The American Dance Festival closes its 2012 performance season this weekend at the Durham Performing Arts Center, with two nights of the Mark Morris Dance Group, accompanied by the fine trio of the MMDG Music Ensemble. Compared to some of the ferocious, rowdy and ridiculous programs preceding it, this one is a rather mild-mannered—but it is such a treat to have live music for the dancing that one simply revels in the pleasurable experience.
The evening opens with the highly amusing 1982 dance, Canonic 3/4 Studies, set to “Piano Waltzes” by Harriet Cavalli, and various (uncredited) bits by other composers, arranged for solo piano (Colin Fowler). Is it possible to be gloomy in 3/4 time? I don’t think so. The good humor begins with a single male dancer cavorting alone; he soon is joined by eight more. They frolic through many permutations of step and turn to the lovely beat, before leaving him alone again. Morris excels at putting the heart into mathematical, musical studies of permutations and combinations, and this dance is no exception.
We see that same interest in the other works, especially the 2011 Festival Dance that closes the evening. The waltz, march and polka of Johan Nepomuk Hummel’s "Piano Trio No. 5 in E major (Op. 83)" are played delightfully by Colin Fowler, piano, Anna Elashvili, violin, and Julia McLaine, cello. As the 12 dancers make their sweet patterns in space, the women’s circular skirts froth to reveal a glow of red inside, indicating the heat inside the formality. Bits of various courtly and romantic dance styles going back hundreds of years mix and match with balletic lifts and turns, all unified by Morris’ sweeping arm curves, delicate footwork, interlacing lines and sly humor. The dance both begins and ends with brief tableaux of two dancers wrapped together in big hugs, further emphasizing unity and joy.
Preceding Festival Dance is the second piano-only work, Silhouettes, which shows off Morris’ penchant for mirroring and reversals in the choreography. The very interesting music is Richard Cumming’s "Silhouettes, Five Pieces for Piano." Here Samuel Black and Domingo Estrada, Jr., apparently sharing one pair of pajamas between them, frisk through the many ways to make one out of two, or a whole out of two halves. It’s not challenging, but very pleasing, and one could look at Estrada’s bare and gleaming chest pretty much forever.
The meat of the evening to this viewer (my neighbor across the aisle fell asleep!) was Rock of Ages, a 2004 dance for two men and two women set to the "Piano Trio in E flat, Adagio, D 897" (“Notturno”), by Franz Schubert. The backdrop, glowing in lighting by Nicole Pearce, and the rich, subtle costuming in violet blues and bluey greens (Katherine M. Patterson), immerse you in the magic of the twilight hour, just before Venus rises. Its exquisite melancholy offers a fitting farewell to this season of the great American Dance Festival… farewell, until we meet again.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company took the stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center last night for their annual visit to the American Dance Festival, which concludes this evening. The mainstay company brought out a crowd expecting to see virtuosic performances from the principal dancers, and Michael Trusnovec, Amy Young and Michelle Fleet didn’t disappoint them.
The real star, however, was the flawed program.
A bit long with four pieces and two intermissions—and lengthened more by a curtain mishap that required repairs—the program spanned a half-century of Taylor’s choreography; from the 1962 frolic Aureole to this year’s insectoid fantasy Gossamer Gallants. It could have cohered, though, woven together by interrogations, illustrations and blissful avoidances of the sexual codes and morays of each dance’s particular era. Except for one catastrophic piece, that is.
The balletic Aureole, a piece revived from ADF’s Connecticut College era, opened the evening. Costumed as though they’d stepped out of a Maxfield Parrish painting, two women in white flanked Trusnovec cradling Young in his arms. After dancing the brief equivalent of an unfurling banner, the pair of women scampered off, indicating their decorative role in the piece. In Aureole, only the two male dancers have agency.
Francisco Graciano plays a kind of social dandy, thumbing imaginary lapels and cantering around the stage with the trio of women in admiring pursuit. Trusnovec, however, is the statuesque, ideal loner. His solo declares this succinctly. Making straight lines with outstretched arms and pointed legs that recall Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Trusnovec falters into curvatures only once at the beginning of the solo, betraying his loneliness. But he maintains his stoic poise thereafter.
