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Fall For Dance Festival Highlights Jookin', Tappin', Hip-hop And More

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NEW YORK — The joys of the eclectic Fall for Dance festival at City Center never get old.

This year you could stop by the festival lounge before the show and pay $8 for wild boar stew and polenta, or $2 for a cocktail. Or you could toss the food to the side and participate in the free dance lessons. One night you could see a group of game New Yorkers learning hip-hop; another night, flamenco.

And the sparkling, newly renovated theater offered the real treat: four wildly diverse dance companies each night to entertain you, all at the price of $10 for every seat in the house.

Only the most ardent and resourceful fans got to see all five programs over the 10-day festival that ended Sunday; tickets sold out within five hours this year. We can, alas, only report on three of the programs here, but they provided a delectable array of energy and movement.

What was the most delightful surprise in a festival full of surprises? A key contender this year was the joyous, hugely athletic display put on by the muscular young Brazilian men of a French-based company, CCN de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/ Compagnie Käfig.

Was it hip-hop, capoeira, samba or something else? Whatever it was, it was hypnotic. The men, shirtless and in sneakers, joyously goaded each other into endless feats of daring. The set was filled with plastic glasses of water, which the dancers used in boundlessly creative ways as they celebrated this crucial element of our existence: water, or AGWA, as the dance was called.

It was the high of the evening (the troupe performed in the fourth program), similar to the jolt of energy provided a week earlier by the wonderful Lil Buck, aka Charles Riley, a master of the Memphis street dancing called "jookin'."

A YouTube video of Lil Buck dancing to cellist Yo-Yo Ma's accompaniment has gone viral – believe us, it pales drastically in comparison to the impact of seeing him live. His moves were a mesmerizing mix of jerky to almost super-humanly fluid.

Performing to "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens, a piece usually associated with a frail ballerina in white and on pointe, Lil Buck wore black and danced on his own "pointe": The toes of his sneakers.

Seconds later, these same sneakers seemingly turned into ice skates, so smoothly did he glide across the floor.

Along with that crazy foot movement, jookin' involves a lot of quick body twists and undulating torsos. There was also the matter of this dancer's amazing arms, which snaked and fluttered to compete with any traditional ballet swan. At times, particularly when he folded himself into a birdlike pose, he seemed to be an expert contortionist who wouldn't be out of place at Cirque du Soleil.

There were other crowd-pleasers. Steven McRae, of the Royal Ballet in London, mixed ballet with tap to delightful effect in "Something Different" – literally, a ballet dancer doing something different. His leaps and quick-fire turns, on tap, had the audience roaring and may have spoiled traditional tap dancing a little for some of them.

On the less showy side of things, the four visiting dancers of the Australian Ballet – especially Lana Jones – showed their virtuosity with the fiendishly demanding "Gemini" by Glen Tetley. There will be more from them, luckily, in 2012 when the company returns to New York.

The Royal Ballet of Flanders danced a compelling rendition of the Ulysses story, with a lovely turn by the red-haired Eva Dewaele. A lively exposition of traditional Cuban dance came from Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba

There were some flat moments: "All Fours" by the Mark Morris Dance Group was uncharacteristically dull, and though its dancers shone, the Tao Dance Theater from Beijing suffered from a repetitive style of choreography, especially in the first of two numbers, an exhausting display of spinning moves that never changed.

And in a performance that some loved and others hated, 17 dancers from the Hubbard Street company from Chicago performed Ohad Naharin's "Three to Max," in which clever dance moments mixed frustratingly with seemingly endless passages, such as one that involved counting; it was just too long.

But at least the dancers had a sense of humor and brio: A few of them – women, all – mooned the audience.

That got people's attention. As Fall for Dance inevitably does, in so many ways.