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Season preview: American Dance Festival 

The festival is a week shorter, but the familiar stars are back

Each season, director Charles Reinhart can be counted on to voice one of his favorite mottos about the American Dance Festival: "Onwards—and sideways!"

This summer the aphorism seems unusually appropriate. With the move to the Durham Performing Arts Center, the festival gets a major upgrade, but while a budgetary crisis has forced the festival to cut a full week—and a quarter of its marquee mainstage productions —from its calendar.

Look for enhanced coverage, video previews and critical profiles throughout the festival on our Artery blog.

click to enlarge Shen Wei Dance Arts
  • Shen Wei Dance Arts
Shen Wei Dance Arts
World Premiere: Re- I / II / III
June 18-20, Durham Performing Arts Center

At its most compelling, Shen Wei's unique fusion of choreography, costume, sculpture, calligraphy and Chinese painting and music has opened surreal new worlds on stage. Unfortunately, rethinking earlier works has marred the last two pieces we've seen from him: Connect Transfer II (unwisely truncated for display in art museum spaces) and Re- (Part I), the original version of which offered ADF audiences a moving meditation on the Tibetan diaspora in 2006.

Both preceded the hedged bet local audiences witnessed in January of this year: a lengthy lecture-demonstration instead of a premiere of a reworked Re- (Part II).

The Montreal paper Le Devoir said the "singular beauty" of the original Part II, devoted to Shen's experiences among the Cambodian temples of Ankgor Wat, "literally fossilize[d] the audience."

But what impact might a new Part II, which ran months behind schedule for release, have had on the yet-unseen Part III, devoted to China's future as a convergence of cultures? Festival sources are promising that Re- I / II / III is now complete and ready for its world premiere—barring future revisions, of course. They've also advised us of the partial nudity (with full-body makeup) that might concern some parents bringing children to the show.

click to enlarge Emanuel Gat Dance - PHOTO BY MIA ALON
Emanuel Gat Dance
World Premiere: Winter Variations
Jun 22-24, Reynolds Industries Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University

It looks like we have a classic case of before and after on our hands. For footage of the "before," type these words (without quotation marks) into the search box on YouTube: "gat sadlerswells." The top entry contains two sections from Winter Voyage, the "bald men in gray skirts" piece that followed Gat's 2005 ADF performance of The Rite of Spring.

Now, for the "after," type "winter variations" in the YouTube search box. Up comes rehearsal footage of a section from his upcoming world premiere of Winter Variations.

Even if choreographer Gat and Roy Assaf did look like two refugees from a Margaret Atwood novel in their 2005 duet, the ambiguous but undeniable tensions between the pair dancers filled the room with electricity—and questions.

As opposed to the more recent footage, which seems to suggest, well, a pair of metrosexuals in full preen. (Who, granted, can dance really well.)

Gat has written that the new piece, to music by oud player Riad al Sunbati and The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" along with Richard Strauss, develops "a few seconds of dance" from Winter Voyage into "full chapters of...elaborated sequences of human drama." He then goes on to call Winter Variations "a duet of extreme intimacy." Here's hoping.

click to enlarge Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
  • Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
June 25-27, DPAC

Passing strange: The festival's season brochure makes no mention that choreographer Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance Company closed one ADF season with this work, which, it claimed, was created in 2007. The catch? Batsheva appeared here last in 2004.

Subsequent inquiries confirmed that what was initially a "greatest hits" piece celebrating Naharin's first 10 years with Batsheva with 13 excerpts from nine dances in 2004 has added three new sequences from two dances created since then. "But," festival sources insist, "it looks really different when placed on ballet dancers."

In any event, Decadance is a work well worth re-seeing. In 2004, its pointed critique of the culture of violence, coercion, surveillance—and a certain religious and political social lockstep—seemed directly aimed at several regimes in power, in America and elsewhere at the time.

