BAAND Together Dance Festival Is a Celebration of the Future of Dance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Company in “Dancing Spirit”/Photo Credit: RICHARD TERMINE

In this third season of BAAND Together Dance Festival at Lincoln Center, dance companies Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT), American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), New York City Ballet (NYCB), and Ballet Hispanico presented dance works that demonstrated the breadth and depth of the respective companies.  “The BAAND Together Dance Festival is a testament to the vibrancy and diversity of the New York City dance community. We are thrilled to be returning with a spectacular program that features the city’s most internationally revered repertory companies. This year’s program highlights the innovative visions that have made New York City our nation’s dance capital,” as stated by organizers of BAAND.

BAAND Together Dance Festival was created during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to spark continued interest in dance in New York City as dance performances were shut down due to the pandemic. This five-day, free dance festival, held at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, has grown over the past three years with attendance increasing every year.

This season ABT, DTH, NYCB, AAADT, and Ballet Hispanico performed works that not only define these esteemed dance companies but project the next iteration of these dance companies. Ballet Hispanico, Alvin Ailey, and New York City Ballet scored the bonafide hits of the evening, with American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem performing to lesser effect.

Ballet Hispanico in “Linea Recta”/Photo Credit: RICHARD TERMINE

Ballet Hispanico opened the evening with Anabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Linea Recta.” Though this masterpiece is set to flamenco music Eric Vaarzon Morel, Lopez Ochoa goes beyond traditional flamenco steps and choreography to interpret Morel’s music.

As one of the most popular choreographers on the dance scene, Lopez Ochoa demonstrates in “Linea Recta’—which has been Ballet Hispanco’s repertoire for a few years now—why she is at the top of her choreographic game. With Lopez Ochoa there is also something unexpected. And with this element of surprise, Lopez Ochoa whets the appetite just enough to keep audiences wanting more and more.

In “Linea Recta” there is very little reference to Spanish dance or movement. This dance work is heavily intertwined with Graham contractions and high leg extensions and undulations; movement that at times is a far cry from traditional flamenco dance. Yet, Lopez Ochoa finds a way to make it work and work brilliantly. And Lopez Ochoa expertly uses the red ruffled train to grand effect as a prop and exclamation point to the sharp, dramatic movement.

What stands out most about this ballet is Lopez Ochoa’s intricate partnering where the male dancer is so much more than a porter presenting the female dancer. The dancers weave themselves around, dramatically punctuating the strong flamenco music in the background.

New York City Ballet in “The Times Are Racing”/Photo Credit: RICHARD TERMINE

Another strong work of the evening was Justin Peck’s “The Times Are Racing” with music by Dan Deacon. This sneaker ballet, slightly reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’ “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz” from the late 1950s, uses casual streetwear and sneakers, not unlike Robbins’s work. Still, Peck’s work is a lot less binary than Robbins’ work. Men partner men, women partner women with the real star of Peck’s ballet being the ensemble, who though dancing as a unit, each individual dancer stands out and has their moment in the sun.

Gone are the pointe shoes, tutus, and even the black and white unitard and tights ala Balanchine abstract ballets of the 20th century. In its place are urban streetwear garments that can be seen on any young consumer. Also absent is the stylized ballet lexicon. But who needs that ballet reference for this modern-day urban hodge podge of dance idioms.

What is taking place on stage is a commitment and focus by each dancer on an expressive interpretation of Deacon’s rock-inspired music. And this focus presents the New York City Ballet in a new and streamlined projection toward the future.

Peck proves in this work that this is the New York City Ballet of the 21st century. Just as Balanchine pushed the proverbial dance envelope in the 20th century, Peck is pushing that same envelope in the 21st century. And evolving ballet in a way that can be more appealing to younger audiences.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Company in “Dancing Spirit”/Photo Credit: RICHARD TERMINE

The highlight of the evening was the Ailey Company’s “Dancing Spirit,” choreographed by Ronald K. Brown with music by Duke Ellington, War, and Wynton Marsalis. If you are not familiar with Ronald K. Brown, you should become acquainted with his work.

What is so endemic of Brown’s dance works is the dancers’ abilities to dance with their entire body. Everything needs to be aptly coordinated with the music. And the Ailey dancers rise to this challenge, ever surpassing this requirement. In other words, they brought the party to BAAND!!

As with most of Ronald K. Brown’s choreography, Brown borrows heavily from African dance styles, house club social dancing, as well as the modern techniques of Horton, Dunham, and Graham. All combined into a magical frenzy of rhythmic interpretations of the music and human experience.

The Ailey Company proves with this work they are as relevant as ever, and that are continuing to evolve the black dance experience for young audiences. Ailey artistic director Robert Battle has continued to demonstrate modern dance as seen through lens of the black experience is a valid and ever-evolving commentary on world culture.

The two disappointing performances of the evening came from American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem. Both outstanding companies failed to deliver noteworthy performances for different reasons.

Dance Theatre of Harlem in “Nyman String Quartet No. 2″/Photo Credit: RICHARD TERMINE

In DTH’s case, it was the choice of Robert Garland’s choreography, “Nyman String Quartet No. 2.” At first it seemed that DTH’s new artistic director Robert Garland was creating a work to the abilities of his dancers. However, at further examination it was obvious that Garland’s choreography missed the talent and depth of DTH’s current crop of performers.

Though some of Garland’s choreography sat well on the women of the company, unfortunately the men looked like unwanted guests or crashers at the party. And the sight level of the Damrosch Park stage didn’t help matters, preventing audiences from seeing the footwork of the dancers.

Another distraction was the costumes that did not show off the dancers’ bodies to good effect. In years past, DTH dancers were known for having some of the most beautiful bodies in the dance world with great stage presence to match.

American Ballet Theatre in “Other Dances”/Photo Credit: RICHARD TERMINE

American Ballet Theatre performed Jerome Robbins’ iconic “Other Dances,” set on ballet legends Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. While the ABT dancers performed the pyrotechnical aspects of the ballet well, many of the Russian/Slavic folk dance steps—mazurka, czardas steps—were lost on the dancers.

What fit so beautifully on Baryshnikov and Makarova looked dated and forced on the current crop of ABT dancers. While it is laudable that ABT’s new artistic director Susan Jaffe is giving her dancers this great jewel of a work, some education and better coaching would have served this performance well.

—William S. Gooch


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