Fall For Dance At City Center: The fall dance season in New York City once again got off to a rousing start with the extremely popular Fall For Dance, a festival which featured 28 dance companies in a 10-day event produced by Ellen Dennis. The work of coordinating the sound and lighting for these companies fell to festival lighting director Clifton Taylor and festival sound supervisor Leon Rothenberg. With tickets at just $10 per performance, its no wonder Fall For Dance sells out so fast, with audiences getting an incredible range of dance in terms of style, from ballet, tap, and jazz to even hula!

One of the most interesting pieces I saw dates from 1975: Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance with music by David Tudor (Untitled 1974/1994), an electronic score played live by John King. The scenery is by Mark Lancaster, who also did the costumes and original lighting: there was a lighting update in 1994 by Aaron Copp. The scenery includes wide, upstage curtain of knotted brownish gold fabric with an entrance upstage center. The dances swing in as if joining a party, and eventually flow off stage the same way. Cunningham’s work seems timeless, and its hard to believe the piece dates from more than 30 years ago.

While Copp did not have to supervise the lighting for Sounddance, he did design the lighting for The Lombard Twins, a hip-hop duo. “This was the only piece in Fall For Dance to have original lighting,” he says, nothing that the piece was performed for the first time at Fall For Dance, as the world premiere of part of a full-evening piece not completed yet. “It has a slight MTV look to it, with a little bit of everything in terms of color” he says. “I had a warm palette with Lee 127 smoky pink and R27 dark red, and a cool palette with GAM 855 deep indigo and Lee 161 steel blue, a staple, the best color in the universe, I use it all the time.”

Copp found that the 20 Vari-Lite VL1000s in the festival rep plot were useful for specials. The lighting this year was all programmed on City Center’s new ETC Eos console. The festival lighting crew included associate LD Carolyn Wong, lighting assistant Nicholas Houfek, and master electrician Eric Schultz. Taylor even maintained a web site, where all the paperwork was kept for the designers sending in plots from afar.

Additional gear for the festival came from PRG Lighting, Hudson Sound & Light, PRG Audio, and New City Video. A new loudspeaker system at City Center is by d+b Audiotechnik. For Rothenberg, the live segments included a solo piano player for San Francisco Ballet’s stunning Jerome Robbins pas de deux set to Chopin, with lighting by Jennifer Tipton, plus occasional singing (as with the hula dancers who also had a drummer), as well as the score for Sounddance.

No sooner did the final curtain call take place than the Fall For Dance team headed out west to the Orange Country Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA, with two programs October 2-5, featuring 10 companies: six that had been seen in New York and four new ones. One of the companies seen in both places is the National Ballet of Canada with Jiri Kylian’s moving Soldiers’ Mass, with set and costumes by Kylian, and lighting by Joop Caboort. Christopher Dennis, the National Ballet of Canada’s own resident LD, was spotted in the lobby

All in all, Fall For Dance is a very ambitious undertaking that not only allows audiences to see the work of many different dance companies, but also enjoy the work of a wide range of designers, including Jennifer Tipton, the recent MacArthur Fellow winner, who designed at least three of the pieces seen in the festival, and Christina Giannelli, who had lit the Houston’s Ballet’s Balanchine Tchaikovsky pas de deux. As for costumes, Liz Prince created some colorful, humorous outfits for a trio in Larry Keigwin’s piece Fire, and Norma Kamali’s white costumes for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s piece, Sweet Fields, by Twyla Tharp, were simple yet stunning and showed off the physicality of the dancers. —Ellen Lampert-Greaux

Seen on Broadway: I’ve seen three Seagulls over the past year, or four, counting Sidney Lumet’s 1968 film version. But until the Royal Court Theatre brought its acclaimed London staging to the Walter Kerr I hadn’t seen one with an Arkadina and a Nina in perfect balance, and it makes all the difference. It helps that Christopher Hampton’s “new version” of Chekhov’s chestnut sharpens the layers of conflict and concern between its two key female characters (the piece now has some of the bite of Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses to it). But the lion’s share of the credit goes to Kristin Scott Thomas, who is the right age and temperament for the overwhelming Arkadina, for whom all the world’s a stage, and Carey Mulligan, a perfectly pitiable Nina without overdoing the pathos or playing for sympathy (I recognized Mulligan from one of the best Doctor Who episodes, “Blink”). Thomas, who is in her prime as an actress, aces the jealousy and miserliness of the character, but that is the easy part. The more difficult task is to tap into the slender reservoir of love and empathy she has for her assumed rival, Nina, and her son, the emotionally brittle playwright Konstantin (Mackenzie Crook), whose experimental pieces are an affront to her more conventional sensibility. This she does with great finesse. In a congenial, collaborative production, she shows tremendous rapport with Crook, best-known on these shores as a pirate of the Caribbean and the sycophantic Gareth in the UK version of the Office. Under Ian Rickson’s direction, the actor shows his chops for stage classics.

Acting-wise, the production is misaligned elsewhere. I’ve yet to see a fully satisfying Trigorin (a hard part to play without slipping into obvious villainy) and Peter Sarsgaard, who like Thomas is also making his Broadway debut, isn’t it. Behind a heavy beard the actor, playing a magnetic personality, seems to be going for degrees of flatness, and fails to register beyond the first dimension. I like Zoe Kazan, who I see more than my closest relatives, but she overplays Masha, emphasizing the comic aspects of the part over the character’s evident resignation. And Peter Wight is a little too hale and hearty for the dying Sorin. But the rest of the ensemble, including Art Malik as Doctor Dorn, is solid, and the show moves along at good pace. There may not be such a creature as a perfect Seagull—this, however, is a consistently intelligent (and entertaining) crack at the material, which gets to the heart of the matter.

The last New York Seagull, from Classic Stage Company, tried to get the lakeside setting in via Santo Loquasto’s mirrored floor. Scenic and costume designer Hildegard Bechtler takes a back-to-basics approach. The set is simple and uncluttered, with the black back panels removed to reveal windows and suggest the indoors once Konstantin’s disastrous outdoor staging of his piece (complete with gong) has ended. The second act is set entirely in the shabbily genteel house, with peeling whitewash. (Bechtler’s clothes have the same effect; except for Arkadina’s more ostentatious outfits and the dapper Trigorin and Doctor, everyone looks clean but a little weather-beaten, struggling in the late 19th century.) Peter Mumford’s lighting is an effective mood-setter, particularly during the play-within-a-play, where purplish hues indicate the shift to twilight. I was most impressed with Ian Dickinson’s audio design. The storminess at the top of the second act is an attention-getter, but throughout the ear is conscious of the sounds of nature filtering in, complementing the legendary text. The Seagull plays through Dec. 21.—Robert Cashill

Equipment Vendors

Scenery: Souvenir Scenic Studios Ltd.
Additional scenery: Simon Kenny and crew, Hudson Scenic Studios
Lighting: PRG Lighting
Audio: Masque Sound