NOTE: As happens every year, we had a lot more to say about the AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL than we could ever fit into the print version of the INDEPENDENT. Thus these expanded essays, which delve more in depth into some of the issues that came up—plus one or two that didn't—during the season: our extended dance mixes for the 2011 ADF.
THE YEAR IN SCIENCE, GAME (AND CHOREOGRAPHY):
SHEN WEI, EMANUEL GAT, THOMAS DEFRANTZ, PILOBOLUS
What has taken the place of conventional (or even unconventional) narrative, so devalued among some contemporary dance artists? One answer: the scientific and mathematical frames around several major new works, a development suggesting, among other things, a future in which a number of choreographers might also be termed chief investigators.
But one week before, audiences who stayed for a post-performance discussion heard EMANUEL GAT delineate the underpinnings of his captivating new work BRILLIANT CORNERS in a manner eerily similar to a psychologist or sociologist describing the protocols and methodology of a behavioral experiment.
“We don’t invent. We discover,” Gat asserted. “I choreographed none of the movement. It was generated by the dancers through a long process in which I define their environment. The movement doesn’t precede the situation; the movement comes as a reaction to the environment and situation they are in... I try to determine a very clear environment: what are its mechanisms, what are the rules, the constraints they have to work in. The movement is a by-product of the situation.”
Indeed, what initially struck me upon first viewing as enviably articulate—but essentially random—phrases and gestures (so much so that an early line in my critic’s notes included the Pirandellian assessment, “Six dancers in search of a choreographer,”) slowly revealed a deeper structure and organization. Looking back, both were required, in significant amounts, to keep that number of people moving at that velocity from devolving into a mosh pit of collisions. In BRILLIANT CORNERS I saw a work filled with fast and agile changes, accompanied by (or in response to) similarly drastic variations at times in sound and light.
Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria
RBC Center, Raleigh
Evening and matinee shows through July 10
The fabled Cirque du Soleil, based in Montreal, but now a world-wide performing institution, has brought its light-hearted Alegria to Raleigh for a run that includes shows well-timed for children, who will especially appreciate the silly clowning in this confection that lauds the spirit of youth. Alegria is a Spanish word for the bubbly condition of joy, and the Cirque brings it physical reality with their extraordinarily strong circus techniques.
Alegria premiered in Montreal in 1994, and has become a Cirque classic, having been viewed by more than 10 million people as it has toured the world. The production includes all the elements for which Cirque du Soleil has become so renowned: Lavish sets that convey the shows’ grand, almost mythic, themes; spectacular enlargement of circus routines into something approaching Olympic ballet; fabulous costumes and makeup; and not least—very large casts of stupendously sleek and skilled artists engaging in marvelous acts of drollery and daring.
The Alegria cast includes 55 performers and musicians. In this large venue, your ability to appreciate all the visual elements will be greatly enhanced by binoculars or opera glasses. The musicians are a wonderful sight in whiteface, white hair, white dress suits and silver vests. Playing an energetic mash-up of klezmer, jazz, tango and pop songs, they enter in a parade before taking their places at the top of the raked stage, which is decorated with a huge, mosaic-like image of a salamander under dim, dappled light. They are accompanied by The White Singer, who periodically belts out a song promoting the mood for the forthcoming action sequence. A series of comically dressed characters introduce themselves, and considerable clowning takes place, building anticipation for the glorious feats of kinetic extremity to come.
And here they come! The acrobats! Springing, flipping and tumbling, they come one after another along the paths of an x-shaped trampoline that has been uncovered onstage. Wow, wow, wow! It is thrilling. With clown routines or songs in between there follow ever-more-amazing acts. Trapeze, of course, and hand balancing; Cyr wheel spinning with some very creative moves; a fantastic fire-knife piece with two dancers each twirling two batons flaming at each end. The two-woman contortion/balancing act was truly amazing, almost hypnotizing. The Russian bars are probably the most dangerous act. A long, flexible, narrow, board is held on the shoulders of two strong men. Onto it leaps an acrobat, who then bounces, and while in the air twirls and flips. He may land on his original board, or flip over onto another one, and the landing—such spotting, such balance on that bouncing strip!—is at least as awe-inspiring as the aerial work.