After he releases her, Trusnovec—who could be mistaken for a weak-side linebacker—executes a breathtaking set of kicks while leaping up and down on one foot. The DPAC is truly a cavernous space but the audience around me leaned back in their seats as, with his fifth and sixth kicks, he neared the front of the stage. And we were in row M.
The full cast celebrates his capital-R Romantic triumph with flying, diagonal entrances and exits to the finale of Handel’s Concerti Grossi.
As the curtain rose for the five dancers to receive their applause, there was a loud thump sound and about half of one side of it vanished, so a pause became an intermission. But the DPAC crew hastily mended the stage’s missing tooth.
Then the curtain rose on Big Bertha, a watershed Taylor work dating to 1970. Set to calliope and band machine music and featuring Robert Kleinendorst as a hermaphroditic dominatrix bandleader made gigantic by red leather high-heeled boots, Big Bertha is hardcore in every sense of the word. And, following Aureole, it viciously rips through the older dance’s lyrical courtship rituals and patriarchal gender roles so that the awful guts of raw animal desire can burst out. This would be David Lynch’s favorite Paul Taylor work.
The set features a huge circus contraption, pipe organs sticking out the top and Barnum and Bailey lettering trumpeting a five-cent charge, all lit with white bulbs like those infesting antique carousels. Big Bertha, the bandleader, stands upon a little spangled dais. To an excruciating metallic scratching noise, she removes a baton from out of her throat with a robotic motion. Yeah, there won’t be a happy ending to this one.
A quintessential 1950s family enters—mom, dad, and bobbysoxer daughter—out for a fun night at the fair. Dad deposits a coin into Big Bertha to activate her, and the daughter does a lively mélange of period dance moves as her parents watch. Mom tries to join in the fun but trips over her own feet and prissily withdraws into her husband’s consolation.
It’s difficult to tell whether the bandleader is merely going through its animatronic sequence or exerting puppeteer control over the family. Before the time allotment of the coin expires, causing the bandleader to slump and prompting Dad to fish in his pocket for another nickel, Big Bertha appears to hypnotize the family into unison movement.
With the second coin, Bertha assumes control. Dad performs a jerky, drunkard’s dance to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” His baseball swings gradually become aggressive sexual advances toward his daughter and, after he assuages his wife’s anxiety over this, a vicious smack across Mom’s face.
The dance descends into increasingly horrific scenes of incest and abuse during which Bertha wields her baton in a variety of lewd ways, the wife strips to become a burlesque harlot and the husband takes his daughter around back to emerge tattered, dragging her bloody, limp body around. Explosive sparks mark the final tableaux to “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Judging by the audience’s audible discomfort, this demonstrative degradation of the family unit is as startling today as it was more than 40 years ago. Big Bertha’s exaggeration of the romantic yet rigidly hetero-normative power relationships underlying Aureole erupts toward its logical endpoints. The man, tumescent with power, must possess any woman who presents herself as able. Regardless of whether the daughter’s aware that her fun dance is a mating ritual, she must innocently perform it and forcibly surrender to whomever she attracts. And the mother must play the whore in order to deal with it all, seeing that sexuality is the only agency in this skewed dynamic. It’s Lynch’s “unspeakable horror behind the white picket fence,” sixteen years before Blue Velvet.
Taylor’s self-implication through Big Bertha’s role as choreographer provides the dance’s most fascinating aspect. He turns the critique against himself, pointing out the darkness inherent in his mechanical, controlling position. He frightens himself. Taylor demonstrates that the moment mechanical routines are no longer viewed as such they can become monstrous pantomimes.
Unfortunately the raw, layered messages of Big Bertha were decisively erased by the back half of the program. In a way, the piece that followed the intermission—Gossamer Gallants, which the company premiered this year—takes animal desire literally. The dancers are costumed as black fruit flies (males) and virid lacewings (females).
"In the end, you deliver some of your energy to another human being." —Shen Wei
Our eyes met for half a moment. Smeared in pink from eyes to toenails, she turned her head aside.
