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Closing Arguments

The ADF ends with a mad rush of works, a student protest and changes for the worse in media coverage

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I always forget that the ADF generally closes with all the understated grace of a head-on car collision. The last weeks verge on pure acceleration as faculty and students rush to finish classes and new works before the end, in showings across Duke's East Campus. Of course, running out of pavement at top speed can marvelously focus the mind. That is, until that sudden stop at the end, the one that leaves us wondering what just hit us, and exactly where we--and modern dance--are right now.

Scattered images follow, the last things I remember before impact.

It was an off year for the International Choreographers Commissioning Program, and it would have been more so without the odd man out in this year's threesome: John Jasperse, an already well-established American choreographer. Brenda Angiel's aerial A Piece of Buenos Aires, the least accomplished of the three works she's shown in five years, continued her retrograde experience at ADF. While an interesting ending resembled reversed film footage of an explosion, the student cast seemed largely stuck in the rudiments of unfamiliar techniques and technologies.

Later, Sasha Pepelyaev, the Moscow dance scene's answer to Henny Youngman, fired off a pointless series of choreographic one-liners in Fog Dwellers, a disappointing collection of ADF student in-jokes, musical and technical flourishes, and precious little else. After Tatiana Baganova demonstrated a year before how wit could serve a choreographic purpose in Wings at Tea, a critique of Soviet sexism, Pepelyaev's work demonstrates what happens when a theme runs out--or never starts--before the jokes do.

Dry, the evening's only bright spot, seemed a slo-mo iteration of Jasperse's increasingly familiar movement vocabulary, in which the body's joints suddenly fall like dominoes. Though Jasperse has previously explored how the body's instability suggests a similar quality in human relationships, it was refreshing to see his lexicon extended here.

Up to now, I've embraced the "big tent" theory of modern dance: the more, the absolutely merrier. But after watching the premiere of Mark Morris' Resurrection, maybe we should draw the line with June Taylor.

The intensely old-school among us may recall the choreographer-in-residence on the ancient Jackie Gleason Show. Her kicky, leggy, floor-bound symmetricisms took some Rockettes' moves a few crosstown blocks to the CBS-TV studios, where they were promptly filmed from above and broadcast to most of North America.

OK, it's comforting to know that Morris could still get a job at Radio City Music Hall. And he wittily manipulates Maile Okamura and Shawn Gannon as lovers who ultimately don't let reciprocal gunshot wounds come between them. But Morris' flashy genre quotes, including a multi-story big finish, still leave Resurrection with the nagging sense of empty calories: a Broadway dance number dubiously enhanced by delusions of grandeur.

An equally interesting dance unfolded outside Page Auditorium last Thursday night after Morris' performance. ADF students concerned about what they termed the lack of diversity in this year's choreographers circulated a petition among concertgoers requesting more input into the selection process. At least 125 concert patrons signed the student body's clearest response yet to a widely perceived imbalance in the festival's mainstage mix of old masters and new innovators.

Throughout the season, students concerned that the festival was losing touch with an emerging generation of artists had quietly criticized the relative absence of women, European, African-American and younger choreographers. "The programming doesn't match the training I've been getting," one student observed. "It seems more a demonstration of self-satisfaction with what those choreographers did one year ago or 50 years ago.

"I should leave ADF feeling inspired, not jaded," she said. "Why should we push for something new, when what's being presented as successful is Pilobolus?"

Meanwhile, African-American dance students complained that the only African-American companies presented were invariably tied to the Black Tradition in American dance. "It feels like we're being asked to walk forward while looking backward, that we're handcuffed to it," one student observed. "We feel weighed down," another added.

Obviously, a modern dance festival must balance the genre's masterworks with its newest innovations. But with growing disenchantment and a possible generation gap in the offing, festival officials must consider the downstream effects of mainstage programs that are increasingly viewed as not giving significant time to the latest developments.

After scheduling a season almost entirely composed of acts who've played here within the past three years, the ADF has gone as far as it can--or should--in relying on the comforts of the known. Those insiders pondering the lack of young choreographers in this year's student body would do well to note their corresponding absence on the ADF mainstage. Could the two just possibly be related?

A flurry of final images, from student and class showings, everywhere: Marc Sicignano's circumscribed observations in Donna Faye Burchfield's composition class, and the microgestures of Sarah Drake and Ting-Ting Chang's alternate maps of the human body; the unforgettable flex of Ursula Payne's student Nina Madsen, reminiscent of sculptor Gretchen Lothrop's work.

Kate Hutter made a fresh and funny riot grrl ballet of a Bach partita. Amanda Furches' intensity matched choreographer Bopi's subversive take on fashion and desire, apparently based on the David Byrne quote, "People in ecstacy look ridiculous." The multifaceted collaboration between Peter diMuro's class and N.C. Pride, In Out Here There, made a place for all on stage.

And, lest we forget, the moving fragment from Donald McKayle's new work, Ash, set an ADF record for achievement in four marathon rehearsals. Alan Terricciano's jazz score kept us on the lip of chaos as McKayle's trajectory dance fashioned a new memorial to Sept. 11. Cuban dancers Victor Ramirez and Maray Ramis' duet defied expectations, before Parisa Khobdeh's compelling stage presence brought the section--and the season--to a close.

O n another note. The ADF's media coverage underwent significant change this year--almost entirely for the worse. WUNC and WNCU first learned about the festival in its last week, while Susan Broili, the Herald-Sun's ADF correspondent of 24 years, inexplicably went missing in action. In Broili's absence, Cynthia Greenlee's lack of seasoning was obvious. Unclear on the narrative elements of dance or the common ground between dance and theater, her surprise at a typically vocal ADF audience marked her as at best an infrequent visitor in the past. Since she covered the premiere of Ron K. Brown's Walking Out the Dark last year, it was also surprising that she mistook the gala premiere of its new part two for the original, when the two look fundamentally different.

These lapses paled in comparison to the News and Observer's abysmal June 2 season opener. In it, Susanna Rodell interviewed regional "witnesses" on the festival's impact. By far, the largest demographic group she consulted--four out of nine--were ballet teachers and choreographers, a group whose objectivity toward modern dance could roughly be compared to the Iron Dukes' unbiased views of Tar Heel roundball.

At least Raleigh School of Ballet founder Ann Vourus remained unswayed by facts. In Rodell's article, Vourus said she'd never actually been to an ADF performance. A different four had seen three shows or less per year, while North Carolina Symphony CEO David Worter demonstrated ADF savvy by asking, "Are they still performing in Page?" Then came Louise Stone's memorable objection to dancers "swinging like chimpanzees." Maybe next year Rodell can interview some NASCAR representatives as well. EndBlock

Contact Byron Woods at byron@indyweek.com.

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