There are other aerial acts, but the show closes with the all-stops-out highflying trapeze act. From a catwalk in the lighting rig, the trapeze men launch themselves through the air, to catch the trapeze, or the hands of the person already on the trapeze, as it arcs through the air. Once four people are attached, they eel over each other and one swings back to the catwalk before another one joins the end of the group. This repeats until you think they must begin to fall. Instead, they jump. From graceful dives into the net below, they spring upright—a true testament to the glory of youth—and take graceful bows.
Exclusive video footage of TAO DANCE THEATER at the 2011 American Dance Festival. The company performs June 20-22 at Reynolds Theater at Duke University.
Produced and narrated by Byron Woods.
A busy year for Bill T. Jones? You decide.
His incandescent musical on the life of Nigerian Afropop composer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, FELA!, closed this January after 13 months on Broadway and a no-brainer Tony Award for choreography. By then, the musical’s world tour had already opened at London’s National Theater, before dates in Fela’s native Nigeria this spring. The tour continues: FELA! opens tonight (June 15) in Amsterdam, before just-announced dates in Washington, DC in September.
Jones was named a Kennedy Center Honoree last December. And he’s been at the center of perhaps the biggest story in the New York dance world this year, overseeing the merger of his 29-year-old company with DANCE THEATER WORKSHOP, that longtime downtown cradle and crucible for contemporary dance. The name of the new organization: NEW YORK LIVE ARTS.
In recent weeks, his company has been reconstructing the three repertory works we’ll see during residencies up the road in Charlottesville and at Bard College in upstate New York.
And in between them was that little tete-a-tete between Jones and SITI director Anne Bogart at UNC on April 7, where they announced an upcoming collaboration on Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING, scheduled for Carolina Performing Arts’ 2012-2013 season.
More after the jump.
You understand, this just doesn’t happen. After a certain point in their careers, two dance headliners just don’t share the same stage on the same night.
But the occasion isn’t just the opening evening of the 2011 AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL. It’s something of an early retirement bash honoring director Charles Reinhart, whose long and storied career draws to a close this season. The night’s also a benefit for a new scholarship and commissioning fund established in his name and the name of late co-director Stephanie Reinhart.
That’s why we’ll see performance artist JOHN KELLY give modern dance a distinctly commedia dell’arte turn in a staging of MARTHA CLARKE’s PAGLIACCIO, and SCOTTISH DANCE THEATER get down and dirty to A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails in the combative/collaborative duet, DRIFT.
HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO’s large ensemble will confront us with the emphatic iterative bodies seen in a half-hour, five-sequence excerpt from OHAD NAHARIN’s THREE TO MAX, set to music by Brian Eno, Lucky Ali, Rayon and Seefeel. Our own AFRICAN AMERICAN DANCE ENSEMBLE will honor Reinhart’s legacy with a high-octane dance and drumming section from their work, HONORING THE LEGACY. And dancer, actor—and uncanny impressionist—MARK DENDY will convince no less a legacy than MARTHA GRAHAM to say a few words appropriate to the occasion.
And after all that, we’ll drink a toast to the guest of honor at a post-show reception in DPAC’s Star Terrace Lobby and Skyline Lounge.
The $125 ticket is pricey, but it includes the show, an exclusive meet-the-dancers dance party afterward with live music, free drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres—plus a documented $60 tax deduction back your way.
More after the jump.
Nederlands Dans Theater
Through March 30
You can tell Memorial Hall Box Office tries to be forthright about the merchandise it sells.
Across the face of my front row balcony ticket for the performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater, a big black box is printed. In it, the words “Possible Partial View” appear, in white.
