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At this distance

Philosophy is fine, but we crave emotion


We're clearly meant to wonder how she does it. At one point in JAM/More Responsive Reading, Jamien Cvjetnicanin, a striking young dancer with a strong ballet background, balances on her left leg--indefinitely, it seems--while her right one lifts until it's roughly parallel with a right arm and hand extended upward, outward. The gesture changes several times in the movement of her arm: When it's extended, the dancer's reaching upward; when it slowly arcs back toward her head, it suggests a salute.

Meanwhile, choreographer Clay Taliaferro's pre-recorded voice intones, almost matter-of-factly, the following lines from Wallace Stevens' poem "The Death of a Soldier":

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.
He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.
Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,
When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction.

Cvjetnicanin's solo continues, and as the choreographer repeats the passage several times, it's hard to say which ultimately becomes more underlined: Stevens' words or the mundane, explanatory tone of voice that speaks them.

JAM, which was featured in Duke ChoreoLab's concert last weekend, is hardly Taliaferro's first public statement of artistic conscience. Yet, with due (and considerable) respect, what I'm still struck most by is the inadequacy of the act.

Ostensibly, both dancers and soldiers commit their bodies in the service of ideals. Given the ethics and the vision--or their absence--in those who lead them, their energies may as easily be directed toward fruitful pursuit or fruitless endeavor, universal benefit or megalomania.

But it's the distance that reads most clearly as Cvjetnicanin reaches repeatedly, up and out: The distance between her physical form and what she's reaching for. Whether it's some notion of deity or greatest good, we may only speculate.

The gesture's juxtaposition against a certainly tired and possibly jaded voice suggests a schism between light and darkness, innocence and experience, the yearning of true quest and a darker knowledge come at that quest's end.

But the image of the reaching woman shows most clearly a boundary a human cannot get beyond. We all hold ideals, the moment suggests--but only at this distance.

Coming attractions: The American Dance Festival has just released its schedule of mainstage performances for the 2005 season, which runs June 9-July 23. In addition to usual suspects Pilobolus (here again for only a half week, June 16-18) and Paul Taylor (July 21-23), Durham audiences will see world premieres from Shen Wei (June 9-11), Urban Bush Women (June 14 and 15), Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance (June 30-July 2) and Robert Battle's Battleworks (July 11-13) before the International Choreographers Commissioning Program presents new works--created in Durham--by up-and-comers Charlotte Griffin, Martinus Miroto and Anouk van Dijk (July 18-20). In the midst, festival first-timers: Australia's Chunky Move (June 20-22), Emanuel Gat Dance from Israel (June 27-29) and the French hip-hop company Kafig (July 7-9) speak to ADF's recommitment last year to foreign modern dance companies. For all that, the young Americans remain in short supply: Brian Brooks Moving Company brings its multi-media work Piñata--just now premiering in New York--on July 4 and 5.

Bill T. Jones returns with 2004's Another Evening, July 14-16. And here's hoping that African American Dance Ensemble, Trinity Irish Dance Company, Jason Samuels Smith and Arthur Duncan get more face time than last year's crew when ADF revives Festival of the Feet, June 23-25.

Byron Woods can be reached at

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