Orange County Performing Arts Center
Sunday, October 14, 2007

New York has had “Fall for Dance” for years. At the annual week-long event (which sells out in hours), world-renowned companies share the stage with up-and-coming performers. Democratically, each receives equal stage time. And perhaps more democratically, every ticket in the house is set at $10. Borrowing from the New York model, OCPAC introduced its first Fall for Dance Festival October 11-14, featuring two different programs of top-notch companies from around the world performing one-act dances or excerpts from longer works. And in the NYC spirit, the uniform ticket price was brought out West, meaning more access, sold out shows, lots of families, and increased public exposure to high quality dance.

On the program Sunday was the entertaining antics of Charles Moulton’s ball-passing act, an intricate series of passing patterns and synchronized movement by over 50 local dancers and community members on tiered risers. The complex puzzle demonstrated the impressive effects of relatively simple movements layered over each other and suggested the power of communal cohesion when put towards a common goal. Before After, a duet by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and performed by members of the Dutch National Ballet followed the bright, colorful Moulton piece with a somber look at a dissolving relationship.

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet premiered excerpts from a new work, Rasa. King’s departure from classical ballet is evident not just in the sharp, stabbing movements, but also in the structure of his work where unison phrases are rare if present at all. Further removal from the world of the Willis is King’s music choices, which span the globe and find inspiration in non-Western forms. In this work, tabla music of North India provides an undercurrent that is at times soft and soothing, at other times aggressive. A remarkable duet of interwoven limbs and collapsing bodies was brilliantly framed and lit in a way that minimized the vast stage, creating a more intimate space that evoked a timeless journey. Following LINES was an entertaining display of hip-hop and breakdancing, courtesy of Rennie Harris’ Puremovement company, and several works by Project Bandaloop, a company that performed on the outside wall of Segerstrom Hall in repelling gear, a tool which allowed for beautiful aerial work and unique partnering.

But the true highlight of the program was the Martha Graham Dance Company, performing two excerpts from Graham’s reconstructed 1936 work Chronicle, a response to the impending World War II and motivated by Graham’s decision to decline an invitation to that year’s Olympic Games in Hitler’s Berlin.

Incredibly, the 70-year old work felt entirely fresh and relevant. The eleven female dancers engulfed the stage with a commanding power and an urgency that was startling. The militaristic score by Wallingford Riegger served as marching orders for the battalion of dancers, leaping off to the front lines, mourning the devastation ahead, searching desperately for a way out. A vulnerable solo by Miki Orihara in black was a premonition of suffering to come and an authoritative solo by Jennifer DePalo in white suggested both organizational preparations for battle and also hinted at hope for a solution. Or was she merely surrendering?

At a time when the daily news recounts yet another fatal bombing, Graham’s call of warning may already be too late. Yet its revival and presentation this weekend reminds audiences that dance, too, can address the real world out there and can comment on the state of the global politics in breathtaking ways. By contrast, the rest of the program felt almost trivial, as good as it was. The crisp architecture of Graham’s staging, the perfection of her ancient poses, and the inner strength of her celebrated technique aside, the ideas that she expresses and the message her work conveys elevates dance to a level of communication that is too rarely experienced these days. Though just a small sample of her vast repertoire, and certainly not one of the most well-known, Chronicles is nevertheless worthy of it’s creator’s renown. And for bringing it to a sold-out crowd at movie-ticket prices, hats off to OCPAC’s Fall for Dance.