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Last dance, part two 

Our 2003 ADF wrap concludes: The legacy of Stephanie Reinhart and a question about the future of the ADF

During a June 28 Reynolds Theater tribute to Stephanie Reinhart, the ADF co-director who succumbed to leukemia last September, her daughter Ariane said on stage, "I don't think she's gotten where she's going yet."

It was an easy feeling to get throughout the 2003 season. Though she herself was never one to grab a passing spotlight, a series of public tributes and other remembrances over the past year gave the late Reinhart, if anything, an even greater public presence at the ADF in the year after her passing, than in the ones preceding it.

For most of the past year, notices regarding her death, a public tribute ceremony in New York this past Valentine's Day, and a similar second ceremony here last month remained prominently placed at the top of the ADF website (www.americandancefestival.org ).

Then came the 2003 season poster: an eye-catching portrait of Reinhart, in shades of magenta and hot pink on a white background, by Alex Katz. Quickly it became the most ubiquitous image of the season: If dance-goers didn't catch the framed copy, measuring nearly five feet by three, from its commanding view of the Reynolds Theater lobby, they saw it on the cover of every concert program distributed throughout the season.

But beyond these iterated notices and images, perhaps the late co-director's presence was most clearly felt in the mainstage selections for the 2003 season.

It's common knowledge that planning the summer festival is a multi-year activity: In any season, the acts appearing on the main stages of the ADF have all but entirely been determined by the previous fall. Festival insiders have confirmed that Reinhart, who remained active until just before her death, was intimately involved in selecting this summer's acts.

Given that she had championed the cause of international modern dance in the decades before her death, it is hard to imagine a more fitting capstone to her career, or a more fitting tribute to her legacy.

The predominance of Asian and French choreographers this year recalled Reinhart's unprecedented travels in the early 1980s to both parts of the globe. The dance world remains grateful for what she brought back with her.

When she and husband Charles, her ADF co-director, first presented Dairakudakan in 1982, they introduced Butoh dance to the U.S. The following year, ADF first brought French choreographer Maguy Marin to American audiences. After that, Lin Hwai-Min, a discovery from Taiwan, would come to the ADF in its International Choreographer's Residency program, an internship for artists negotiating the difficult transitional state between student and professional work. Shen Wei was a co-founder of China's Guangdong Modern Dance Company, which the Reinharts championed at the dawn of the 1990s.

The list continues. India's Surupa Sen was an ADF student years before returning this summer with her Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. Tatiana Baganova was discovered while in Ekaterinberg, Russia's Theatre Provincial Dances group during the same period.

In this way, the ADF's 70th anniversary season largely proved an assembly of international companies and artists Reinhart discovered, presented with her husband to American audiences, and/or championed upon their arrival in the U.S. In a real sense, the season constituted a summation of the last two decades of her career.

Those wondering what modern dance might have looked like without Reinhart's contribution in that time could begin by subtracting the majority of the names above.

But don't just take them from the season's calendar. Erase them off the cultural map entirely, instead. Why? Artists create for a finite period. If in that time they are not encouraged, or never connect with their audience, frequently they stop. In short, a presenter has a certain amount of time in which to see new art--that is, while it is being made--and then attempt to connect it with an audience.

That time is particularly limited with theater or dance. While a painting stays painted, and a printed word remains on page, dance evaporates the moment it is done. It takes resources to keep it going.

All of which begs a crucial question: Given ADF's thin staff, who's on duty now? Who is presently combing the globe, looking for the things Reinhart looked for while she was still alive?

And if no one is, what is modern dance now missing as a result?

It bears noting that a career retrospective--even one as vast and influential as Reinhart's--is rarely achieved by looking forward. And yet that happened more than once this memorial season.

Maguy Marin made a bold statement of social, political and artistic conscience in the U.S. premiere of One Can't Eat Applause. Then she did so again at the Scripps/ADF Award ceremony. As Camus did half a century before, Marin challenged the artists in her audience again to create, dangerously.

Yes, in Marin's view dance had "historically never stopped embodying all possible forms of oppression by masking them behind its lovely appearance." Still, she believed it could be a tool of resistance: "a weapon that disarms. A weapon that does not kill." Marin knew dance was able to counteract the contemporary faces of oppression, which she found not only in war, but in the market economy, the media, entertainment and overconsumption. "Like many others, I don't recognize myself in this world that is being made for us," she said. "I cannot accept it as it is. And if appeasement is no more than a habit, I don't want to be appeased." (Marin's full speech is reprinted at http://www.american dancefestival.org/Archives/scripps/marin speech.html.) Nor was Marin the only one looking forward. Both Sen and visiting choreographer Priya Darshini looked for ways to inform the overdetermined rigor of classical Indian dance with modern sensibilities. Hwai-Min sought to marry Graham technique with martial arts and Chinese calligraphy. Martin Nasser-Gousset's company, La Maison, found a way to fuse French film, literature and dance in Neverland, the superior work we should have seen from them this summer, instead of the earlier, problematic Bleeding Stone.

