Fall for Dance is a fixture with a formula. It arrives every year at this time, for two weeks, at New York City Center. It presents five programs, each with four items from different areas of dance. Dance from outside New York and from other countries is part of the mix; so are commissioned premieres. Whatever your existing ideas of dance are, they should be extended in some way by each season — and it’s fine to dislike a few items along the way.
Program A, which opened on Monday, was a neat example of the formula’s eclectic nature: 21st-century ballet; an African dance solo drawing on bird imagery; a classic of New York postmodern dance by Trisha Brown, who died this year; and the world premiere of a big new group work by the tap creator Michelle Dorrance. The opening work had originally been a commission from the young choreographer Troy Schumacher for Miami City Ballet. Although he completed it this summer, Miami City Ballet and City Center felt that it “was not ready to be performed at City Center,” a spokesman for City Center said. This is odd, as City Center has presented plenty of unready works in the past.
It was replaced with perhaps the most familiar 21st-century ballet, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” (2001), which is danced all over the world and has often been seen at City Center and Lincoln Center. (New York City Ballet dances it this week.) Miami City performed it at Jacob’s Pillow in June, and I’m afraid that on Monday my mind kept glazing over. “Polyphonia” is a very polished assortment of choreographic études, with plenty of the over-partnering that has become a Wheeldon hallmark. While you can see why it put Mr. Wheeldon on the map, it does not reward multiple viewings.
With great charm, Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantsoe danced his own solo “Gula,” first made in 1993. This is a slight but affable piece in which he makes a range of whistle and click noises as he becomes birdlike before our eyes — often in wading steps with torso bent forward toward the floor. The reverence of man for bird becomes touching.
The revival of the duet (or double solo) “You Can See Us” commemorates the death of Trisha Brown, who often used to dance with her company on this stage, and who was one of nature’s superlative soloists. This item began life as “If you couldn’t see me” (1994), a solo in which Brown moved with her back to the audience throughout. It became “You can see us” (1995) when she juxtaposed it with a simultaneous performance of the same solo, but with the second dancer facing the audience from the other side of the stage. Brown performed it with a man (Bill T. Jones or Mikhail Baryshnikov); now it’s given by two women, Cecily Campbell and Jamie Scott of the Trisha Brown Company.
Though Brown danced with more juice than these two, this remains an intriguing, odd, witty piece (and impressive in how the two, with no musical cues, keep moving at exactly the same speed without seeing each other). Though the Brown idiom is notable for the fluidity of its dance current, I love the angles with which it’s punctuated. Near the end, each dancer stands still with one leg and one elbow bent, then transfers all her weight onto the other leg, now bent, and bends the arm on that side. You and I could do that move in the living room, but could we make it interesting? Here it’s just one passing detail amid hundreds.
Rhythm keeps accumulating and multiplying in “Myelination,” the Dorrance premiere; it’s an exhilarating ensemble piece, including solos and duets, that switches gears from section to section. Most lovable is its inclusiveness: dancers of different races, of widely unalike temperaments and couture, coexist calmly here, often in exactly the same intricate meter but sometimes in overlapping sequences and facing separate directions. The live music — with vocals, piano, guitar, percussion and other instruments — is in a range of appealingly melodic jazz styles; its harmony with the dancing is never simple. Ms. Dorrance’s own persona, so happily tough, is part of the piece’s surprising theatricality. Without changing facial expression, she can seem confrontational, supportive, stern, jubilant.