Arts » Dance

ADF Preview 2006: Ideas take the stage

Legends of choreography, eager young dancers and a whole lot of buzz: Our critic previews all 17 companies at this year's American Dance Festival.


Michael Trusnovec in Paul Taylor's Banquet of Vultures - PHOTO BY TOM CARAVAGLIA

Here they come. Choreographic legends--whose more recent works have come into question. Enigmatic foreign choreographers--some apparently incandescent, others enjoying less than uniform achievement at times. Current journeymen (and women), striving to take their work to a higher level, and to larger audiences. Greatest hits and world premieres--many of which are more than worth the price of admission.

In short: some of the greatest minds and talents of this and the last couple of generations in modern and contemporary dance. And all of them, without exception, looking for that next step--the one that takes us further, ever closer to true.

It's the 2006 American Dance Festival. It starts tomorrow, in Durham. The full schedule is available at

Company's coming. What say let's meet the guests?

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Banquet of Vultures (2005), Aureole (1962), Cascade (1999), and Troilus and Cressida reduced (1962, 2006)

June 8-10, Page Auditorium

Tip: Taylor takes on Bush in Iraq in Banquet of Vultures, before comforting classical visions--including a new, recent reduction of Troilus and Cressida.

It's tempting to say ADF 2006 begins with a slam dunk: opening concerts by the company--and the choreographic legend--now entering their second half-century in modern dance. Without doubt, considerable respect is due. But the disturbingly variant execution during their 2005 performance in Durham--and news of multiple departures among the company's higher ranks this year, including Patrick Corbin, Heather Berest, Silvia Nevjinsky and Andy LeBeau--raise a couple of question marks where exclamation points belong.

We're prepared to see better, particularly given the mostly positive reviews from their just-concluded New York season. All eyes will likely be on what Claudia LaRocco terms the "sinister perfection" of dancer Michael Trusnovec as Death, the impeccably dressed CEO (or highly placed government official, perhaps) who leads a troupe of soldiers to their doom in Taylor's new, overtly anti-war anthem Banquet of Vultures. Another auspicious sign about the new work is the number of times initial critical responses have favorably compared it to Kurt Jooss' historic 1932 pacifist ballet The Green Table.

After noting this parable's "blinkered populace, ready to believe whatever it's told and do whatever it's asked to do" and "leader who promotes violence while professing himself God's instrument," Village Voice critic Deborah Jowett concludes, "I do not think [the company] will be invited to perform this work at the White House."

Leaving the darkness, Taylor follows with two of the company's particularly celebrated balletic turns. Audiences should thrill again to those semi-folk forms set to Bach, his recurrent muse, in 1999's Cascade, and the deceptively fluid exuberance of his first such foray, the familiar Aureole from 1962. The evening closes with a reworking of Troilus and Cressida, another work from '62, whose reduced version premiered last month in Syracuse.

David Dorfman Dance

Underground (world premiere)

June 12-14, Reynolds Theater

Tip: Dorfman returns to particularly fertile ground for him--politics and the past--in this highly anticipated world premiere.

This choreographer has been haunted by the past before. subVerse,his striking 1999 memoir of early '80s New York dance culture (the strongest work we've seen from him to date), saw a party culture gradually exchange the innocence of youth for a series of things just a bit darker. The human dimension of politics and conflict have also informed notable recent works, including Social Security, a witty solo slam on homeland insecurity, and Older Testaments, in which a small, glass house filled with naked people comes to symbolize the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

His new evening-length work promises to probe one particular movement in the radical left in the 1960s. Inspired by Sam Green's recent documentary on the Weather Underground, Dorfman will combine spoken word with video and audio footage from 30 years ago to ask "When can activism become terrorism, or vice versa--and is condoned or endorsed killing/destruction ever justified?" The Durham world premiere comes before its New York appearance at BAM's Next Wave Festival in November.

Rhythm Suites: Kathak & Tap Dance with Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith

June 15-17, Page Auditorium

Tip: Out of a recent ADF one-shot comes something lasting: a continuing conversation between two divergent masters.