If all did not uniformly succeed in their quests, the world of dance is still richer for the attempts. Each adds to what is known; all become something to build on.

Still, a certain note of final things crept through my May conversation with Charles Reinhart. Modern dance couldn't "stay in the creative period it's been in for the last half-century or more," he observed.

Couldn't such a period continue indefinitely? He replied, "Absolutely not. It's like all those incredible painters at the turn of the century in France, and all those incredible painters in the '60s in this country. Not that there isn't one or two in between, but there are these explosions that go on for some decades in all these different art forms. When they happen you've got to ride them."

During our conversation, Reinhart seemed to place the emphasis more on nurturing and sticking with artists already identified as worthy, than expanding the search for new ones.

"There's the feeling from some of the press and maybe some parts of the audience that these new voices are out there all the time."

"Actually, if you get two a decade, that's a lot. We're not about to say, 'Look, here are all the new things going on, and 99 percent of them are not going to be here in four or five years,'" he continued. "We're trying to say 'Look, these are the ones we believe are going to make their mark for the long distance, that are going to add to our cultural heritage.' It's not the name of the day or the shooting star of the year, and there are plenty of those."

"If you look at our record we were early in there for two of the real majors of the 1980s: Bill T. Jones and Mark Morris. And for the hopefuls for the 1990s, which aren't quite clear yet, I think if you look at Ron K. Brown, John Jasperse and Shen Wei, that's not a bad list."

"That's who we've really stuck with, and tried to support in every way possible," Reinhart said. "I'm not sure there's too much we've missed--if you really look at it, and see who's still around here, and who started out then."

"I think that's what this organization has been about--the consistency," Reinhart said. "The belief in the artist and staying with that belief."

But is such a belief being reciprocated by the field? Three months after Stephanie Reinhart's death, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts terminated Charles Reinhart's contract as the center's artistic director for dance, a position he shared with Reinhart since 1996. A subsequent one-year extension as artistic advisor ends this December.

Jason Palmquist, vice-president for dance administration at Kennedy Center, terms the move "a natural progression."

"While under our previous president there had been a system of artistic advisors, since Michael Kaiser came on board as president, this is a move to bring that work in-house," Palmquist said. While Charles Reinhart "was influential" in determining the Center's upcoming 2003-2004 season, Alicia Adams, the Center's vice-president for international and dance programming, is assuming his duties.

Palmquist was quick to praise the Reinharts' contributions. He called the growth in the modern dance program under their leadership "extraordinary" and observed, "They took what was a relatively minor modern dance presentation series and turned it into one of the best in the country. Our goal will be to continue in that tradition."

Still, they will continue without Charles Reinhart.

Perhaps Reinhart's views qualify him as a seeming contradiction in terms: a modern dance conservative. There's little argument that modern dance desperately needs its conservators--those dedicated to preserving the masterworks by the greats in the art form.

But if, in his view, those he terms "the hopefuls" of the 1990s haven't been quantified by now, over three years into the following decade, one wonders exactly what hopes the artists of 2003 have.

For one of the main things the 2003 season inadvertently demonstrated, in welcoming so many foreign guests of long association, was how little room there is at present at the ADF for American choreographers without such enviable credentials.

Take the ICCP, for example. The International Choreographers Commissioning Program has been a staple of every ADF season since 1987. What we see there routinely defines some of the best work of the year at ADF. Witness Baganova's Wings at Tea, which wowed the audiences at her Kennedy Center debut this spring. She created it here, for the ICCP, in July 2001.

But what about the ACCP--the commissioning program for young American choreographers? Ironically, the American Dance Festival doesn't have one of those. Moreover, it's been eight years now since the closest thing to it, the Young Choreographers and Composers in Residence project, was last seen at ADF.

While it lasted, the YCCR encouraged and presented such (then) young artists as Mark Morris and Ron K. Brown. In its continued absence, the irresistible question is, who's missing?

In its 2003 season the ADF has honored the dead and validated a vision that tirelessly sought out new art across the earth.

But to truly serve modern dance, the ADF must now again demonstrate itself capable of doing likewise in its own homeland.

A YCCR, an ACCP--or any other collection of letters that gives encouragement, opportunity and exposure to young American choreographers--would provide a way for the oldest American modern dance festival to renew its support of contemporary American dance.

Look homeward, ADF. EndBlock

  • Our 2003 ADF wrap concludes: The legacy of Stephanie Reinhart and a question about the future of the ADF

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