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American Dance Festival maps modern dance in its 27th season in Durham

The cartographers reconvene in Durham this week: a colorful crew of expeditionists, pathfinders, nomads and navigators from across the globe. They are nothing if not diverse. Some have made their name in recent years by bushwhacking: finding home in terra nova, making do with shelter that is temporary, portable and partially improvised. Others never travel less than first class.

So their interests differ--and so do the maps themselves. That's partially why they have these gatherings in the first place: a month and a half of carefully comparing charts, placing grid on top of grid, searching for the common ground and the points of greatest disagreement. Felicity and fights break out: arguments well into the evening when descriptions do not sync. Such mighty conflicts over small, handcrafted worlds that do not completely coincide.

A few actually realize that since the world and its inhabitants are in constant change, its maps have to be as well.

"Mapping Modern Dance" is the theme for this year's edition of the American Dance Festival. A more potent metaphor would be hard to find for the labor that takes place each summer on Duke's East Campus and in the theaters adjacent to Duke Chapel. The mainstage shows in Page Auditorium and Reynolds Theater start this week and continue through July 24.

But they're only the tip of the landmass, in a sense. As the festival continues, professional dancers, teachers, journeyman choreographers and master musicians from around the world assemble for a school as advanced as it is temporary. They take the campus, they work the craft.

African drum choirs invoke a bantaba--a ceremonial dancing ground--in the green grass just off Main Street. Dancers self-baptized in sweat distill their art in that hot centrifuge, the Ark. Free demonstrations and performances abound.

They're all explorers, en route to new territory. They map what they find--in the human condition, in the state of the world--as they go.

We'll be making maps as well, in The Independent's weekly coverage of the festival this summer. Our first one's right here: an overview of the season's mainstage shows.

But before we pop the cork, our yearly warning: In Page Auditorium there are decent sightlines and unbusted kneecaps. Unfortunately, patrons can't have both while occupying the same seat.

The stage in Page is at eye level with the orchestra seats--which means that patterns or lights projected on the floor cannot be seen.

Sounds like a little thing, but it's made a fundamental difference in performances in recent years by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and a Doug Varone world premiere, when major portions of the works were invisible to all on the ground floor.

The problem with the balcony? Aside from steep steps and Alpine heights, there's the close encounters legs and kneecaps tend to have with unforgiving backs of metal chairs--or worse, the heads of unforgiving patrons in the aisle ahead. These problems should have been addressed years ago. Until they are, we have to warn you. By now we've learned that no one else is going to.

The box office phone is 684-4444. Tickets may be ordered on line at tickets.duke.edu. Check out the ADF website at www.amer-icandancefestival.org.

Pilobolus
June 10-12, Page Auditorium

Check the dates again, and you'll realize that changes in the ADF mix start early this season. For years many in the dance community had questioned openly whether these perennial--but arguably dated--crowd favorites really merited a full week (and twice as many shows as any other company) at the festival. Looks like someone listened. The Pils open ADF 2004 this weekend with Megawatt, which creator Jonathan Wolken has described as "plugging yourself into the nearest electrical socket." Dance captain Renee Jaworski has termed the work "what happens when raw physicality meets music." Alison Chase presents a trio work in process, and the world premiere of a Michael Tracy duet for Jennifer Macavinta and Manelich Minniefee precedes the famous "tall woman" work from 1975, Untitled.

Parents won't want to miss their Saturday children's matinee at 1 p.m.

No show tonight?
June 15-16 Page Auditorium and Reynolds Theater

Another change, but not for the better: this unprecedented gap in the second week of programming signifies a season with one mainstage performance slot less than any festival in the past decade.

Paul Taylor Dance Company
June 17-19, Page Auditorium

It's no coincidence that the Society of Dance History Scholars convenes the weekend Taylor returns to ADF; they'll be celebrating--and studying--his company's 50th anniversary. To accommodate them--and, thankfully, us--the company reciprocates with works from 1956 to present day in three different concerts on Taylor's three nights here.

Thursday, June 17's concert opens with his lilting, lyrical Aureole, followed by the simian humor of 3 Epitaphs. After intermission, Sunset recalls another wartime as soldiers on leave chat up the local girls--before heading to the front. Piazzolla Caldera, Taylor's smoky, sensual tribute to Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla closes the evening.

