels, along with black stockings and garters, topped only by a button-down white shirt (which would eventually be shed, rendering her briefly topless).

Whelan performed with Edward Watson of the Royal Ballet in Arthur Pita's "The Ballad of Mack and Ginny" — a tango-inflected piece set to Kurt Weill's "Tango Ballad" from the 1928 musical "The Threepenny Opera." One of its more provocative sights had Watson gripping Whelan's long blond hair atop her head in a tight ponytail as they danced.

A few nights later came a more classic take on doomed love — and the rare appearance on a New York stage of Alina Cojocaru. The Romanian-born dancer and her fiance, Johan Kobborg, originally had been due to perform Frederick Ashton's "Marguerite and Armand" along with the Bucharest National Opera Ballet. Because of their recent rift and departure from that company, the couple performed instead with the Sarasota Ballet.

The diminutive Cojocaru was her usual delicate, soulful self as she danced the acting-heavy role of the fragile heroine dying of tuberculosis. (Kobborg was her stern father; her ardent lover was the Stuttgart Ballet's Friedemann Vogel.)

And then, on closing weekend, came Alessandra Ferri, one of the world's most popular ballerinas, still dancing at age 53 despite "retiring" from American Ballet Theatre in 2007.

Ferri, who in June made a triumphant one-night return to Juliet — her signature role — with ABT, appeared here with her favored partner of the last few years, Herman Cornejo. On a dark stage adorned by a lighted column on one side, the two twisted and churned slowly to "Witness," a new piece by choreographer Wayne McGregor.

Other highlights included everything from classical Indian dance (Shantala Shivalingappa) to a sobering meditation on human sacrifice by the South African choreographer Dada Masilo. Memorably, Demetia Hopkins-Greene of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed the powerful solo work "Cry."

And Spanish flamenco dancer Farruquito sent a jolt of energy through the room as he whipped his feet around the stage, long hair flying and beads of sweat misting the air.

At the end, he invited each of his musicians and singers to take a spin onstage. In the spirit of the occasion, they all obliged — with the audience cheering.