The 2008 American Dance Festival concludes with nods to the African-American modern dance tradition, postmodern performance, restagings of classics and a mini-festival featuring six Japanese companies spanning the last four nights of the season. (Unless otherwise indicated, curtain time for all performances is 8 p.m.)
RONALD K. BROWN/ EVIDENCE: Walking Out the Dark and For You
CLEO PARKER ROBINSON DANCE ENSEMBLE: Games by Donald McKayle
DOUG VARONE AND DANCERS: Home and Lux
Donald McKayle's 1951 work, Games, remains a major achievement in dance theater. Though it focuses on the childhood songs, mischief and playtime chaos of a group of city children, Games ultimately conveys the degree to which the songs' lyrics, the gibes and the fierceness suddenly accompanying the improvised role-play are actually warning the boys and girls about what will be expected of them as they become adults. We see innocence being taught—sometimes gently, sometimes less so—that it must ultimately become something else, in a work by turns poignant, startling and laugh-out-loud funny.
Judging from the current company video of Walking Out the Dark, the work has changed significantly since its 2001 ADF world premiere. It's now a work for quartet. Not to worry: If this change reduces the scope of the work, it's also intensified its center, in which people in two relationships memorably dance out their differences, with passion and total commitment. In 2001, I observed that Ronald K. Brown has rarely been more pointed in using his dancers' entire bodies to excavate their internal emotional states. Given what we've seen on the current video, that statement stands—and still applies—to what we'll see.
By comparison, For You is far from Brown's best work, either in solo or group choreography. It was, however, created in 2003 as a memorial to the late Stephanie Reinhart, beloved co-director of the ADF.
We've compared Doug Varone's character-based dances with the works of Raymond Carver. Home, from 1988, is one of the first works to have inspired the comparison; a carefully crafted study in intimacy, conflict and estrangement in a long-term relationship.
The opening of Lux reminds us that almost all of the light we see is actually reflected light: After the syrupy, dizzying strings at the start of Philip Glass' "The Light" convince us we're about to see a Douglas Sirk melodrama, the company members who join dancer Eddie Taketa on stage only echo at first his fearless, sweeping gestures.
The exuberance and bravura technique we know as Varone's signatures thrill in the subsequent movements. But the black costumes—and the light design itself—strongly suggest the artist has more on his mind than good times. For as a small, circular (and possibly lunar) light slowly ascends the back wall during Lux, the illumination on stage repeatedly waxes and wanes. What light there is in Lux is surrounded by darkness—and the balance between the two always seems in flux.
MEREDITH MONK: Solo from Education of the Girlchild
BILL T. JONES/ ARNIE ZANE DANCE CO.: Another Evening: Serenade/ The Proposition
Those who walked out on Maguy Marin's umwelt two weeks ago will probably want to snag aisle seats—in lieu of the refunds they won't get—for Monk's 32-minute solo. In the final, stand-alone section of her 1972 opera, an enigmatic character depicts a woman in three stages of her life—old age, adulthood and as a child, discarding a white wig and glasses and parts of a white, layered costume as she reverts to younger versions of the same person.
The relentless interiority of these ritualized depictions will likely challenge the non-dance faithful. And that's before Monk's sung but wordless music, which veers from eerie, simple childhood singsong to strident, abrasive vocal timbres and ululations similar at points to the one-time work of Yoko Ono.
But those who leave early won't see how Monk deftly gets at the heart of three similar—but quite different—characters, or with what poetry the seed of the crone is carried in the maiden. Our advice? Pay the tuition. Learn.
In March in Page Auditorium, we watched as Bill T. Jones and his colleagues erased the identities of the Otero family and Nixzmary Brown while aestheticizing their murders in Chapel/ Chapter, a work we ultimately found to be ethically problematic (see "Dance of death," Indy, March 26, 2008). Given the similarities between Serenade/ The Proposition's description and that of his upcoming project on Abraham Lincoln (working title: A Good Man!/ A Good Man?), this eighth version of Jones' Another Evening site-specific series promises, like earlier iterations, to constitute a draft and lab space for a larger work in progress.
LAURA DEAN: Tympani
MARK DENDY: World Premiere
ERICK HAWKINS: New Moon
HANYA HOLM: Jocose
The Past/ Forward series (which replaces the International Choreographers Commissioning Program for the second year in a row) was the site of discoveries both good and bad last season. Judson Church veteran Rudy Perez refreshed with his new "I Like A View," and audiences spiraled upwards into Laura Dean's "Sky Light." But sections seemingly populated by malfunctioning animated mannequins—and dated racial representations that now seem reductive, if not gratuitous—clearly showed just how aesthetically petrified much of Helen Tamiris' 1937 work How Long Brethren had become.
Tamiris' likely replacement on the hot seat this year? Erick Hawkins' New Moon. It was an undeniable hit in 1989. But what meaning actually resides in what we'd now call the overt Orientalism of Lou Harrison's score and Hawkins' choreography? And to sharpen the point, will the choreographers and dancers who are actually from that region—here for the ADF's Japanese Mini-Festival—be offended by the Orientalism in New Moon? And how authentic will it ultimately look when it's placed alongside their works this week?
DAI RAKUDA KAN: Secrets of Mankind
KOCHU TEN : ... gosh, I am alive ... by Takuya Muramatsu
NATURAL DANCE THEATRE: Circus
DANCE THEATRE LUDENS: Against Newton
KEI TAKEI: Woman Washing Rice
TERUKO FUJISATO: Shinju ten no Amijima
(Matinee: July 19, 2 p.m.)
Company's coming: We expect the doors to the underworld will slowly swing wide open once again when Akaji Maro's great Butoh battleship, Dai Rakuda Kan, docks in Page Auditorium.
As dance insiders already know, Butoh is a Japanese protest dance art form that began during the decade after WWII. Artists fearing that postwar Japan was abandoning too much of its cultural identity in its wholesale embrace of Western modernism at the time put on white rice powder and costumed themselves as grotesques suggesting hungry ghosts. Their characters were frequently convulsively reanimated ancestors, returned to mock, accuse and ultimately warn a world that when all traditions and the past are stripped away, a civilization is unprotected from its own worst instincts.
Friday and Saturday, other visions of Japanese dance prevail when Natural Dance Theatre uses music, mime, fabulous fabric and fantastic characterizations to show what happens when you really run away to join the Circus, before Dance Theatre LUDENS makes the most of falling bodies in Against Newton. Teruko Fujisato and Kei Takei close with two solo works—and two different takes on more traditional scenes. Kei extrapolates on the powerful labor of a Woman Washing Rice, while Teruko has a legendary woman keep her own counsel in Shinju ten no Amijima.
HOLLINS UNIVERSITY/ ADF MFA PERFORMANCES
See tomorrow's stars today when professional-level MFA students present the fruits of their labors in a series of thesis performances on the last night of the 2008 season.
Visit the Indy's ADF blog at www.indyweekblogs.com/adf.