On Friday, June 18, comes the ritual work Runes: secret writings for casting a spell, a dark moment from prehistory set to Gerald Busby's atonal music. Comedy follows with Dream Girls, set to songs by a barbershop quartet, before the blissful, kinetic closing work, Mercuric Tidings.

Saturday, June 19 sees two of Taylor's most recent creations. After the balletic Airs, we see Le Grand Puppetier, which premiered in New York in March. It's a retelling of Fokine's Petrushka for the Ballets Russes--but tellingly set to a pianola version of the Stravinsky score, not its full orchestration.

The advance word on this new work has been decidedly mixed. The Washington Post called the world premiere "no more than blandly agreeable," and Time Out termed it "far too simplistic." Meanwhile, Newsday praised Puppetier as "a lighthearted yet utterly sobering fable about power for this election year," and Anna Kisselgoff's New York Times review describes "a parable about liberties eroded [...] in an old/new world order." We'll be the judges June 19.

The concert closes with Taylor's moving post-September 11 meditation, Promethean Fire.

Keigwin + Company
June 22-23, Reynolds Theater

If local audiences have any difficulty remembering Larry Keigwin's last star turn at ADF, all they need to do is start humming Bill Withers' soul classic, "Ain't No Sunshine (When She's Gone)." His sinuous, self-choreographed solo was one of the high points of Mark Dendy's 2000 ADF world premiere, a rock and soul revue called I'm Going To My Room To Be Cool Now, and I Don't Want to Be Disturbed.

Keigwin struck out on his own last year with a series of overtly comic, concise explorations of characters and relationships. Audiences at the Joyce and elsewhere loved his Female Portraits and Urban Birds, works that use humor to get well behind the human mask.

In the process, Keigwin made some impressive critical kills in short order. Venerated master dance critic Gus Solomons jr (who's being honored himself this summer at ADF) termed Keigwin's first company bow "a momentous debut." The Village Voice's Deborah Jowett said it soared. The Times ordered his presenters to bring him back "at least once a year," before Dance Magazine capped 2003 when it named him one of the "25 to Watch" in 2004.

We get our chance to see the works above, along with Straight Duet, a work reflecting on the current same-sex marriage controversy, when Keigwin's human comedy comes to town.

Ronald K. Brown/ EVIDENCE
June 24-26, Page Auditorium

ADF students got a peek at Come Ye, Brown's moving tribute to Nina Simone and Fela Kuti last summer in one of the free, impromptu showings which close the ADF school each summer. Now that it's finished, those who didn't get to Hayti Heritage Center when they hosted one night last fall can finally witness this potent, peaceful summoning of "warriors, angels and activists dedicated to the pursuit of liberation" in its entirety. That comes before the world premiere of Redemption at the Crossing, a collaboration with Trinidad poet Cheryl Boyce Taylor and composer Mamadouba Camara. The concert includes Alvin Ailey's Grace and Brown's solo tribute to Stephanie Reinhart, For You.

Before his ADF appearance, Brown conducts a residency for neighborhood children at Walltown Children's Theater June 20-24.

John Jasperse Company
June 29-30, Reynolds Theater

"Take the highway, west... " Jim Morrison darkly intoned, a decade or three ago. By then, California had morphed from the New Frontier to the End of the Road, a boom gone bust first iconified in '50s film noir excavations of the American Dream's sour underbelly.

Think it only happened once? What about the dot-com bubble of the '90s, or gay escapism as a red dawn broke upon the years of plague? The sudden darkness in West Coast cities in 2001? Does anybody dare ask, what about now?

Jasperse's CALIFORNIA, which premiered last November in Cannes, is about what happens when the weather shifts, when unanticipated developments makes us change course, relationships or identity. European critics noted Ammar Eloueini's enigmatic set, which looms over characters on a diverted "disturbing journey."

Festival of the Feet: Tap/Flamenco/Kathak
July 1-3, Page Auditorium

Regional audiences will need no introduction to Carlota Santana, whose fiery Flamenco Vivo company makes up a third of what sounds like a promising collision of cultures and techniques. In the course of three acts, American tap avatars Roxane Butterfly, Jason Samuels Smith and David Gilmore hoof hip-hop and uptown styles, Santana's company solos, and a delegation headed by Pandit Chitresh Das enact sacred Kathak dance. Then all three try trading fours on the same stage at the same time, to see what a fusion of these forms might look and sound like. Intrigued?