But since no similar warnings were printed on what were my original tickets for the show — fifth row from the front of the orchestra — this review necessarily begins with something of a consumer advisory.
If your tickets for tonight’s performance are in the center bank toward the front of Memorial Hall — in rows E or F, say, between seats 21 and 35 — you may very well want to exchange them. If you don’t, you might experience what I did last night, and subsequently have to enact some choreography of your own in the audience during the performance: an impromptu seated version of what I've wound up calling “The Dance of the Broken Windshield Wiper.”
A significant portion of Crystal Pite’s choreography in The Second Person, which opens the program, takes place on or adjacent to the floor of the Memorial Hall stage, as dancers crouching, seated or positioned on their sides or backs explore and excavate the area closest to the ground. In addition, most of Willeke Smit’s eerie puppetry, with figures that might be three feet high, also takes place in that zone.
The problem is this: At least the first six or seven rows in Memorial Hall appear to be unraked — that is, set on a surface with no appreciable incline. As a result, in order to catch a glimpse of anything happening near the stage floor, dance-goers five and six rows back from the stage (in what, no doubt, are usually premium seats) wound up repeatedly craning their necks and upper bodies back and forth, looking for a break among the heads and shoulders of the crowd dead ahead of them.
Voila: The Dance of the Broken Windshield Wiper.
The experience was so frustrating I asked to be reseated during intermission — which the Memorial Hall staff did, to their credit, with professionalism and dispatch. But by then, half of the program was over: a difficulty if one’s job depends on actually seeing a dance work in its entirety—not just the top four feet of it.
My advice: Check your tickets before the performance. Avoid my experience if at all possible.
More on the individual works, after the break.
So, for that matter, might the festival’s choice for the 2011 Samuel H. Scripps Award: choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Despite an internationally celebrated career that has spanned 30 years and inspired festivals itself, the 2011 season marks the choreographer’s first performance—ever—at ADF. A check for $50,000 accompanying the award for a lifetime’s achievement sweetens the deal when her 27-year-old company, Rosas, debuts—at least, at ADF—with that group’s first work from 1983, Rosas dannst Rosas, June 10-12.
After her Pity Party and Various Stages of Drowning moved audiences last summer, we want to see the world premieres of Rosie Herrera’s Dining Alone (6/27-29), and a new work Martha Clarke will create on ADF dance students (7/18-20). Shen Wei is slated to present a world premiere that will display, according to press advances, “a new…side of [his] artistic skill” (7/14-16). The apparently immortal Paul Taylor debuts a new work, The Uncommitted (7/21-23), after Pilobolus presents the world premieres of three team-ups: with Butoh artist Takuya Muramatsu from Dairakudakan, the "engineers, programmers and pilots" at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)—and the Grammy-winning band OK Go (6/30-7/2).
Among notable reconstructions: Bill T. Jones remounts D-Man in the Waters, his 1989 work in honor of deceased company member Damien Acquavella, to live accompaniment by the Durham Symphony (6/16-18), before Dayton Contemporary Dance Company restages Donald McKayle’s 1959 masterpiece, Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder. (The company shows that work on a shared bill in which Ronald K. Brown and EVIDENCE presents their newest work, On Earth Together, to a Stevie Wonder soundtrack, June 23-25). Eiko & Koma continues their multi-year 40th anniversary celebration with a recreation of 1995’s River in Duke Gardens (7/5-6), and two associates of Twyla Tharp reconstruct Sweet Fields on ADF students (7/18-20), three years after Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s performance of it here in 2008.
Standouts among the other dates this summer include a performance of the complete Chapters from a Broken Novel, Doug Varone’s new work that audiences in Raleigh and Asheville saw tantalizing excerpts from in February (July 11-13). And after the austere dynamics of his 2009 mainstage duets, Emanuel Gat returns with his full company for the U.S. premiere of Brilliant Colors, July 7—9.