Naharin's resetting of the work on Cedar Lake was warmly received two seasons ago. In January 2008, Bloomberg's Tobi Tobias termed Decadance "Cedar Lake's only real hit" in its first five years of operation. Last week, a prominent New York dance critic termed Naharin "the best choreographer to get hands on Cedar Lake since their founding." One reservation was noted by a critic who'd seen both productions, the New York Sun's Joy Goodwin, whose review of the 2007 company premiere noted that Cedar Lake, while "no pale imitation," lacked "the heat and full-throttle attack" of Batsheva's version.

VIDEO: You be the judge
click to enlarge H. Art Chaos - PHOTO BY ETSUKO MATSUYAMA
  • Photo by Etsuko Matsuyama
  • H. Art Chaos
H. Art Chaos
World Premiere: Flowers of the Bones; The Rite of Spring
June 29-July 1, Reynolds Industries Theater

At the outset, dancer Naoko Shirakawa's character suggests an art casualty with a seriously hypercaffeinated hangover, in what seems to be a minimalist version of a college apartment the morning after a particularly successful bacchanal. An overturned floor lamp—which, inevitably, she'll try to choke the living daylights out of—provides the only illumination at first as the soloist struggles to regain consciousness, sobriety and equilibrium.

But since the soundtrack's Stravinsky, you can tell: It's just not going to be that kind of day.

Yes, by now everybody's done their Rite of Spring, and a one-generation dance moratorium should be in effect. But this deliberately over-the-top 1995 interpretation predates most of them. And this Japanese women's dance company, determined to undermine culture's notions of submissive beauty, torpedoes the Rite's classic subtext of pagan female sacrifice—by making it the background to an absurd little living room war. Its bombast and histrionics ultimately ridicule the pomposity of the original.

Plus, choreographer Sakiko Oshima leaves us with a useful tip for entertaining: When menacing guests don't know when to leave, long wet hair makes an excellent flail.

The only information available at press time about the world premiere is its title—Flowers of the Bones—and the composer, long-time ADF musician Alan Terricciano.

click to enlarge Aspen Santa Fe Ballet - PHOTO BY ROSALIE O'CONNOR
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Tharp: Sue's Leg; Forsythe: Slingerland Pas de Deux; Dean: Night
July 2-4, DPAC

The company that impressed audiences and critics with a nuanced reading of Sweet Fields, Twyla Tharp's take on Sacred Harp and Shaker hymnody, returns with one of Tharp's earlier, pivotal works—her first commission, Sue's Leg. This 1975 melange of ballroom, Broadway and tap influences for quartet animates a series of Fats Waller recordings from the 1930s. Look for a standout solo performance during the reiteration here of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love."

It's hard not to feel a bit of anticlimax, if not irony: For years, William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballett was cited, along with Pina Bausch, as companies that couldn't fit on the Page Auditorium stage. Now, in the sumptuous new DPAC, ADF finally stages its first Forsythe piece—and it's a pas de deux that easily would have fit in Page. It's understatement to note that Slingerland is not Forsythe's showiest work, nor anywhere near his most extreme. Still, the tensions in the sharp divisions of the work are worth close scrutiny. Gavin Bryars' eerie string quartet provides clues to a relationship we only see parts of.

The company closes with another historical first ballet commission: Laura Dean's Night, whose music of the spheres was originally created for the Joffrey Ballet in 1990.

click to enlarge Pilobolus - PHOTO BY JOHN KANE
Various works
July 9-11, DPAC

They rocked Oprah and the Oscars—and shilled a few cars for Volkswagen and Hyundai—with human shadow puppet tricks. Their controversial 2008 ADF collaboration with Basil Twist provoked the predictable "But is it dance?" arguments.

The latest coup in their never-ending quest for pop culture greatness puts all of these in deepest shade: In late April, the group performed on So You Think You Can Dance. (Well, the Australian version, at any rate.)