Shen Wei Dance Arts
July 5-7, Reynolds Theater

The promise of a Shen Wei world premiere has the dance world's attention focused here the second week of July--particularly since it's the first one in recent years whose creation wasn't halted in mid-labor and then finished months afterward.

Critics and audiences alike have marveled now for years at the painterly aspects of Shen's onstage work, from overt floor design of his Rite of Spring and Chinese visual art quotations in Folding, to the icy, two-dimensional trompe l'oeil of Behind Resonance. The inside word is that Shen takes painting effects a full step further in the world premiere of Contact Transfer. Do those dancers actually have paintbrushes in that photograph?

Russian Festival of Dance: Provincial Dances Theatre & Kinetic
July 8-10, Page Auditorium

In recent years, Tatiana Baganova and Sasha Pepelyaev have been staples of the festival's International Choreographers Commissioning Project--the program that unleashes dancemakers from around the world on advanced ADF students for six weeks and then puts what they come up with on stage. Mixed outcomes have been the result. Baganova's Wings at Tea was a funny and fierce exploration of Soviet feminism--the strongest work of the season at the 2001 ADF. Last year's Lazy Susan, however, dissipated in focus and coherency the further out it went in a revision of the Mad Hatter's tea party. In between, Pepelyaev's 2002 showing proved little more than an annoying collection of dance in-jokes that weren't that funny to begin with.

All the while, we've known these Russian choreographers have their own companies. Indeed, Baganova's Provincial Dances Theatre appeared here some years ago. And we've been wondering--particuarly with Pepelyaev--what their work looks like when it isn't being rushed to market or placed on amateurs. Now we get to find out.

Grupo Krapp
July 12-14, Reynolds Theater

In this Argentinian dance theater company's U.S. premiere, Mendiolaza places us in a dilapidated music hall on a Saturday night in the small mountain village whose name is the work's title. Nothing's happening, and no one's doing it--not the small-town South American version of the street punk, the geek or the thug, and certainly not the would-be femme fatale or her considerably angrier friend.

Small wonder this group takes its name (and some of its inspiration) from Samuel Beckett. The sextet explores the ennui, desperation and sudden violence in a dead-end culture in a dead-end town--interweaving these with black humor and sexuality. Keep an eye out for this one.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
July 15-17, Page Auditorium

This innovative hothouse company celebrates its 25th anniversary with a focus on new and recent works. Before Rooster, whose title suggests exactly where this humorous tribute to the music of the Rolling Stones is going, we see new work as yet untitled by Daniel Ezralow, and Ohad Naharin's Tabula Rasa, one week before his Batsheva Dance Company arrives. In their midst is Nacho Duato's Cor Perdut (Lost Heart), a work created for the haunting voice of Majorcan singer Maria del Mar Bonet.

International Choreographers Commissioning Program
July 19-21, Reynolds Theater

As mentioned above, the ICCP is the dark horse of the ADF. Choreographers with an amateur cast, a fraction of the budget that the big boys have--and nothing to lose--routinely go for it, and just as often bring in some of the most provocative work we see each summer. We mentioned Wings at Tea above--but how many remember that Shen Wei's brilliant Near the Terrace (Part I) was an ICCP offering in 2000?

Which is why we will be there when Russia's Olga Pona, Miguel Robles from Argentina and Toru Shimazaki from Japan present the final versions of their six-week summer projects.

Batsheva Dance Company
July 22-24, Page Auditorium

This Israeli dance company's first appearance at ADF coincides with provocative, volatile choreographer Ohad Naharin's tenth anniversary as the group's artistic director. Company and choreographer have both commemorated their association this year with Deca Dance, a remix of sequences from works created over the previous nine years. The order of performance changes nightly--which might explain the variant responses the group has gotten on the road. While the Seattle Times praised its "fascinating statement" about "the threatening unpredictability of contemporary life," the Los Angeles Times called the compendium "nothing more than an audition reel: clips that ended before you could get fully involved in them." We'll see if the truth lies somewhere in between. EndBlock

  • American Dance Festival maps modern dance in its 27th season in Durham

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