Attending New York City Center’s Fall for Dance performance last weekend was a lot like going to a baseball game. And even though I’m not a big sports fan, I mean that in a good way.
For those who don’t live in the city or are unfamiliar with the program, here’s a little background: Fall for Dance started in 2004, spearheaded by City Center President Arlene Shuler, along with Elise Bernhardt and Ellen Dennis, with the idea of boosting dance audiences by serving up variety-packed performances at a bargain-basement price. With 10 days of programming and about 30 dance companies on the bill, audiences get to see a selection of four or five different troupes at any given show—for $10. Nowadays, you can’t even see a movie for that price.
This year, as in those past, all the performances sold out. So coveted was a spot in the 2,750-seat theater that people lined up early at the box office in hopes of snatching returned or unclaimed tickets; they pleaded for them in postings on Craigslist.
But let’s get back to baseball. Perhaps sitting way up in the vertiginous gallery overlooking the stage contributed to the stadium-like sensation. But there was something else: The crowd was boisterous—the ladies in front of me even pulled snacks out of their purses to share. People of all ages and backgrounds filled the seats. The energy crackled. It felt casual—and fun. I almost expected someone in the crowd to produce a beach ball.
During the performances, the audience was rapt. And no matter how subtle, challenging or downright weird a piece was, it was met with genuinely enthusiastic applause and cheers. By the time the final company—Via Katlehong, a roof-raising troupe from South Africa—took the stage, the audience was hooting, clapping and dancing in their seats.
We hear a lot of talk about dance being the least appreciated and understood of all the arts. The myth is that the average person “doesn’t get it,” and shuns dance because of its opaque meaning and lack of an obvious narrative (in many cases). But the response to Fall for Dance tells a different story. One could make the argument that the New York City demographic differs from that of other areas, that it is more “sophisticated” when it comes to appreciation for the arts. But I think that dance, the most visceral of all the arts, has the power to draw in just about anyone—if only they’re given the opportunity.
Excitingly, the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California, picked up on the idea and is premiering its very own Fall for Dance this month (October 11–14). OCPAC is offering two programs, each with five companies, among them Boston Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and Rennie Harris Puremovement. It will be interesting to find out how the event fares on the West Coast.
So while you continue to work daily to promote dance’s place in education, it’s heartening to know that there are people on the performance side doing their part to eradicate the veil of mystery and exclusivity that has surrounded our artform for too long. Congratulations, Fall for Dance, on another homerun.