The season begins with a one-night benefit gala featuring African American Dance Ensemble, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Ohad Naharin, performance artist John Kelly performing Martha Clarke’s Pagliaccio—and Mark Dendy reprising his memorable solo performance as Martha Graham, June 9.
The full schedule appears after the break.
And yet. A finite cast of characters and symbols set on 78 pieces of paper have the potential to tell somewhere north of 1 trillion different stories, depending on how you lay them down. While the concepts on those cards have been set for some time now, when you change their order and juxtaposition, something happens: the message in them changes as well.
Choreographer DOUG VARONE has no deck of cards on stage tonight at Stewart Theater. He does have 22 short dances, which he’s been arranging and rearranging since he finished creating them last summer at the Bates Dance Festival in Maine. The collection's name is CHAPTERS FROM A BROKEN NOVEL. But as Varone has worked with the dances in the months since, he's found that every time he alters the order of the "chapters" in the work, new — and sometimes radically different — stories emerge.
"What's fascinating is that, by shifting where a chapter fits in the unfolding of events, the dramaturgy becomes completely different," he noted when we spoke last week. "When you see someone who’s been involved in a duet later in a solo—if you reverse them, the information is different.”
“That’s been the great journey in this piece, figuring out these different configurations and how they affect an audience. One thing I’ve found is that…I never lose.” Varone laughs. “No matter the order I put them in, there’s always potency.”
The Durham Performing Arts Center was energized Friday night with the North Carolina homecoming of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Cunningham founded the company in 1953 at Black Mountain College in western North Carolina; he died a year and a half ago, and his will outlined plans for a final two-year tour for his company, which will disband for good in December. Though turnout on Friday night was modest, those who did turn out were treated to a spectacular farewell for the storied troupe, which will perform one final time tonight.
The first dance, Duets, featured pairs of male and female dancers who took the stage in turn, moving in and out of synchrony, accompanied by a percussive score by Cunningham’s longtime companion and collaborator, John Cage. The musicians took advantage of DPAC’s elaborate sound system, sending skittery, trebly clicks and bass thumps 360 degrees around the space.
Two stories from the archives, before this weekend's performances by the MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY on its farewell "Legacy Tour," for those seeking further background on his work: a revealing interview from last summer with Cunningham dancer and dance reconstructor JEAN FREEBURY, followed by an earlier critical review from his company's last appearance at the American Dance Festival.July 2010 interview, she gave a revealing look into what his work looks and feels like from the inside; one woman’s personal, guided tour through his art.
Nine years before that, the ADF presented Cunningham’s company, for the last time, in 2001. I was there. My critical response to WAY STATION was published in the local press, on the international dance website, DANCEINSIDER.COM—and, ultimately, in the book Who’s Not Afraid of Martha Graham?, the final work of dance history by ADF’s beloved, long-time philosopher-in-residence, Dr. Gerald Myers.
Here's what I saw on the night of July 12, 2001, in Page Auditorium:
DURHAM, North Carolina — You can't miss her: in the middle of "Way Station," Merce Cunningham's latest creation, seen Thursday at the American Dance Festival, a woman enters slowly from off-stage left; walking, not quite tip-toe, on the balls of her feet. Less than a fourth of the way across stage, she stops. Still extended, she proceeds to take in the world around her with no small degree of fascination; head erect, slowly turning.
The inventory doesn't stop when she gets to her own form. As she looks at her arms, legs and torso the same rare air of discovery intensifies. At points she seems to be measuring gravity itself, and its effects on the body she is in. She deliberately articulates and extends each extremity individually, observing its responses, with what appears to be predominantly an intellectual interest — but one mixed with more than a glimmer of deep delight.
It's an unalloyed sense of wonder, at both the possibilities of physical form and the world it inhabits. In these insufficiently post-postmodern days, it's as rare as it is refreshing within the realm of modern dance. Cunningham had it when he started choreographing a little over fifty years ago. Obviously, miraculously, he still has it. We saw it clearly fund three separate — and quite rigorous — explorations over the space of thirty-three years in Thursday's concert.