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Company's coming ...

ADF brings controversy, wit and beauty in its 70th anniversary. Here's the skinny on the season.


They're back, you know. The leotard and funky top count has gone through the roof at Whole Foods, while Ninth Street looks even more different than it usually does. It can only mean one thing: The American Dance Festival is up and running once more, and the dance world has returned--from literally all parts--to Durham.

We'll be filing weekly posts from the festival, briefing you on developments as they arise. But before the melee starts, we wanted to give advance word--or in some cases, advance warning--about the times ahead, so you could start making plans now.

Our opinionated guide to the shows on both main stages, Page Auditorium and Reynolds Theater, appear below. When ordering tickets, don't forget our traditional warning: Orchestra seats in Page should frequently be considered "obstructed view"--the only aspect you can consistently trust in that house is from the balcony. The festival box office phone number is 684-4444.

On with the show.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre
Thursday-Saturday, June 5-7
Reynolds Theater

Deep down, he knew the brush was dancing on the paper. Choreographer Lin Hwai-Min was studying Chinese calligraphy, some of it over 1,000 years old. Where others simply saw letters or pictures, the artist who, last summer brought us indoor fireworks made of golden rice (in his celebration of the Tao, Song of the Wanderers), was analyzing brushstrokes, assessing the flow of symbols, sensing the energy it took the calligraphers to paint vivid words on ancient paper.

After that, he says it only took him two decades to figure out how to represent it in a dance. The result is Cursive, in which dancers dressed in black move on an all-white floor; dancers seen as human ink, running across the stage, forming living Chinese ideograms. The invisible hand moves across the Reynolds Theater stage Thursday through Saturday.

Program "A" Tuesday-Wednesday
Program "B" June 12-14
Page Auditorium

Yes, their brand of colorful choreography remains one of the most popular draws at the ADF. Still, last year was the weakest showing for the Pils in some time, both in execution and imagination. New personnel apparently still integrating their singular techniques were saddled with boilerplate choreography like The Four Humors--which, we understand, has just been removed from next week's menu. Wait a minute: Maybe things are looking up after all.

Program A is strictly repertory. We get a second look at two from last year, The Brass Ring, the initially disappointing commission from the 2002 Olympics and Ben's Admonition, an aerial duet that looked unfinished when it first played ADF. After these, the vaudeville of 1991's Sweet Purgatory.

As usual, the new stuff shows in Program B. My Brother's Keeper, a collaboration with composer Christos Hatzis and the St. Lawrence String Quartet hopefully proves able before the world premiere of the tentatively titled Duet for 6. Aerial antics continue in Star-Cross'd, which impressed audiences at its premiere earlier this year, before Talking Heads and Brian Eno get the Pilobolus treatment--once again--in the raucous Day Two.

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre
June 17-18
Reynolds Theater

More than one critic has called Pascal Rioult's choreography a cross at times between Martha Graham and Paul Taylor. Consider that for a moment. His suite of four works, The Ravel Project, earned high praise for the dark and frequently unexpected valences he found in the composer's work. We'll see one: a Bolero machine, made up of dancers bathed in silver.

After Ravel, Rioult turns to Stravinsky. Black Diamond, set to the composer's Duo Concertante, is a duet for women dancing simultaneously, alone, on two platforms in a darkened space. "Veneziana," reminiscent of a Venecian carnival, is set to Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite. And the festival sees the premiere of Firebird, Rioult's interpretation of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

Compagnie Maguy Marin
June 19-21
Page Auditorium

Maguy Marin, this year's ADF Scripps award winner, has been fusing theater and dance for over 20 years in France. This year, the Lyon Opera Ballet is touring her Cendrillon (Cinderella), a morbid rendering of the Grimm fairy tale using humans in life-sized doll outfits--once more to the general consternation of mothers who take little children to theater without reading the show listings too closely. Both the social criticism and the basis of her movement in pedestrian, everyday activity, have been compared with the master of tanzteatre, Pina Bausch. In last year's Points de fuite (Points of Escape) wave after wave of motion slammed audiences against a wall of sound. Who knows what's within this year's world premiere, One Can't Eat Applause?

