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The best and not-best of ADF 2011 

The 2011 American Dance Festival ended last weekend. Some 27 artworks, eight of them world premieres and another five never before seen in the United States, were presented by 20 companies over seven weeks. Looking back, the 2011 festival truly belonged to a number of individuals and developments. It was the season of ...


Major tributes to the festival's impresario and president, retiring after 43 years, opened, closed—and, actually, preceded—the 2011 season. A July 9 gala honoring him began with the rescreening of a biographical video tribute that had been shown at a star-studded January fête at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Then, in the festival's last week, North Carolina Arts Council Executive Director Mary Regan inducted Reinhart, on behalf of Gov. Beverly Perdue, into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Reinhart's stamp was not only visible on the choreographers and companies presented but also in the specific works they performed. After Taylor let him pick his company's program this year, Reinhart joked, "If you don't like it, it's my fault."


If the 2011 recipient of the ADF/ Scripps Award didn't already exist, novelist Don DeLillo, that relentless chronicler of the contemporary zeitgeist, would have had little choice but to invent her. The power of iterative bodies that DeLillo analyzes in works like Mao II and White Noise was palpably manifest in Rosas Danst Rosas. In that 100-minute choreographic labyrinth, the impact of a series of everyday gestures was magnified by their reiteration and gradual mutation across four dancers' bodies (including, on opening night, the choreographer's).

After executing a nearly mathematical set of lockstep moves, tossing and turning on a dimly lit floor that permitted no rest, the quartet marked time in permutations of poses while seated in a Kafkesque waiting room. We then saw the numbing monotony of an endless renegotiation of gender and interpersonal boundaries, one necessitated by bodies that constantly disclose sexuality whether their inhabitants desire to or not.

When four women examine on stage the needful, quotidian movements of rest (and its denial), dress, waiting and work, they are undeniably telling the stories of many more, across a number of generations. In this way, Rosas Danst Rosas constitutes a most compelling alternative history of Everywoman. DeLillo (and feminist historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) would have been pleased.


What has taken the place of conventional (or unconventional) narrative, so devalued among some contemporary dance artists? One answer: the scientific and mathematical frameworks around several major new works, which suggested that a number of choreographers might be better termed chief investigators instead. Since 2002's Rite of Spring, Shen Wei has set up various "games"—increasingly complex parameter sets governing movement and interaction—for his dancers to negotiate and solve in sections of each performance. Even the name of his new work, Limited States, seemed lifted from a dissertation title, while measurement scales projected over dancers suggested physiological motion studies conducted while performing various tasks.

Audiences that stuck around for a post-performance discussion with Emanuel Gat heard him delineate the underpinnings of his captivating Brilliant Corners almost as a psychologist or sociologist might describe the protocols of a behavioral experiment. "I choreographed none of the movement. It was generated by the dancers ... as a reaction to the environment and situation they are in," Gat said. "I try to determine a very clear environment: what are its mechanisms, what are the rules, the constraints they have to work in. The movement is a reaction to the environment and situation they are in." With results like this, more "research" clearly is justified.

In a similar vein, former MIT dance scholar Thomas DeFranzt anticipates establishing a "dance technology lab" when he begins work this fall at Duke University.

But unfortunately, Pilobolus may have been blinded by science when the premiere of Seraph, with MIT's Distributed Robotics Lab demonstrated the inverse of Clarke's Third Law: If a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, an insufficiently advanced technology still looks like a couple of amateurs geeking out with their new AR.Drones (those edgy—and iPhone-controlled—quadrocopters that debuted this past year).


That startling sound cue in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's excerpt from Ohad Naharin's Three to Max was actually a warning shot. Rock-show-level sound blasted Rosas' viewers before ultra-low frequencies rattled ribcages in Gat's self-generated, miasmic Brilliant Corners soundscape and Shen Wei's work.

But David Van Tieghem's wretchedly excessive original score plastered all of the aesthetic subtleties of an over-the-top action-adventure film on Doug Varone's Chapters From a Broken Novel, slathering "Spilling the Contents" in cheap bombast and "The Final Proverb" in unearned triumphalism while lending "Repeated Routines" and "Others in the Room" a suspense their movements may have not possessed initially. The inflated musical economy of expression only worked in "Tile Riot's" jokey depictions of a girl's spy-thriller fantasies in a high school washroom.

Ron K. Brown had soundtrack troubles of his own, over-relying on Stevie Wonder's lyrics to convey the relationship truths in a series of duets throughout his tribute to the musician, On Earth Together. The thin soup of Brown's affirming—but vague—choreography conveyed nothing of the tough love of the machete-wielding warrior god Ogun, and too little of the deep spirituality of his mentor, the late Dr. Sherrill Johnson, whom Brown invoked in our interview.

All was not lost when Pilobolus' collaboration with OK Go produced the delightfully vertiginous visual reorientations of All Is Not Lost.


In addition to the works mentioned above, the pensive passages contrasted with the unconquerable vitality of Bill T. Jones' D-Man in the Waters. Another faithful reconstruction, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's take on Ronald McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, gave new dignity to those who originally sang its suite of prison chants. And if Shen Wei has shown us several different ways of looking at the human body, this summer his visual collaborators at Fake Love helped, atomizing the human form in large-screen projections before pixilating the body of founding dancer Sara Procopio in real time, during her solo, "0-11."

Despite its difficulties, sections in Chapters From a Broken Novel including "Glass," "Erased by Degrees," "Ruby Throated Sparrows" and even the three-of-a-perfect-pair humor in "Men," conveyed the probing drama we've long associated with Doug Varone's best work. Martha Clarke's enigmatic mask work evoked the dark eroticism of Balthus and David Lynch in sections of Etudes for Italy. And if Bulareyaung Pagarlava indulged dancers, audience and Rossini in the end of Landscapes 2011 ADF, his discerning visions of Steve Reich earned our applause—as did the gambit that uniquely humanized his student dancers in our presence.


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