That panning motion continued into a casual tumble onto her back, sliding through the tempera paint that covered the floor of the Plexiglas box that contained her. Twirling upon shoulder blades and spine in the bright pigment like an ice dancer, she stopped herself gently by planting a foot into a corner of the box.
I walked away, shouldering through the audience to reach an adjacent gallery where late-Renaissance masterpiece paintings looked down upon the frenetic movements of differently colored dancers on 7-square-foot floor panels. Everyone but the dancers and the paintings was smiling.
This performance of Shen Wei Dance Arts’ Undivided Divided, which concludes tonight, occupies much of the new wing of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. Although no stranger to site-specific dance, the American Dance Festival has perhaps never set it on this scale, partnering with the NCMA to bring Shen’s multi-sensory delight to the white galleries of the museum.
It’s an exciting moment for many reasons. First, it’s a lot of fun to see superb choreography in an unconventional space. It’s also exciting to have to deal with the voyeuristic nature of being in a dance audience out in the open.
Just as exciting is how the moment fits into both Shen’s career and the development of the ADF. He’s played a huge role throughout the last decade of the festival. In a way, the arc of his career since his stunning debut at the 2000 ADF, from which his company was formed, matches the arc of the festival itself over the same span, during which now-retired director Charles Reinhart (whose wife Stephanie co-directed from 1993 until her death in 2002) has left after 43 years at the helm.
Both the festival and one of its most closely affiliated choreographers are necessarily transforming, facts made spectacularly evident in Undivided Divided.
The visual arts—specifically painting—have been a part of nearly every piece Shen has staged since his debut. Taking everyone’s breath away—I still have my program from it—Near the Terrace (2000) set Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux’s imagery into motion. Pieces such as Rite of Spring (2003), Connect Transfer (2004), the Re- Triptych (2009) and last year’s ADF premiere Limited States feature dancers applying paint to the stage surface and/or altering an image on the surface through their movement across it. The lasting mark of an arm sweep across the floor became a Shen Wei trademark image.
To this point, visual media other than painting have played less integral and effective roles in Shen’s work, even hinting at a disablingly self-conscious trend. His Tibetan photography, though gorgeous, served as an oddly undermining backdrop to sections of Re-. The static photographs dwarfed the choreography, denying it a comparable dramatic level. The narrative energy of his 2005 Chinese opera Second Visit to the Empress dissipated in his effort to give costumes, set and music their simultaneous due. The movement suffered as something of an afterthought.
Brian Brooks Moving Company
American Dance Festival
Reynolds Industries Theater
Brian Brooks makes a big production out of very little material. He choreographs all of the dances, which initially give the impression of being big and glitzy, for the aptly named Brian Brooks Moving Company. And he does it with a limited vocabulary that depends on virtuosic physical expression for what interest it arouses.
The dancers are supremely fit body-machines, capable of many rapid repetitions without pause. The body and certain aspects of its capabilities (such as, how close can one get to perpetual motion?) seem to be the main area of exploration for Brooks. And aggression. There’s a lot of aggression, playful and not, in the dances in the BBMC program in Reynolds Theater at the American Dance Festival this year.
Big City (2012) opens the program. Seven dancers amid a forest of hanging, articulated shiny metal tubes, perform to a relentless score by Jonathan Pratt. Like rats in a crowded cage, or workers in Manhattan, all seven struggle ceaselessly for dominance, success and survival among the glittering canyons of the sharp-edged city. They do the same things again and again and again, and since those things are not all that interesting, and since the pace changes only to become a little more frenetic, I became very tired of it well before the curtain lowered on the last man moving.
One section stands out, however. Brooks writhes and rolls among the shiny rods, never touching a one, his hands and feet making stepping stones along the path he creates for the diminutive Jo-anne Lee, who treads them, balancing with outspread arms as he turns beneath her.
In the solo I’m Going to Explode (2007), Brooks shows off his muscular skills as a suited white-collar worker having a minor freak-out before putting his jacket back on and trudging back to his job. It’s clever but shallow. Again, the idea runs out before the dance stops.