Critics, including your host, turned their noses up at "Festival of the Feet," ADF's 2004 and 2005 evenings of substantially truncated dance tourism on the (not-so) cheap. But at least one useful thing came out of the 2004 edition: this ongoing artistic dialogue between Das, the Marin-based master of classical Indian dance, and Smith, who possesses two of the hottest feet in contemporary tap. In recent months the dancers have toured together, but in what critic Rachel Howard still terms "a conversation between cultures, not a fusion." Each performs--alone--first with his or her own band (a hot jazz trio and a compelling Indian string ensemble) and then each other's, before they dance together, briefly, in a finale. The anticipated synthesis of these two forms? Yet to come, apparently. But now, at least, they're talking.

Private Parts: Solos works by Sara Juli and Miguel Gutierrez

Juli: Deep Throat (world premiere)

Gutierrez: Retrospective Exhibitionist (2005)

June 19-20, Reynolds Theater

Tip: Two intriguing performance artists go to the edge, and at least one goes well beyond. If you're into that, approach with delight--or if not, with extreme caution....

Let's go out on a limb here: Juli and Gutierrez will present, hands down, the most controversial--and, just possibly, the most self-indulgent--evening on an ADF mainstage this year. That should accurately convey the stakes for two works that some will embrace--and others will immediately dismiss--as experimental performance art occasionally laced with movement.

Both artists play some fairly significant mind games with the audience to investigate (and upend) received truths about gender and identity, traditional expectations about performance, and a series of social conventions, but they do so in very different ways.

Juli uses disarming, semi-autobiographical narratives--and a deliciously sly, subversive sense of humor--to get at larger truths about us all. In February, she examined our culture's relationship with money by trusting total strangers in New York City with $5,000 of her life's savings during each night of the audacious (and critically acclaimed) Money Conversation at PS 122. Her new work explores gossip, apparently with simulated and actual real-time demonstrations.

Gutierrez is nowhere near so, um, gentle. We caught the harrowing first version of Retrospective Exhibitionist presented to the ADF community in a 2004 late-night show in Duke's Ark Studio. The DVD of its current incarnation now confirms that when Gutierrez applied an open flame at one point that night to his exposed upper thighs and buttocks in 2004, he was only warming up.

In at times an openly confrontational work, the performer attempts to get at the vulnerabilities a choreographer, a dancer and a gay male experiences when talking about and performing his art, in a field where not only the body but the entire public persona becomes the object of constant critical scrutiny. A droll, knowing sequence that sends up the conventions of improvisation is superseded later by abrasive screams, shrieks and an impressive, live, multi-layered rhythmic vocal track.

Less vocally impressive--but far more confrontational--is the fire ceremony mentioned above, a sequence that, on one level, seems an experiment in public ethics straight out of Stanley Milgram. What will our audience do when a performer proceeds to injure himself on stage--while shrilling out a ludicrous cover of vintage Kate Bush?

For those whose theatrical tastes tend toward the extreme, it's a mustn't miss. For conventional dancegoers, it may well be a mustn't see.



Program A: Prism (2006), Memento Mori (2006), Gnomen (1997), Solo from the Empty Suitor (1980), Day Two (1980), June 22 & 24
Program B:
Prism (2006), Gnomen (1997), Solo from the Empty Suitor (1980), Day Two (1980), Shizen (1978), June 23

Page Auditorium

Tip: Catch both of the newest works on Thursday and Saturday; enjoy the classics on Friday.

The proverbial known commodity of modern dance still packs them in at age 35. In his new quartet Prism, Michael Tracy, who's been doing some of the group's most interesting work in recent years, attempts to board that alternative music bandwagon Jonathan Wolken discovered in 2004's Megawatt, and in Program A we'll see Memento Mori, which has been described as a comic, poignant, character-based duet about aging.