There's better news, closer to home: the family-friendly perennial boasts the world premiere of "2B," a new collaboration with Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak—and a restaging of their first group effort, Rushes, which was a true standout here in 2007. We'll also see Jonathan Wolken's new work, Redline.

click to enlarge Doug Elkins and Friends
  • Doug Elkins and Friends
Doug Elkins and Friends
Fraulein Maria
July 13-15, Reynolds

We're off to, um, camp with this beloved hip-hop choreographer's deranged cabaret based on—what else?—The Sound of Music. A gender- and genre-bending hoot when it premiered in 2006—and subsequently revived in each of the next two years—this mash-up of club dance, ballet in-jokes and our favorite things in between should provoke tears—of laughter. Recommended for everyone who loved—or hated—the iconic Julie Andrews film.

Paul Taylor Dance Company
Beloved Renegade, Mercuric Tidings, Scudorama
July 16-18, DPAC

Advance word is good on Renegade, Taylor's homage to Walt Whitman. The Village Voice's Deborah Jowett notes that it "speaks of an artist's visions and memories, his regrets, and his awareness that death is nearer than it was a decade ago," before concluding, as other critics have, that "[t]he beloved renegade could be Taylor himself."

Along with Mercuric Tidings, we see a reconstruction of one of Taylor's earliest "ugly" pieces: Scudorama. The archived film from its 1963 premiere at Connecticut College says much—but it doesn't disclose what the piece will do with present-day audiences.

click to enlarge Laura Dean
  • Laura Dean
Past/ Forward
Works by Faye Driscoll, Rosie Herrera, Laura Dean
July 20-22, Reynolds

Faye Driscoll has been a standout since her time with Doug Varone (you may remember the passion in her movement as she gurned her way through a duet with John Beasant III in The Bottomland), and she has gained significant critical notice through a series of edgy, semi-autobiographical dance works. 837 Venice Boulevard, a remembrance of adolescent preoccupations with sex and gender roles, was praised by the Voice as "a wild, ferocious, wrenching and hilarious piece of dance theatre," by The New York Times. Former Voice dance editor Elizabeth Zimmer noted the choreographer's "direct line to how young teens relate to one another, physically and emotionally," before concluding, "Driscoll is the future; catch her while you can." In its capsule season summary, the New York Times cites her world premiere, placed on ADF dance students, as "a sign that the festival may finally be letting in exciting younger contemporary choreographers."

Rosie Herrera is probably the season's stealth candidate when it comes to choreography. She will restage her first full-length dance piece, Various Stages of Drowning: A Cabaret, which bowed in March at Miami's Here & Now Festival. The original production featured two drag queens, actors, dancers, bakers, small children, 10 birthday cakes and a lot of water ("sprayed through a hose, in a bathtub, and in blocks of ice," according to the Miami Herald).

Rodger Belman restages Laura Dean's centrifugal 1980 work, Infinity, which New York Times critic Jack Anderson termed "a cosmic square dance" after its premiere. Clap hands.

click to enlarge Mark Morris Dance Group
  • Mark Morris Dance Group
Mark Morris Dance Group
Various works
July 23-25, DPAC

One of modern dance's most musical choreographers closes the season with two recent works: His 2005 Candleflowerdance, set to Stravinsky's Serenade in A, is dedicated to the late writer Susan Sontag, and takes place within an on-stage zone bordered by the objects in the title. In it, The Boston Globe's Thea Singer notes, "Couples push their palms together to create bridges, individuals pull their arms around themselves, reach far with a hand, and then caress their faces in a phrase as sad as a last goodbye," before a telling repeated gesture, reported by's Oksana Khadarina: "The dancers line up in order facing the audience, then one-by-one fall to the floor as if a candle flame blown out by the wind."

The concert concludes with works from repertory: 1990's Going Away Party is set to Bob Wills, A Lake, from 1991 (set to Joseph Haydn), his playful interpretation of Erik Satie, Peccadillos (2000), and Excursions, set to same-titled music by Samuel Barber.


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