Even after Fall for Dance’s admirable digital version in 2020, returning to New York City Center in-person last year still felt triumphant. Audiences, always known for their liveliness during the annual festival (now in its 19th season), were especially electric. And yet, for all the celebration, something was still missing. Fall for Dance bills itself as a global festival, with international companies—top ballet and contemporary troupes from around the world and shining examples of cultural and folkloric forms—typically adding dimension to each program. But last year, due to pandemic precautions, the festival included only domestic artists (as did the virtual festival in 2020).
“Of course, we can create a beautiful festival using companies only from the U.S.,” says Stanford Makishi, New York City Center’s Vice President & Artistic Director of Dance Programs. “But I think we miss a complete picture of the global dance scene. For a festival like Fall for Dance, it’s really important to show the full scale of what dance is and what dance can be.”
The 2022 festival will still be slightly scaled down—five programs of three companies each—due to caution around the ongoing pandemic. But, after three long years, the festival will finally have a dynamic international presence, with companies from France, Germany, India, The Netherlands, Spain, and Ukraine dancing alongside an appealing lineup of domestic artists.
Festival newcomers include Bavarian State Ballet dancers António Casalinho and Margarita Fernandes, who at ages 19 and 17 are also newcomers to professional ballet, though they’ve already made a splash at international competitions. But Makishi says their interpretation of the pas de deux from Le Corsaire won’t just be technical wizardry and pyrotechnics. “They’re surprisingly mature performers,” he says. “It’s a beautiful sort of youthful artistry.”
Days after ballet’s rising talents take the stage, one of the form’s biggest international stars will do the same: Olga Smirnova, the former Bolshoi Ballet principal who recently renounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and left her home country behind to join the Dutch National Ballet. “For her to take a stand at a time when so few people in Russia dare to do that was an act of courage that for her felt completely natural,” says Dutch National Ballet (DNB) artistic director Ted Brandsen. “That same sort of conviction—you see that in all of her work.”
Smirnova and fellow DNB company members will be performing Hans van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples, giving New York audiences a taste of a choreographer much beloved in Europe but rarely seen in this city. “I’m excited about reintroducing our company to New York audiences,” says Brandsen, adding that New York’s penchant for the Balanchine style makes DNB a good fit, as the company has the largest Balanchine repertory of any company in Europe. “I hope it’s the beginning of a longer acquaintance.”
Expect the welcome for Kyiv City Ballet to be a warm one: The company, making its New York debut, consists of dancers displaced by the war in Ukraine who have been living in Paris. They will perform two new works as part of a tour of the United States: one contemporary ballet and one Ukrainian folk dance. “We’re thrilled to celebrate these artists who are going through an extraordinary time, not only in their lives but in world history,” says Makishi. “We thought it was important for New York to welcome them.”
This international contingent also includes some familiar favorites, like Spanish flamenco virtuoso María Moreno, who will bring her Tangos & Alegrías with guest singer María Terremoto, and who performed at City Center just this April at the Flamenco Festival. “I’ve never seen anyone manipulate a shawl the way she does—it’s breathtaking,” says Makishi, adding that he wants audiences to know that “flamenco isn’t just about fast footwork.”
Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, perhaps the world’s foremost interpreters of the classical Indian style of Odissi, will be making their third appearance at Fall for Dance, though this year with a welcome addition: Poornāratī will be a collaboration with the acclaimed Sri Lankan Chitrasena Dance Company, showcasing a larger cast (of eight dancers instead of the typical two), a merger of two distinct classical styles and the inclusion of male dancers (Nrityagram is an all-women company, as Odissi is historically performed only by women).
The France-based HERVE KOUBI, an all-male company of North African street dancers, will also be visiting the festival for a third time, after thrilling audiences with their highly athletic yet meditative work in 2015 and 2018.
The domestic offerings at this year’s festival are as compelling as ever, with two 2020 virtual commissions making their live premieres at City Center, plus cross-genre collaborations, beloved stars and perennial classics. But it will perhaps be the international performances that feel most impactful, both after their long absence and considering the current state of our world. “Especially right now, when there’s so much conflict and war, artistic exchange is so important,” says Brandsen. “Building bridges between nations is something that needs to happen all the time. And it’s very fragile.”
Lauren Wingenroth is a New York City-based writer.
Fall for Dance Festival runs Sep 21 – Oct 2. For more information, visit nycitycenter.org.