La Maison
June 24-25
Reynolds Theater

In this multimedia work, choreographer Nasser Martin-Gousset combines video, movement and a soundtrack, including Brahms and the Rolling Stones, to make a mythical memoir of an adolescent's time in the southern part of France. The "romantic gravity" of Italian writer Jean Giono influences the mediated, ironic memory of a "barren and voluptuous" land, where young characters attempt to map "a constellation of desires" through little more than intuition. We understand the last time Martin-Gousset did a stage piece with music, the result was Babelogue, based on the works of Patti Smith. Sounds interesting.

Twyla Tharp Dance
June 26-28
Page Auditorium

Anyone out there expecting Twyla Tharp to cover a coupla old Billy Joel songs in Durham needs to trade those tickets in right now. Broadway's Moving Out was last year, and two Tony nominations or not (for best director, in addition to that choreography thing she does), there are still no visible reverse gears anywhere on our Ms. Tharp.

The longtimers out there may remember that when she won the Scripps Award, Tharp advised modern dancers facing massive funding cuts in the arts to brush up on their square dancing. We see she's finally made good on her threat in Westerly Round, which viewers have called an accessible--actually, the word was "cute"--homage to Balanchine and DeMille in cowboy drag.

Even the King, a balletic narrative about elusive love set to Johann Strauss, has gotten good notices from the field, as has Surfer at the River Styx, an update on the ferryman myth to music by trashman Donald Knaack.

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble
July 1-2
Reynolds Theater

In 1990, Protima Guari, a practitioner of Odissi, the oldest form of classical Indian dance, convinced the Indian government to donate 10 acres of land on which to start a dance school. The result was Nrityagram, the only permanent village devoted to dance in the entire world, a place where poor children from the countryside could come and help preserve a 2,000-year-old dance tradition.

We see the controversial fruits of their labors in Sri: In Search of the Goddess. Controversial, since artistic director Surupa Sen extends the curves of Odissi dance beyond traditionally recognized boundaries, a practice that does not always sit well among home audiences and purists. Sri tells the story of Sri Savitri, a mythical figure who searches for the inner sacred feminine through her encounters with night, fire and death.

Paul Taylor Dance Company
July 3-5
Page Auditorium

The iconic protege of Martha Graham closes his dance company's first half-century to bouquets from the New York Times and Village Voice--but considerably less enthusiasm from the European press during his tour there this past month. We hear that the comic Offenbach Overtures was banned by the finicky French for its send up of Russian ballet and the can-can, among other things. The sense of anticlimax Deborah Jowett alludes to in her April Village Voice review of the restaged 1985 Roses was termed lengthy by critics in London.

A similar difference of opinion accompanies In the Beginning, a whimsical Houston Ballet commission loosely based on the first section of the book of Genesis. In Taylor's hands, the principal characters wind up, in Anna Kisselgoff's words, as "Jehovah as a law-and-order man in a Teletubbies universe." But the London Independent was amused--for the first 10 minutes--before wondering if the piece was a slam on George Bush's religious fundamentalism.

We'll reach our own conclusions, shortly.

Eiko and Koma
June 27, North Carolina Museum of Art, 8 p.m.
June 29, Durham Central Park, 5 p.m.
June 30, Duke East Campus, 8 p.m.
July 1, GlaxoSmithKline, RTP, 11:30 a.m.
July 5, Duke East Campus, 8 p.m.
July 8, McCorkle Place, UNC, 8 p.m.

By now everyone knows this butoh-influenced husband and wife team, famous for works that take audiences into a different--and radically slower--time zone. This year the ADF is sponsoring their latest work in a series of free performances at venues across the Triangle.

Significantly, in most places they will perform Offering, a work that has been termed both a healing ritual and an open wound. Though conceived two years before the Sept. 11 bombings (and four years before the Iraqi campaign), it has taken on added resonance in the face of subsequent events. The pair gradually sifts through a slowly turning open chamber filled with soil for what they may find therein, in what the creators call "a ritual of regeneration after loss." We can begin to imagine the impact of its premiere, outside at New York's Battery Park, not far from Ground Zero, 10 months after the attack. We wonder what the ritual brings in its box of dark earth.