Descent (2011) includes more memorable images—as opposed to forgettable blurs of repetitive motion—than any of the other pieces included here. The power of these images was greatly enhanced by the striped lighting designed by Philip Treviño, but there’s nothing in the way of dramatic build. A scene in which dancers cross the dim stage while fanning lengths of colored gossamer cloth aloft into the light seduces the eye; the smoke-like curls of cloth recall the stage smoke puffing into the first scene, in which a walking dancer carries on another angled stiff across his shoulders. As the pair moves slowly through the striped light, they are joined by two more pairs, drifting. Other than that instance, it was not clear how the scenes related to each other.
I had been looking forward to Motor (2010), which received several positive reviews after its performance at the Joyce Theater in New York last year. The set looked fantastic in photos—all reviewers commented on it—and the subject seemed ideal for BBMC. However, in this program, only an excerpt is performed, and there is no set. Brooks and David Scarantino dance a duet. Their hopping abilities are extraordinary. They move around the stage in unison, on one leg each, and the leg-changes are so cleverly managed that one hardly sees them. It’s quite a feat—dancesport—and perhaps it makes sense within the context of the full dance. As it was, it seemed like Mark Dendy or Larry Keigwin Lite. Very Lite. Definitely less filling.
This is the third time I seen Brian Brooks Moving Company perform, and the third time I’ve seen the same tropes and movement sequences repeated throughout the evening, to much the same surface effect. Brooks and company do what they do very well, but what they touch no deep chord of emotion, nor light up the synapses with syncretic understanding. And the work is not entertaining enough to keep this viewer happy in the shallows of movement for movement’s sake.
You can tell it’s an election year because of the dualities in the air. “I’m for doing this, but that guy is for doing that.”
It’s obvious why political discourse is so full of these statements of polar opposition. Opposites are simple. Even babies get “either/or.” This is why there are nearly as many “opposites” books in the toddler section of the bookstore as there are those listing colors or letters of the alphabet. Something is either in or out, black or white. It’s either day or night. It can’t be day and night at the same time.
Frequently, artists use the rhetorical simplicity of opposites to make it easier to see form. In the case of dance, it’s movement. Vertigo Dance’s Mana, choreographed by Noa Wertheim with stage and costume design by Rakefet Levy, employs a spare, white stage with a single architectural element—the generalized side of a house—and dark, tunic-like costumes to clarify the dancers’ movements against the pale backdrop.
The movement itself is far from simple. The solos, the partner sequences and the delightfully morphological ensemble dances all are multifaceted, sometimes contradictorily so. Oppositions of light and dark, slow and fast, and up and down come into play in the choreography, and the staging keeps the movement crisply visible. However, the dancing explores liminal spaces between opposites—both physical and ontological—and ultimately speaks to the unknowability of being.
Athletic and restless, Wertheim’s movement is always at least two things at once. Opposites exist simultaneously. Unison movement by the entire company looks like both a military unit training and a celebration ritual. Partners find an ambiguity between embracing and pushing the other away.
These uncertainties gradually feed back upon the certainties of the staging. At first glance of the house structure, a viewer assumes that the dancers are either inside or outside the house. But that presumption is eroded over the course of the performance. The housefront moves toward and away from the audience. A central cut-out panel separates from it, receding to make a doorway or coming out at you to become an impediment in the very middle of the stage. They’re always both inside and outside of the house. Or neither of those things.
I just saw something beautiful, although I had to forget myself to see it.
Ragamala Dance, a company of six women under the artistic direction of mother-daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, opened a three-night run of their evening-length work Sacred Earth at the American Dance Festival in Duke’s Reynolds Industries Theater. Thematically, Ragamala portrays man’s inextricable connection to nature through a rich combination of traditions such as Indian classical dance and music, Tamil Sangam poetry, Warli mural painting and Kolam floor painting.
