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North Carolina choreographers at American Dance Festival

ADF: Southern dance takes center stage 

North Carolina choreographers at American Dance Festival

Choreographer Autumn Mist Belk, with dancers (left to right) Christina Serafino, Suzanna Rankin and Carly Brown, preparing for ADF's Acts to Follow. (Photographed at 305 South in Durham.)

Photo by Rex Miller

Choreographer Autumn Mist Belk, with dancers (left to right) Christina Serafino, Suzanna Rankin and Carly Brown, preparing for ADF's Acts to Follow. (Photographed at 305 South in Durham.)

American Dance Festival
Acts to Follow
Saturday, July 14
Duke West Campus, Baldwin Auditorium

The American Dance Festival looms large in Triangle high culture every summer for the powerhouse modern dance troupes that visit the Duke campus stages. But while crowds queue up for the likes of Mark Morris and Shen Wei, hundreds of dance students go about their rigorous classes. And, on three Saturday nights during the summer, the festival turns Baldwin Auditorium over to young, up-and-coming choreographers in a series called Acts to Follow, which is billed as a showcase for North Carolina dance. For area dance artists, the event is a cherished opportunity to present their work. Our writers profile several of the choreographers who will be presenting work at the final Acts to Follow program this Saturday night. —David Fellerath


Watch four short films in which these choreographers discuss their work

Jumping jacks. Running suicides. Climbing rope. Squat thrusts. Pull ups. To us, these exercises sound like some horrible form of torture from gym class. But not to Autumn Mist Belk. She sees inspiration for a dance movement phrase. This was the start of Regulation, which is being performed this Saturday, July 14, as part of Acts to Follow.

Regulation engages eight semi-clone brides in the trials and tribulations of both marriage and divorce. The inspiration for this piece began with the pure movement of gym class antics, with all the high energy associated with a fitness center. The intense, sweaty rehearsals with her eight dancers involved piecing together these fitness movements into phrases such as jumping jacks morphing into the floor and climbing rope motions revolving into pull ups.

When Belk got tired of counting everyday at rehearsal, she experimented with music. Playing Pachelbel's "Canon in D," she noticed that the movement juxtaposed perfectly with this song, and the music was nailed down.

Special parts of the music piece went with running suicides, and it was then that Belk had this epiphany: These women appear to be "crazy brides running around." At the time, Belk was going through a divorce and encountering the hoops one has to go through in divorce. Movement before motivation started her choreographic process, but once she grasped the stimulus behind this piece, she ran with it (literally). —Madison Owen


Courtney Greer (left) and Joan Nicholas-Walker rehearsing Why Fall When You Can Stand In It? - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Courtney Greer (left) and Joan Nicholas-Walker rehearsing Why Fall When You Can Stand In It?

Christina Tsoules Soriano is the new dancer on the block at this Saturday's Acts to Follow. Soriano moved to North Carolina from Providence, R.I., less than a year ago in order to teach at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Not only is she making her ADF debut, this will be the first time she's performed in the Triangle.

Perhaps this new beginning here in the South was on her mind as she created the piece she will perform Saturday evening. Titled Begin Again, Soriano's solo work contemplates the challenge of beginning the process of choreography.

"It's funny at times, serious at times," she says. "I hope it clues people in a little bit to some of the question-asking that we do as choreographers when we enter into that act of making a dance—it's really difficult!" she says with an exasperated laugh.

Soriano's piece goes beyond movement in asking these questions, however. She engages in an exchange out loud as well, responding to a pre-recorded track of her voice.

"I've done this piece four or five times, but I'm always struck by talking to myself because it's my voice recorded and me responding. To have me responding is still something that gets me."

Soriano's vision to piece together a series of beginnings leads to a style that she describes as "fast, arrhythmic, deliberate, erratic, loopy.... Now I feel like I'm describing myself," she says with a smile. —Sarah Lupton


Choreographer Jess Shell - PHOTO BY REX MILLER

Courtney Greer never choreographs a dance about one particular thing. "There always seems to be numerous story lines," she says.