In addition to Prism, both programs include the trippy (and by now familiar) Day Two, to music by Talking Heads and Brian Eno, and the vaudeville of Solo from the Empty Suitor. A standout on all three nights: Gnomen, that strange Pilobolus book of the dead, created as a tribute to company member Jim Blanc, who died from AIDS.

Provincial Dances Theatre

Wings at Tea (2002)

June 26-28, Reynolds Theater

Tip: The world premiere was funny, insightful, visually stunning, beautifully danced--but there've been some changes....

If this dance isn't familiar to ADF aficionados, it should be. After all, Tatiana Baganova stole the show--and the entire 2001 season--with its first incarnation during ADF's annual dark horse competition, the ICCP Concert (about which, see below). At the time, I said that if Dorothy Parker had repeatedly gotten pawed while growing up somewhere near the Urals, the result probably would have looked a lot like this: a funny, fractured fairy tale about clueless behavior and other courtship rituals between the sexes in a small, working-class town at once far away and too familiar.

The work we saw in 2001 has now doubled in length--a move that sometimes gets choreographers into trouble. A new central character has been added to the stage--and songs by Metallica and Apocaliptica have been added to daemon cellist Chris Lancaster's original score.

The original work by turns was loopy, sarcastic and surprisingly tender, but always visually compelling. Hopefully, the new additions will only add to its initial impact.

Emanuel Gat Dance

K626 (2006)

June 29-July 1, Page Auditorium

Tip: Like last year, another intriguing musical interpretation--on paper. But didn't we get stung last time?

In his ADF debut in last year's Rite of Spring, what began as genuinely intriguing choreography--a salsa-inflected, interlocking series of small ensemble cross-combinations on a relatively small oriental rug--plateaued early. Then it just seemed to vamp for time while running out the clock on the famous score. Equally disappointing was the degree to which it reiterated--without adding much in the way of new insight--some of the hoariest saws about women and sexuality.

Since the French world premiere immediately precedes this performance in Durham, there's no advance word on whether he fares any better with Mozart's Requiem in D minor than with Stravinsky. Still, we're intrigued--again--by his premise: setting 13 fragments of Mozart's final work (which remained unfinished at his death) and 11 women on stage. We'll see.

Shen Wei Dance Arts

Re-- (world premiere), Map (2005)

July 3-5, Reynolds Theater

Tip: No, it's not an opera this year. But what form will Shen's travels to Tibet find on stage?

Some audience members were alienated by Mr. Shen's new work last summer, but under the circumstances, it was pretty understandable. After all, the other regional media--and the festival itself--pretty much forgot to mention ahead of time that ticket buyers were going to the world premiere of a new Chinese opera, and not an evening of modern dance. Which is why we're here, I suppose.

His new work does continue the interesting conversation he began with his native culture last summer, contrasting experiences during his recent journeys to Tibet with poetry from the T'ang Dynasty, combining Eastern and Western instrumentals and vocals. Time will tell if American audiences ultimately find the work as impenetrable as last year's Second Visit to the Empress, but Shen's meteoric rise as a world-class choreographer since 2000 gives us considerable reason for hope--despite the mixed reviews his Map received last summer in New York.

Doug Varone and Dancers

Boats Leaving (world premiere), Castles (2004), Rise (1993)

July 6-8, Page Auditorium

Tip: A summation (and return to the stage) by an accomplished short story writer who writes his works in contemporary dance.

In the midst of recent theatrical and operatic excursions--choreographing Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Euridice off-Broadway, An American Tragedy at the Metropolitan Opera and Aquilla Theater's Invisible Man (which came to Raleigh last year)--Varone has taken a 20th-anniversary victory lap, touring with earlier explosive, exuberant works like Rise and recent revelations like Castles that have incorporated into a broader, operatic scope the intricacies of his signature, finely crafted character studies. In recent developments, Varone is dancing again after a hip replacement late last year. And the music his world premiere is set to, Arvo Part's Te Deum, suggests a return to interiors and explorations of the deeper passions.

