If you were to watch Leonardo Sandoval dance from just the ankles up, you might suppose he’s skating. He travels so effortlessly across the stage, gently twisting and turning as though gliding on a sheet of ice and guided by the wind. But Sandoval’s not an ice skater—he’s a tap dancer. Guiding him through space is not a chilly winter breeze but an even, complex, syncopated sense of rhythm.
Sandoval and his excellent musician-dancer group, Music From The Sole, opened Program Two of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival, which is now in its 19th year. Music From The Sole presented an excerpt from Sandoval’s “I Didn’t Come to Stay,” which premiered at the Guggenheim Museum last April, as part of the museum’s Works & Process series. Colorfully costumed in bright green, orange, and purple, the group marched on stage playing percussion instruments, stepping and playing in polyrhythm. Setting down the instruments, the dancers turned to their bodies and their taps to pick up and maintain the groove. Meanwhile, the five musicians took to their posts on either side of the stage, exchanging hand drums and cowbells for a flute, a drumset, an upright bass, and more.
Sandoval is Brazilian, and the company celebrates the connections between Brazilian and American dance and music styles. Between exciting tap breaks, a couple of the dancers, including Sandoval, himself, removed their shoes completely. Still allowing their bare feet to make sound in contact with the floor, these dancers pulled from Afro Brazilian traditions, including dancing moments of samba. Sandoval stepped forward and back, slicing the air with a straight arm and extended hand. He tapped his thighs and chest in conversation with the musicians, kicked his leg up, crossing it behind his opposite leg, and clapped the sole of his foot.
Following Music From The Sole was a new work by Pam Tanowitz for Melissa Toogood and Herman Cornejo. Emerging in fuzzy pink costumes by frequent Tanowitz collaborators Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, Toogood and Cornejo stood back-to-back staring blankly into either wing. Musicians Kate Davis and Katie Geissinger sat onstage behind the dancers, chanting a Meredith Monk song while Cornejo and Toogood lightly caressed the back of each other’s calves using their white sock-feet.
The piece, entitled “No Nonsense,” is a delightful, goofy little duet in which Toogood and Cornejo explore their awkward love for each other, at one moment even sharing a real live smooch. After the Monk piece, one musician pulled out a guitar and started singing Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To My Lovely.” “You talk like Marlene Dietrich, and you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire,” they sang while Toogood and Cornejo danced around the stage, held each other sometimes, showed off independent moments of virtuosity in their respective styles (Cornejo does some grand, touring leaps), and stared into the audience like a couple of hot pink Muppets in headlights.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater closed the program with Aszure Barton’s “Busk,” choreographed in 2009 and which the Ailey company has had in their repertory for some time.
“Busk” begins with a soloist—Chalvar Monteiro, this evening—who teases the audience, dancing in a pool of light and playing with a hat which he first acquires by balancing in a headstand. (He places his head inside the hat on the floor and when he rises from the balance, he is wearing it.) In another remarkable moment (of which, in this piece, there are many), Monteiro stood with his hands behind his back and abruptly yet seamlessly sunk into a perfect middle split. A collective gasp was released from the audience.
“Busk” is full of these breathtaking visual moments. First of all, the costumes, by Michelle Jank, are unforgettable. All the dancers are dressed in oversized black hooded robes, leaving only their faces exposed, which Barton makes use of, allowing the dancers to give all kinds of interesting facial expressions. Barton’s group configurations are powerful, too: One of the greatest moments is when the dancers are seated together on the floor. They lean to the left, stacking their torsos on top of each other, then, one by one, peel off and lean to the right, like some kind of dark flower blooming or flipping through the pages of a mysterious book.
“Busk” is also emotionally complex. Physically, the movement—that split in second, a somersault down a set of stairs, several 6 o’clock penchés—is awe-inspiring. The facial expressions range from knowing smirks to angry furrowed brows and looks of pure lunacy. In a final solo sequence, one dancer (Jacquelin Harris) enters a square of light underneath a disco ball. She takes off her robe and does supple body rolls and tap time steps. She owns the square and commands the audience’s attention, and she knows it. She moves to the sound of tap shoes over a bright techno tune. But then, she screams.