OK. That’s the straight reporting of what happened, when, where and by whom. But it comes off as a list of names, which bespeaks how I began watching the performance. Once I dropped my need to know those names and the significances of all the individual movements, sounds and images I was seeing, I actually experienced the performance for what it was: a lovely, hypnotic celebration of the interconnectedness and oneness of all living things. Save the program notes until after the show, so information doesn’t interfere with the experience of Sacred Earth.
The notes (spoiler alert!) describe the traditional practices that Ragamala incorporates. Projections of Warli paintings—roughly patterned, white-on black mural scenes of people at harmony with the natural environment rendered in simplified forms—changed on the backdrop throughout the performance. Sangam poems were occasionally read, rhetorically rolling human life and natural landscape in with a pervasive sense of the divine.
And the opening image, of five dancers posed in a circle, offering their tilted palms to a central sixth, immediately became a Kolam floor painting as the dancers began to move. Drizzling a fine stream of white rice powder from their palms, the five women stepped in a spiral pattern that mimicked a Warli projection on the curtain before the show: a flock of flying birds forming a shape roughly like a numeral 6. After moving to the rhythm of the live accompaniment of vocalist Lalit Subramanian and violinist Anjna Swaminathan for a few minutes, the rice powder formed an internally curlicued circle, which was subsequently trodden into a white, depthless blur.
For the first third of the performance, I found myself thinking like a Westerner, trying to interpret each gesture and form as if they were words. I know that each mudra—the hand and finger positions made by the dancers—has a literal meaning, but I didn’t know the meanings so, for a while, I saw the movement as a text in an unfamiliar language, conveying a message I couldn’t get. There’s a kind of anxiety in that.
I know there is supposed to be a first time for everything—but a disappointing Pilobolus performance? Before last night I hadn’t thought it possible. Life constantly assures us that everything changes and that is all that can be depended upon, and after 40 years, surely Pilobolus’ current members must be interested in experimenting outside their well-known style. But, but, but … it is a shame that the company is messing around with simulacra when they have those electrifying bodies.
American Dance Festival hosts Pilobolus each year, making happy audiences and making money at the same time. However, the audience in the Durham Performing Arts Center for Thursday night’s opening, although large, wasn’t so happy. The concert included five works—two were ADF-commissioned premieres—and all but one of them began with video on a small screen lowered from the grid.
The first one, which preceded the dance in Azimuth, wasn’t so bad. At the time, I thought it was a kind of prologue for the whole evening, signaling that the work would be about systems of movement, patterns of growth and organization, rather than about the kind of kinetic sculpture-building that Pilobolus has done so well for so long.
Curtain down, curtain up for Skyscrapers (2012)—and here comes the video screen again. This time, the video was of a very long, fast, motorcycle ride through early-morning Paris. We didn’t see the bike, only the onrushing scenery. But we heard its high whining engine as it worked up and down the gears. At the end, the engine switches off (hallelujah), the rider jumps off and rushes toward a young woman approaching the meeting place on foot. They embrace just as the sun touches her bright blond hair. Yuck.
There’s no other way to put it: Barnes bedazzled Reynolds Industries Theater Sunday night at the American Dance Festival. They brought glitz; they brought glam. Batons twirled and confetti fluttered. The dancers gripped chairs in their teeth. If you need your corporeal form recharged, get to their show tonight or Tuesday.
Sounds like a lot of fluff? It wasn’t. The fab costumes, hip-shaking moves and spectacular theatricality added up to one of the most substantial and sincere commentaries I’ve seen on performance and identity.
The program listed three pieces but it was really an evening-length triptych. There were no intermissions between the world-premiere duet Luster, a trio to Nina Simone's music titled mostly fanfare and the full-company quartet Everything is getting better all the time set to a rousing Otis Redding soundtrack.
The tech changes between the pieces were incorporated into the performance and the black-garbed crew interacted with the four company dancers onstage throughout the pieces. These weren’t, however, mere meta-dances or philosophical musings about the fourth wall, a point unambiguously made in the opening minute of the show.