Keigwin + Company


A Modern Line, Orbit, Love Songs (world premieres), Self Portrait #1 (2005), Urban Birds (2002)

July 10-12, Reynolds Theater

Tip: Last-minute program changes leave us wondering what we're going to see.

His work had its moments of genuine wit and introspection, occasionally lyrical and human. But, even though he was roundly celebrated at the time by the downtown contingent, Keigwin's disappointing 2003 ADF premiere seemed profoundly over-reliant on gay camp, lowest-common-denominator situation comedy about sexual miscommunication, and pointless stereotypes about women, all apparently repackaged more than reconsidered. Fun--enough--in some places, but not a particularly satisfying evening of dance.

Recent reports had him back to his old tricks, with a work whose slangy title after body parts dealt with "superheroes with superpowers in their genitalia." But after the season program was printed, he's discarded that for a new work, set to early Steve Reich. Maybe things are looking up. On the other hand, there's his plans to stage a--possibly comic?--tribute to A Chorus Line by soliciting help from the local public (auditions on July 2). Hmm....

Ronald K. Brown / EVIDENCE

One-Shot: First Glance (world premiere), Order My Steps (2005), High Life (2000)

July 13-15, Page Auditorium

Tip: Brown's deep, as usual--and urging us onward.

I like Brown's form of liberation theology. Apparently, I'm not the only one. The unassuming choreographer has always been preoccupied with a cultural and spiritual journey--the sometimes joyful, sometimes harrowing trek of an African diaspora community (and by extension, all humanity) toward freedom, grace and redemption. His new work delves into biography, celebrating the work of Charles "Teenie" Harris, whose award-winning black and white photography documented the champions and the quotidian in African-American culture in the middle of the 20th century.

We'll also see Order My Steps, a road exhortation from the book of Psalms to music by Terry Riley and Bob Marley, and High Life, his beautiful, intricate slice of Caribbean village life set to Fela's driving music.

International Choreographers Commissioning Program:
Tatiana Baganova, Luis Garay and Takuya Muramatsu

International Choreographers Commissioning Program: Tatiana Baganova - PHOTO BY BRUCE R. FEELEY

Three world premieres

July 17-19, Reynolds Theater

Tip: Worth the wager.

It's the dance equivalent of a lottery ticket: three entirely new works, on one night, for one money, with no advance word at all--except that telltale buzz among the ADF's students and faculty.

That's enough to make this the one ADF mainstage show you can never entirely count on--or count out. In this program, choreographers with something to prove regularly turn in some of the festival's strongest work. The twist? It's made with student dancers, on a fraction of the budget that the big boys have, in a fraction of the time.

So we're always looking for an artistic upset in these matches. Frequently we find them--along, of course, with regular misfires as well.

Though we celebrated Baganova's Wings at Tea above, the reach--and focus--of her work since then has routinely exceeded its grasp. Still, this artist's also-rans have given us more food for thought than some of this year's headliners.

Muramatsu has been mentored in recent years by Akaji Maro, the founder of that unearthly Japanese Butoh juggernaut known as Dai Rakuda Kan. In fact, dancegoers who caught their 2003 visit have already seen Muramatsu at work: His stylized exploration of the grotesque, Treasure Island, opened that concert.

Even with little info on Argentinian Garay--not to be confused with the world percussionist of the same name--there's already more than enough basis for a reasonable wager here. Ante up.

Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca

Esta noche no es mi día, Tangos, Alegrias, Solea por Bulerias, Siguiriya, Fin de Fiesta (repertoire)

July 20-22, Page Auditorium

Tip: If you're ready to be rocked....

From the video documentation I've witnessed, Soledad Barrio appears to be more force of nature than dancer, a dark-haired, sweat-drenched, handsome woman who almost seems raven-winged when in costumes as dark as the music of the passionate cantaores. At this point I think I can guarantee: We will be in the room when her severe, searching gaze appears to peer into the duende itself.

ADF 2006 at a glance

Download our ADF 2006 guide (PDF).

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file.

Add a comment