The concerts of the International Choreographers Commissioning Program are an annual favorite of the parents of students enrolled in the American Dance Festival's intensive six-week school. Still, I don't think the folks are always ready to see exactly how their children are transformed upon the stage.
One's a shrieking harridan in a clingy red dress who's apparently gone missing from a Quentin Tarantino film. She offs an unsuitable guitarist before terrorizing the corps of performers, shoving a small, meek Asian boy across the set with a kick in the rump.
There's the chorus line of coffee-drinking maniacs, mincing their way in a caffeinated kewpie-doll column across the boards. And we haven't begun to talk about the semi-dressed ghosts and grotesques coated in rice powder, convulsively reanimated by ankoku butoh--literally translated, the "dark soul dance."
Hi, mom. What's wrong?
But even if the visuals in the three works making up this year's ICCP concert have been a bit, um, intense at times, for the most part they reaffirmed the core values of this unusual project: Artistic vision remains the coin of the realm--and the great equalizer. That's how hungry choreographers with an agenda can create a work in less time (and with a lot less money) than their professional counterparts--and still walk away with some of the most thought-provoking mainstage works of the season. Untried works with amateur casts can still transport us to different worlds. Sometimes they even bring us back.
It happened--again--on Monday night.
At first, Tatiana Baganova's Post Engagement seemed to be a satire on present and recent ADF touchstones. After the groans, yelps and moves of a dimly lit dance class briefly seemed to ape the sights and sounds from Takuya Muramatsu's just performed Mark of the Sun, the women and men in Baganova's piece segregated into two different groups with differing agendas.
Gender considerations are never very far away in Baganova's worlds; here, a funhouse mirror seems to be erected in front of our tribal sex roles. Men spin women like dials, manipulating and moving them across the stage. But for all this, no genuine supremacy seems apparent. Groups of men and women appear to be going through long-established motions--vividly executed at times--pre-determined paths linking the two communities.
Boring? Not with visuals as surreal as Baganova produces. When the dancers aren't climbing a big red wall across the back of the stage, they're walking across it horizontally instead. Elsewhere, they're dusted with white powder from shakers held above as they transverse a diagonal paper aisle across stage.
Like the work of the Dadaists, these images elude literal interpretation. But like Baganova's best, they take us into a world where the metaphors of our gender rules are made most literal, and laughable. That is, when they do not give us pause.
When is a world premiere not all it's cracked up to be? Puzzled audiences learned the answer to that question at the beginning of last week's concert by Ronald K. Brown's dance company EVIDENCE. The Page Auditorium lights went down at the start of what had been billed as the world premiere of Brown's new work, One Shot: First Glance. Fifteen minutes later, they came back up, after what was clearly an abbreviated--and unsatisfying--prologue to a much longer work that we'll have to wait another year or two to see.
Most of the time between was filled by two iterations of what program notes termed an opening prayer and salute entitled "THANK YOU." That extended prologue by the men of the company, led by Juel Lane's sumptuous dancing (which made Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya's equally sumptuous suit of crème and gold seem on the verge of flight), became the work's epilogue as well when it was repeated, to lesser effect, by three of the company's women.
Between these two thick slices of choreography there wasn't an awful lot of filling: a brief jazz-age social dance scene set to a Billy Strayhorn song had men and women rubbing their palms together anticipating a night on the town. The legacy of Pittsburgh photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris, ostensibly the subject of the dance, remained a surface lightly scratched at best.
Perhaps it won't be when the work is actually finished--perhaps in 2008, according to ADF press representative Margaret Potnick.
No, production schedules of new works don't always run on time. But Brown's own two-page proposal for the work, included in our press packets, called his new dance One Shot--without the "First Glance"--and stated that he hoped to begin constructing the dance "in the winter/spring of 2006/2007" before "a premiere in 2007."
So did ADF know before the season started that it was representing a first glimpse of an early work in progress as a world premiere of a completed piece? If not, why did organizers name what we saw an accurate "First Glance"? And since they didn't let audiences or the press know ahead of time, do we have to ask from here on out if each ADF "world premiere" is of a work that's actually scheduled to be completed the same year?
A note to departing ADF students, faculty and guests: Our festival wrap-up, including coverage of final showings, will appear in our next issue. If you're out of town, you can find it, along with the rest of our festival coverage, here on our Web site.