The 2010 American Dance Festival began June 10, with African American Dance Ensemble performing in Duke’s Reynolds Industries Theater. But ADF is most commonly associated with the high-profile dance performances at Duke and at Durham Performing Arts Center, there’s also an educational mission that allows student dancers to enhance their performance and technique.
The festival began in 1934 at Vermont’s Bennington College, with Martha Graham serving as one of the four faculty members. One hundred and three students attended the first six-week session. A mere six years later, the number of dancers grew beyond the capacity of the original faculty.
Famous names would pass through the summer training, including Merce Cunningham in 1939. There are also celebrities not normally associated with modern dance. Future first lady Betty Ford attended the school in 1936 as it developed at Bennington College, and in 1978, a young aspiring dancer named Madonna Ciccone attended ADF’s first season to be held at Duke University.
Most students, of course, are of the non-celebrity variety. But they're all promising dancers. So, one might wonder, "If I wanted to join this deep and possibly intimidating pool of talent, how would I go about getting in?"
According to current dance student Kat Folckomer, you’re in once you send in your completed application, two recommendation letters and a resumé.
“Anyone who wants to come to ADF can come to ADF,” Folckomer says. “It’s not like you have to audition to get in.” She notes that ADF is open to anyone who wants to come and learn.
So there are no auditions at all?
Not so fast.
“You have to audition for scholarships,” Folckomer says, adding that auditions are held all over the country prior to ADF. Hopefuls must take a class and perform a solo totaling one-and-a-half minutes. Folckomer's scholarship allows her to work as a staff assistant to ADF administrator Nicole Wasserman in exchange for her full tuition paid.
The day is structured so that there are four class blocks, of which dancers attend three. The day runs from 8 a.m.—5:45 p.m. For those participating in the Past/ Forward workshop, rehearsals run from 3:45—7 p.m. on non-ADF performance evenings. On those special evenings, rehearsal ends at 6:30.
Through ADF’s run, I’ll be writing about the classroom experience, shadowing students and attending classes. ADF runs through July 24.
INDEPENDENT: How does an artist make the transits you’ve made—from supremacy on the streets of L.A. in the hip-hop culture to world-class modern choreographers like Twyla and Rudy Perez, to ballet with Eliot Feld and Les Grands? How does an artist walk between those worlds?
VICTOR QUIJADA: To be honest, it’s less something that I planned and more something that I followed. When I was 16 and I first went to the L.A. County High School for the Arts, I didn’t have this master plan (laughs) that I would someday be in Montreal and have a company of my own. Not at all. I just wanted to get out of my home city of Baldwin Park and see what else was out there.
It was these characters I met along the way that really pushed me, inspired me and opened new doors for me—who really opened my eyes to different possibilities. At times I was quite reluctant to go on path I now find myself.
When I left L.A. to join Twyla’s company, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. (laughs)
Really, it was whole new world. And as I was leaving New York to join Les Grands Ballet, I think I was only starting to get an idea of what could happen, where all of this could go.
I had quite a chip on my shoulder coming from that street dance world because, dancing in Twyla’s company, I was the only one who didn’t have a full classical training behind him.
It was tough. For when people who have a lot of training find themselves dancing next to somebody who doesn’t—that might say something about them and the contract that they have. So at times I needed to prove myself more than anyone else was proving themselves.
I had a lot to catch up on. I got this very specific goal in mind: I was somehow going to catch up on all the classical training I hadn’t had since I was 8 years old. It was a very intense time for me in New York.
Pilobolus has been a long-time fixture at the American Dance Festival. Local audiences saw the world premiere of Wolken's Redline last summer, a work in a similar vein to his 2004 high-energy piece, Megawatt. In recent years, ADF audiences also saw Memento Mori, a 2006 collaboration with company co-founder Michael Tracy, and iterations of his classic composition, Psuedopodia, from 1973.
No new work by Wolken was scheduled for Pilobolus' upcoming performance at the American Dance Festival, July 1-3. Wolken's latest, and apparently final work, Hitched, will be featured during the company's subsequent season at the Joyce Theater in New York, July 12 - August 7.
Memorial service arrangements have not yet been announced.
The Hartford Courant story can be read here.
INDY: I understand there’s a new piece you’re premiering at the Joyce Theater later this summer. The more I looked into it, the more intrigued I became. Could we take a few seconds to talk about the collaboration with the Crooked Jades and what you’re moving toward in this new work?
Kate Weare: I’d already been intrigued by bluegrass. Being brought up in California on folk music and a lot of blues, I’d been listening—but naively listening—to bluegrass for a long time.
At Bates [Dance Festival], our production manager happened to be from Tennessee, and she was a big bluegrass fanatic. I told her I was intrigued by this music and I wanted to research it more.
She gave me a bunch of names to investigate—but she said, if you’re looking for dance music, you might want to look toward the people experimenting with old-time music, and contemporizing it.
She was right, in a way. Really traditional music is dance music, meaning social dance music. And in that sense, it’s deeply dictatorial—you dance what it tells you to, (laughs) according to the rhythms. Especially fiddle tunes: They tell you exactly what to do, in a way.
She mentioned the Crooked Jades. Last summer I was in San Francisco, and they were playing at the Café du Nord. I was really taken with them, because they were so un-New York. They had this sense of wanting to connect, of not being afraid of being emotional.
I also felt like it was time for me to start butting up against narrative. I come out of this post-modern generation of choreographers who’ve sort of divorced ourselves from narrative, and thought that we could sort of split from the past.
From my training at CalArts, I have very little musical training, and a part of me was feeling this loss. I wanted to find a way to re-engage with story—or I wanted to ask myself why I was so afraid of it.
INDY: In this work, you’re exploring how absolutely strange it is to do the work a dancer and a choreographer does in public.
BARNES: A large part of my interest in choreographing is in creating situations to put myself and the dancers I’m working with in, in front of people; I’m creating scenarios to be seen.
After doing this for 15 years, I started thinking, “Well, what is it? Why am I doing this, and what’s the relationship we’re building with an audience?”