In Luster, atop the opening monologue of Ike and Tina Turner’s cover of “Proud Mary” (“We're gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy; then we're gonna do the finish rough”), Barnes and Anna Bass carried a puppet-show proscenium down the aisle and clambered onstage. Garbed in down trench coats that just allowed glimpses of lamé beneath at the ankles, Barnes and Bass tried to affix the proscenium to a frame onstage. They needed a third pair of hands, though, so they pulled a man from the audience to hold it in position while they fastened it properly. As the music began to ramp up, he moved his hips to the beat, drawing hoots.
Fourth wall torn down? Check. Performance about performance? Check. Now that that was taken care of, Barnes and Bass could move on.
Through slapstick-infused chair dances and stage dances that brought them out onto the stairs of the aisle again at one point, the women amplified the enthusiasm of Turner’s performance and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. I’ve never heard an ADF audience laugh so freely.
You’ve seen almost all of this choreography before—in ice dances, showgirl and cheerleader routines, parades and circuses, music videos and biopics of musicians, cabarets and glitzy musicals throughout the year over at ADF’s other stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center. The hand jive even made a brief appearance.
But Barnes’ movement is actually an imitation of all of that movement. It’s those lip-synch productions you made to rock songs after you locked your adolescent bedroom door, crooning and belting lyrics into your hairbrush. And the slumber party routines in pajamas on a pullout couch stage that became so elaborate that cranky parents had to shout from upstairs “Don’t make me come down there!” And the headbanging you and your friends did at red lights to freak out the drivers in the car stopped next to you.
As Luster moved through sections of varying intensity keyed to the musical changes, Barnes and Bass helped each other through moments of hesitation and exhaustion, drawing energy from the audience’s reaction to small points of humor, such as a tap dance rendered silly by the basketball-court squeaks of their sneakers.
After running in twin circles for a long time to a morose piano and cello duet, they began pumping their fists to try to get their spirits up. It worked: the crew entered en masse to reward them with bouquets, and the piece ended with a high-energy finale.
Before applause subsided, mostly fanfare began. Christina Robson joined Barnes and Bass onstage, all garbed in white spaghetti strap tops and black skirts, with white pouf feather headdresses like circus horse performers wear. The audience wanted to laugh at the feathers but hesitated because this piece immediately had a different tone.
Nina Simone’s cover of the desperate ballad “For All We Know” (can anyone sustain a song at a slower pace than Simone?) cast a half-pall on the room. The trio’s balletic movements were restrained. The empty stage was twilit. In unison, they moved diagonally from a back corner to the opposite front corner and returned, seemingly unaware of the audience. They all looked to the rear wings and held their arms out as if to present the entrance of a fourth dancer. But no one entered.
It was a lonely moment, a possible retraction of the lust and luster of Luster. Barnes and her dancers were suddenly exposed to the power of the audience’s desire for the show. I have to admit to feeling a pang of guilt in my seat. I saw not three dancers, but three women, facing the expectations of hundreds of strangers in the gaping dark.
Ideally, singing into our hairbrushes, we want to be stars but we also still want to be us. We want to be us, as stars. Ecstatically loved by the audience, but genuine. Resolving that is the trick, isn’t it? That’s why we have tabloid newspapers and the Betty Ford Clinic.
DURHAM/ DPAC—Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performed a long program in the Durham Performing Arts Center last night for the American Dance Festival: three pieces and two full intermissions, which they’ll reprise tonight. Each of the dances—created by 2012 Scripps/ADF Awardee William Forsythe, Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo and Israeli choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gaï Behar—could have stood alone on its own. Each certainly contains an evening’s worth of content, but the evening doesn’t suffer in the least from that. Rather, it demonstrates the central characteristic of this repertory company that’s kept Hubbard Street relevant into its fourth decade of existence: versatility.
The program opens with the rare opportunity to see William Forsythe’s coolly elegiac Quintett (1993), created shortly after the death of his first wife. Known for edgy, energetic movement, Forsythe is constrained here—but not restrained. Five dancers cycle through solos and duets marked by high, sweeping, overhead reaches and kicks that succumb to small backwards stumbles. Often this main action is watched by one dancer loitering contemplatively from a dim corner of the stage. Sometimes the watcher springs into a solo, which provides a visual foil for the duet without undermining its almost wistful emotion.
