by Byron Woods
Considered in this section: Japanese Festival performances by Natural Dance Theatre and Dance Theatre LUDENS; strong work by ADF dance students; the Acts to Follow series devoted to North Carolina dance artists; and that jump to the left, coming up -- when ADF moves some of its performances to the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2009. Among other topics...
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The Japanese mini-festival brought notable work to this continent. Yukari Ota’s solo at the start of Dance Theatre LUDENS’ Against Newton 2 displayed a body whose various parts were simultaneously acting and being acted upon. As in the earliest iteration of Shen Wei’s Connect Transfer, you could see movement impulses traveling subcutaneously through the network of the body; rearranging and dancing its various parts before travel to other portions. Spellbinding.
A Butoh ringmaster seemed to lead Natural Dance Theatre’s Circus, which we saw in excerpts. When its ropes were pulled by company members, Uno-Man’s suspended big top suggested fantastic things: a giant underwater jellyfish, the waves of the sea itself. But on the ground, a frail performer gently embodies the grotesque, as a young man pursues her through a gauntlet of stylized carnies, roustabouts, clowns and a dog—one of the most moving characters in this cast of misfit toys.
Dance students give us hope. This crowd of did a lot of that. David Brick, of the Headlong Dance Theater, audaciously took us through an autistic child’s experiences in an early student showing, while managing to direct some pointed questions about which world was truly more dysfunctional, his or ours? Kate Abarbanel kept showing up at interesting places; credited with a hand in designing the installation of HeJin Jang’s intense thesis work, her slow, masterfully controlled bends, and gradual, upside down maneuverings deserved more respect than she got in a performance of Wendi Wagner’s thesis, …before. Yve Cohen nervelessly navigated the treacherous no-man’s land of gender (pun, and respect, both definitely intended)—and current savvy dance marketing moves—in separate student showings.
If I couldn’t fully make Dana Caspersen’s words synch up with her dancers’ filmed moves in the piece 1/1, the spoken word tale she told in a darkened room, which put a new spin on the myth of Athena, sent the same chills down my spine that the best work of Laurie Anderson does.
Yvette Luxenberg’s lecture provided a necessary corrective to the new—or was it old—correctness in cultural appropriation in dance, before HeJin Jang humbled us all at the conclusion of open skin inscribed by kneeling and scrubbing the cement floor with xeroxed photography of the surface of her skin. The moment silenced the crowd—before, one by one, they joined in this moving homage to the very hard work of those who have come before. What a way to end a season.
Here’s where we’d review the festival’s Acts to Follow concert series, devoted to North Carolina choreographers—or at least those choreographers willing to accept the comparative ghetto of a steamy, low-tech summer staging facility with peeling institution gray walls, and no theatrical lights or even the capacity for blackout. Oh, and don’t forget the low, low funding, insufficient to properly pay the dancers or transport them, their sets and properties to Durham.
But there were no Acts to Follow this year. With no warning, the unprofessional bone that the ADF had thrown to the locals in recent years (threatening to take it away from them if they weren’t appropriately grateful) was pulled, according to ADF press, due to the number of mainstage companies the festival was hosting this year.
In short, the moment it was inconvenient, it was gone. Such is the measure of the ADF’s commitment to regional artists.
Which is fine. After 75 years, the festival clearly knows how to professionally stage dance performances. It just hasn’t chosen to do so with North Carolina artists at any point in the past decade—even after half-heartedly soliciting funds for that purpose. On a whole, the festival’s actions telegraphed the level of their regard and sincerity years before dispensing with even the pretense. The insult to local artists has been duly received. It need not be repeated.
Next season—if negotiations conclude successfully—the American Dance Festival will be producing works in a brand-new Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham.
For years, festival management claimed its hands were tied in presenting the largest world-class companies like Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater, or William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt (which by now has morphed into the Forsythe Company). No stage in Durham would hold them, they said.
Next year, they’ll finally have a stage that will. Which means that what we’ll see there—that we haven’t seen already—will finally be limited by the vision of the festival management and its competence in fundraising alone.
Though we already know a few of those visionary limits (see North Carolina artists, above), it should be interesting to see what the rest of them actually are.
We’ll look for you in the lobby. Hold the date: Thursday night, June 4, 2009.
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