Greer, a veritable regular at Acts to Follow, will perform two pieces this year: a quintet entitled without were fightings, within were fears and a duet called Why Fall When You Can Stand In It? The quintet originally drew inspiration from two literary achievements, a Seamus Heaney poem called "Blackberry Picking," which uses a description of blackberry picking to discuss expectations, and The Myth of Sisyphus, in which Albert Camus talks about the happiness of accepting life's futility, famously using the metaphor of rolling a rock up a hill.

The duet, which Greer will perform with Joan Nicholas-Walker, claims origins of a simpler nature, beginning not from literature but from a physical place. Although her work is often inspired by specifics, Greer stresses that audience members can take any number of ideas and feelings away from the piece. "It's when [audience members] don't experience something that you think, 'Well, I guess I failed as a choreographer,'" Greer says. She adds that, in her experience talking to audiences after performances, the audience members often end up feeling something akin to what she felt when she choreographed it. —Megan Stein


Choreographer Jess Shell - PHOTO BY REX MILLER

"I don't think there's any right or wrong way to look at dance," says Durham-based choreographer Jess Shell. Though well-versed and well-rehearsed in the technical aspects of choreography after 10 years of serious dance training, Shell, who first performed at Acts to Follow last year with a piece called Sectioned, prefers to work from movement and emotion over technique. The inspiration for the piece she will perform Saturday, for example, deals with the emotional result of facing a problem alone.

"It's going through a difficult time in someone's life and feeling like you needed support from someone, but you don't find that support until after you've already gotten through on your own," she explains. "People are a lot stronger than they give themselves credit for."

To prepare for such a piece, Shell honed the relationships between her dancers by focusing on trust-based exercises. She even had her dancers perform blindfolded while their partners acted as guides on the dance floor.

Though Shell created the piece while thinking about relationships that exist with others and within oneself, she would rather audience members worry less about "getting it" and instead think more about what they see in the piece. Though she created the piece to have a specific meaning to her, she hopes spectators will be able to formulate their own stance on the piece so that it has meaning for them.

"Artists just want to present their piece and have the audiences come in and enjoy art for art's sake," she says. —Sarah Lupton


Amy Beth Schneider's Thread Dance Theater is known for evocative partnerships, dancing repertory that explores attachment, communal journey and autonomy, particularly as these concepts relate to the lives of women.

Formed in 2002 and based in New York and North Carolina, Thread recently performed in Warwick, England, and is anticipating its fifth season in New York City's BRIC Studio. This weekend, Thread will present a pair of new short works, including a quartet called Colony. Says Schneider, "The creation of Colony was actually inspired by another piece of repertory that my company created in 2005. That piece, Altar, is a quartet inspired by themes of journey and connection. Altar reaffirms the corps or group as a moving unit, while Colony explores a process of separation or individuation."

Schneider, a veteran of Choreo Collective, reports that for this year's Acts to Follow, "We have also been trying to fuse together solo and quartet work that was born of the same inspiration and movement vocabulary for this venue for the first time. This was a long-term goal for this repertory, but Acts to Follow has allowed us to create a version far sooner than we may have." —Megan Stein


Along with the companies profiled here, the performers will include Carson Efird, Even Exchange Dance Theater, Julie Mulvihill, Open Air Dance and Laura Thomasson. The performance begins at 8 p.m. in Baldwin Auditorium on Duke's East Campus. Admission is free, and a dance party will follow. For more information, visit www.americandancefestival.org.

Choreographer Christina Tsoules Soriano, from Winston-Salem, whose text-based piece Begin Again will be performed in ADF's Acts to Follow. - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Choreographer Christina Tsoules Soriano, from Winston-Salem, whose text-based piece Begin Again will be performed in ADF's Acts to Follow.
Courtney Greer (left) and Joan Nicholas-Walker rehearsing Why Fall When You Can Stand In It? - PHOTO BY REX MILLER
  • Photo by Rex Miller
  • Courtney Greer (left) and Joan Nicholas-Walker rehearsing Why Fall When You Can Stand In It?
  • North Carolina choreographers at American Dance Festival

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