Shen Wei Dance Arts
July 7-9
Reynolds Theater

After the gentle surrealism of Near the Terrace (Part One), a wistful waking dream for the year 2000, Shen Wei took on one of the 20th century's musical and dance masterworks, The Rite of Spring, for his next project. In an incredible premiere last summer, Shen carefully placed his performers like chessmen on an abstract slate-gray set divided by chalk-white meridians of his own design.

Then the future opened, as his dancers locomoted, sidled, sprang and shimmered, at times in one-to-one correspondence with pianist Fazil Say's plosive attacks and subterranean, midnight chordages. Hearing Stravinsky's brilliant original two-piano score was comparable to seeing a familiar piece of furniture with layers of murky varnish finally stripped away--like encountering the work for the very first time.

All of this came before a suspenseful climax in which 12 dancers stand with eyes closed, perfectly still--save for the occasional facial tremor or wrist spasm--as both pianos go to pieces.

But the nagging question, though, is how will Shen top all that? He didn't, after all, when 2001's "completed" Near the Terrace merely diluted the beauty of his original work the summer before.

Obviously, Shen's brilliant. Still, we're in suspense for more than one reason awaiting the outcome.

July 10-12
Page Auditorium

If you saw Dairakudan's triumphant return in the winter of 2002, you know exactly what you're in for. If not, here's fair warning. This is butoh--the celebration and documentation of the grotesque--a form of radically embodied performance and social protest that began in Japan in the 1950s. When I interviewed choreographer Akiko Mako in February 2000, he spoke of butoh as "the cheerful apocalypse." His delight in radical destruction reminded me of the reputed tastes of Kali, the Hindu deity of death. For her, it is said, destruction is ultimately about cracking more eggs to finally make a better omelette.

Unfortunately in this paradigm, we're the eggs.

RyuBa therefore is no walk around the park. A group of performers clothed in little more than white rice powder struggle to bear a massive structure that will ultimately be revealed to be a cross. The wraithlike forms shake, stagger, and walk toward us to an electronic sound score. Sexuality is mocked here in grotesque parody of orgy and sexual congress, particularly in the section "Before Arising from the Dead."

Maro's mid-work solo suggests a cross-dressing Tiresias, spent, left clutching a single red high-heeled shoe, before he later proves that resurrection isn't the easiest of gigs, or even possibly the most desirable. His repeated collapsings suggest the vedic notion that rebirth is actually re-death. This writhing psychodrama will likely be the most controversial work some encounter this summer--and perhaps this life. Those in search of the abyss will find it here.

International Choreographers Commissioning Program:
Tatiana Baganova, Dominique Boivin and Akiko Kitamura

July 14-16
Reynolds Theater

The Washington Post learned last month what we knew two years ago when Tatiana Baganova's Wings at Tea premiered at ADF: Wings was the strongest work of the 2001 season. At the time, we said if Dorothy Parker had been repeatedly pawed while growing up near the Urals in the 1970s, the outcome probably would have looked like this.

It's nothing new for an ICCP program to steal the season--even if last year's edition was something of a letdown compared with previous ones.

This season looks auspicious. Joining Baganova is Dominic Boivin, whose humorous one-man show La Danse, une histoire a ma facon, a contrived personal history of dance spanning from the Jurassic to Merce Cunningham, has gotten good notices throughout Europe. Japanese choreographer Akiko Kitamura has been staging multimedia performances--and recently commercials for a Japanese pop group--that incorporate film and video with intense, stylized--and stylish--movement. We're intrigued.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
July 17-19
Page Auditorium

Even given a career devoted as much to social activism as its been to breathtaking choreography and visual stage works, we were still surprised to learn that after reading a vintage Flannery O'Connor short story about betrayal, religion and the transmission of prejudice and xenophobia to the young, Jones planned to bring it to the stage. We'll see the result in the world premiere of Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger, on the same program with the vertiginous techno rave-up Power/Full and the somewhat more tranquil Duet x 2, to Bach. EndBlock

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