After three decades spent building the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the indefatigable Arthur Mitchell knows that creating a classical-ballet company means starting over again and again. An institution of this kind by nature depends on unbroken tradition and steady support – elements in short supply in the American dance world, making continuity an iffy business. Many of his mature dancers having moved on, Mitchell goes into the fall season with a troupe that is remarkably young in years and experience. From these aspirants – and with a small cluster of seasoned artists to serve as role models – he plans to develop a group of stars and a viable ensemble, as he has several times in the past. Meanwhile, the main sight to see at DTH performances is the neophytes’ rising, often miraculously, to the occasion. The scheduled repertory sensibly mixes classics staged with a DTH accent, such as the Creole Giselle; twentieth-century classics by Balanchine; gaudy theater pieces; and a new work, Memento mori, by company ballet master Augustus van Heerden.
Dance Theatre of Harlem / City Center / September 6-17
For the past decade, Lucinda Childs has appeared more often in France than on American turf. Her upcoming anthology of old and new work, Parcours – the title can be translated as “personal journey” – brings back to New York a choreographer who lends a sheen of glamour to dance that is austere and intellectual. (The chiseled bone structure of her face, along with its icy remoteness and immobility, surely helped forge her reputation, as did the fact that Susan Sontag was an admirer.) For the past quarter-century, Childs’s dances have epitomized elegant minimalism. Typically, this choreographer restricts herself to a few fundamental steps – beginning with the walk – hypnotically repeating them, uninflected by emotion, in a matrix of basic geometric patterns. The performers, precise and buoyant, remote as angels, might be demonstrating principles of mathematics or physics. For the susceptible viewer, the restrictive beauty is oddly liberating, even transcendent.
Lucinda Childs Dance Company / BAM: Harvey Theater / October 11-15
American Ballet Theatre’s modest fall season – designed for the segment of its audience that prefers varied programs of short ballets – boasts two novelties this year. Natalie Weir will stage her 1994 Jabula, billed as “a celebration of tribal ritual.” Weir, who has already created two pieces for ABT’s junior company, seems to be methodically working her way to prominence here, just as she did in her homeland, where she is now resident choreographer of the Australian Ballet. If Christian Holder keeps true to form, his new Weren’t We Fools?, to a deliquescent collection of Cole Porter songs – including some you haven’t heard before – will demonstrate a luscious sensibility operating in romantically erotic situations. Holder’s work may be all surface, but what an extravagantly gorgeous surface it is.
American Ballet Theatre / City Center / October 24-November 5
Think Garth Fagan, and The Lion King instantly leaps to mind. But much as Fagan found choreographing the 1997 (and forever) Disney megahit “an enriching experience,” his true love remains concert dance. In that more rarefied realm, he can apply his unique mix of classical, modern, jazz, and Afro-Caribbean elements in an ever-evolving experiment with movement and feeling. For his troupe’s thirtieth anniversary, he’s creating a piece to music composed by jazz great Wynton Marsalis. At its heart lies a duet for Norwood Pennewell and Natalie Rogers, who have a long history of playing the roles of Noble Prince and Earth Mother in Fagan’s personal mythology. Fagan describes the new duet as an intimate, passionate conversation in which the bodies never touch. Leave it to Fagan to take a concept worthy of the metaphysical poets and translate it into living, moving flesh.
Garth Fagan Dance / Joyce Theater / October 24-November 5
Five years ago, Ralph Lemon figured out – as did many of his fellow choreographers – that maintaining a dance company to showcase your work was no longer a feasible way of operating. Too costly, too confining. So he took to doing projects that engaged the people he needed when he needed them, mixed his media – Lemon’s interests beyond dance include writing and the visual arts – and struck out for faraway places, like Africa, where he could trace his ancestral roots, and the Far East, cradle of his spiritual beliefs. The results have become The Geography Trilogy, and we’re about to see part two, Tree. In conjunction with the performances, Wesleyan Press will publish a journal that chronicles the making of the trilogy. Both efforts are manifestations of Lemon’s search for his artistic and personal identity. The irony of a postmodernist earnestly embarked upon the quintessential Romantic quest – for the self – will no doubt only add to his audience’s appreciation.
Ralph Lemon / BAM: Harvey Theater / October 24-28
Since moving to New York from their native Japan in 1976, Eiko and her partner, Koma, have become the superstars and revered choreographers of an eerie, gripping dance genre. It depicts primal sparks of life struggling, in infinitely slow motion, to emerge and survive in an inhospitable, possibly precognitive, universe. When Nights Were Dark, the pair’s latest creation, explores layers of dreams – fantasies that belong to a primordial existence in which nature and its inhabitants are one. The artists (a married couple) are like yin and yang – perfectly mated opposites. Eiko is entirely open and vulnerable, while Koma, even in his publicity shots, keeps his face averted, his body shielded, his persona in shadow. Each would be nothing without the other.
Eiko & Koma / BAM: Harvey Theater / November 29-December 3
Some of the swiftest, fiercest, sexiest beings on earth will be showcased in three new works slated for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s December-long New York season. The choreographers are Carmen de Lavallade, who promises a piece suffused with troubled romance and created in the modern-dance vein; Dwight Rhoden, who represents postmodernism at its most slick and audacious; and Alonzo King, whose base is in classical ballet, which he gives capricious new twists. Hope Boykin, the extraordinary star of Philadanco, has just joined the troupe where the elegant veteran Dudley Williams is chalking up his thirty-sixth year on the roster. They and their colleagues are the sort of performers who need only step out onstage to make the world a better place.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater / City Center / November 29-December 31