A film projector occupies the right front of the stage, pointing its beam diagonally across the space but projecting onto a convex mirror (the kind that’s mounted where a garage enters onto a street, so pedestrians and motorists can see each other coming) rather than a screen. As the piece develops, and dancers pass through the beam, you can see that it contains an image but you can’t see what the image is until a dancer repositions the projector just before the ending. A grainy, slow-moving cloudscape appears on the backdrop.
You’re watching memory, remembered movement, in Quintett. The projector’s immaterial image, shining invisibly through space, speaks to the emptiness of reminiscence without judging it futile. The mirror, set up as a rear-view mirror might be, acknowledges memory’s distortion.
But the impotent machinery of memory doesn’t matter compared to the fact of an event’s occurrence in time. Sweet, intimate details in the duets shine through to provide genuine emotional connections to the past.
Facing each other at the end of a complicated phrase, one dancer tilts her head down to rest its top on her partner’s chest. Later, a tall, male dancer stretches his arm straight up to hold his hand horizontally flat; his partner glances up at it and leaps to bop the top of her head against his palm. You feel the pleasure of togetherness in these moments. Forsythe’s frank choreography sometimes looks like a pantomime of unselfconscious child-play. He does not wallow in the loss of these moments, even while acknowledging that they’re in the past.
Part of watching Quintett is dealing with Gavin Bryars’ mercilessly repetitive score Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in which a looped, quavering vocal and a stayed orchestral passage meander around each other, neither exactly in unison nor rhythmically contrary. It’s lonely-sounding music but the looping contains the emotion within the same analytical frame as the action.
Quintett is all about Forsythe resolving the fallibility and power of the past with the fact of the present, and Hubbard Street’s dancers bring the right objectivist approach to the movement. Forsythe will be part of a panel discussion in White Auditorium on Duke’s East Campus on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
In February of this year, Regan retired after 39 years with the North Carolina Arts Council—36 of them as its executive director. On March 2, just days after her retirement, she and I sat down for a different sort of exit interview in a Morrisville cafe. As lunching office workers came and went (and a cool rain came and stayed), we took an hour and a half for a conversation that was largely about distance: How far the arts have come in North Carolina since her start in 1972; how they’ve managed to come that far, despite the economic turmoil of the past decade and the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and how far they’ve yet to go.
Regan was as graceful and candid as I’ve known her to be throughout our own long conversation over the years. And this time, she was able to go a bit further on the record.
The remarks below are excerpted from that conversation.
INDEPENDENT: Let’s go back to the beginning of your term. Where was the North Carolina Arts Council when you found it?
MARY REGAN: (laughs) In offices in the Heart of Raleigh Motel, which was over on Edenton Street. There was something of an “entertainment house” right across the street, where we saw ladies coming and going. And men. All of the time. (laughs) That was very interesting.
I don’t even remember what our budget was—maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
I took the job just because I needed a job; I didn’t have a clue what it was about or what I would do. I intended to leave in a year and go back and work on Nick Galifianakis’ campaign [a Democratic congressman who lost to Jesse Helms in 1972]. But after a year came, I had really gotten hooked on it. I knew it was a great job.
Is there a moment you can remember as a turning point, or the moment you realized you had to stick around?
Not really. I think I could have been torn away, but because of the things going on at the time, I thought this was a good place to be.
Edgar Marston [Executive Director of the Arts Council from 1968-1973, and director of the NC Division of the Arts, 1973-1978] was such a visionary. Everything was very experimental then. We’ve tried to remain experimental through the years, but back then, there was no mold; everything we did we kind of invented.
We carved out for North Carolina a role as a leading arts council, as far as doing community development, working out in the communities. Some arts councils started off just funding major organizations in the cities. But the early leadership understood: If they were going to be able to make it within state government, they had to be serving the whole state.
All of our programs were public value programs. In the last 10 years, that’s become a popular term, almost as if were some new thing discovered to do. We were into public value from the very beginning; we just didn’t know to call it that. We wanted to be at the table (in state government) with the rest of the sectors in the state. Public value was our hook.