Monday, June 27, 2011

DCDC and Evidence at ADF

Last week, two companies, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Ronald K. Brown's Evidence dance company, shared a program at ADF. Both are rooted in the African American and African-diasporic experience, both celebrate history and tradition, even while they are working primarily in the realm of contemporary dance. Both sets of dancers are clearly highly trained, and can capture both large, whole-body movements and more subtle details. Aesthetically, however, they are quite different. At least in the particular dances I saw, the DCDC dancers had a more classical attack of the movement, a muscle-bound groundedness and simultaneous lift. The Evidence cast, on the other hand, performed with a sort of studied casualness, an easy bounce and sink. They often seemed to be jamming to the music rather than performing with intention.

Although I hadn't seen either company live, and had only seen excerpts of recorded works, I'd heard a great deal about Evidence--all glowing reviews. I was surprised, then, to be rather disappointed with the work they presented.

Here's an excerpt from my review:

The American Dance Festival's season theme, Something New, Something Treasured, was clearly captured by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) and Ronald K. Brown's company Evidence in a shared program at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Each company presented two works, a mix of classic and newer works, all performed with fervor and dedication. The physicality of the body was front and center, prompting me to think about how meaning is embedded in the body itself; how the body is held and used and trained, how it speaks of dance's history, and its own, and points to its future.

DCDC opened the program with Donald McKayle's classic "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder" (1959), which depicts the harsh life of working on a chain gang. Set to a collection of traditional chain gang songs, the dance is tightly structured, and follows both the rhythm and emotional content of the music. Muscles tense and bound, the six men move together crisply. Their bodies are sledgehammers, powerful and weighted; swung away, but brought down with sharp control and precision. In their exhaustion, a vision of a woman appears to them, alternately a flirtatious sweetheart, a worried mother, and a caring wife. The dancers communicate their passion, anger, perseverance, and despair with a larger-than-life expressivity, leaving no room for ambiguity.

For more about DCDC and Evidence, read the full review here.

My last official review of the season is coming soon, as I review Rosie Herrera, one of my recent favorites. I hope to get to a few of the ADF shows in July, and will post reviews here if I do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Animal Lost

I've been thinking all week about a very strange dance that I saw at ADF last week. Choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf brought their work, "Animal Lost", to Duke. You can watch a trailer for the dance here (and check out some of their other work, too).
As I was watching the dance, I was wondering how I could find words to describe its mix of the truly weird and interesting and profound and ridiculous. Here are a few excerpts of my attempt:

"Animal Lost," by choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf is a strange bird of a dance - and "did I mention zebras, tigers and my lollipops?" The dance begins with this line, within a nonsensical poem recited by a tall, leggy woman who soon dons a horse mask and tells corny horse jokes into a microphone. Complete with a menagerie of animal masks, water guns, pop songs, and remarkable dancing, this bold and bizarre work offers both nonsense and sensuality, ridiculous situations and undeniable truth.

Berg and Graf, collaborators since 2005, have developed an international reputation for creating dances that are provocative and powerful. "Animal Lost," created in 2010, is no exception. It takes risks - and most of them work - as it tackles the loaded subjects of identity and sexuality with humor and a focused intensity.


The partnering is brilliantly odd. As the dancers wrap around and fit into and through each other's bodies, the parts don't fit neatly, though they always find a way to join. They poke and skim and slice and burrow, ricocheting away and then melting into their partner. These couplings are awkward, sometimes almost violent, other times bordering on tender. Their urgency seems infused by a sort of animal desire - raw and blind and confused--but it's hard to say these are sexy duets. It's not pretty, but there is room for a strange beauty in the reality that is revealed about the way they - we - come together.

Read the rest of the review here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time for another season

It's summer again, which means it's time for the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. Again this year, I have the privilege to review some of the performances at the Festival for World Dance Reviews.

So far, I've published two reviews, one of the opening Gala performance, and one on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's "Rosas Danst Rosas."
Here's an excerpt from the Gala review:

Looking Back and Moving Forward: The American Dance Festival's opening Gala honors Charles L. Reinhart

The American Dance Festival opened its 78th season at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Thursday, with a special Gala performance honoring the 43 years of leadership by ADF Director Charles L. Reinhart. Reinhart will step down as director after this season, and a large crowd turned out to celebrate his legacy with the ADF.

Four and a half dance works (Mark Dendy's "I am a Dancer" was mostly talking) were featured on the program, interspersed with a video chronicling Reinhart's life and career and remarks by Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Executive Vice President of Duke University Dr. Tallman Trask, III, ADF co-director Jodee Nimerichter, and Reinhart himself. Diverse in style and attitude, the dances exposed different faces of the modern dance genre, as seen at the ADF. "Is this what it means to be a modern dancer," they seemed to ask. "Is this what it means to dance?"

Read the whole review here.

And here's an excerpt of "Rosas":

"Rosas" is a work of sharp contrast as well as subtle shadings. The lights and music are often abruptly switched on or off, and the dancers snap into their movement with precision. It is at once dramatic and monotonous, universal and mundane. The bold lighting and music gives it theatrical drama, but the dance is also about the drama in tossing hair and crossed knees, in a bared shoulder and the flicker of a smile.

As the house lights dim, a ticking music begins, sort of a mechanical heartbeat. As the dancers enter, the music gets louder and louder, to the point of real discomfort. Suddenly, the music is cut off, and the silence that follows feels particularly quiet in contrast. The four women have fallen to the floor, and they lie there for a long time while we consider them, listening to the silence, to our own breath that we are carefully holding. They begin a movement phrase that rolls, pauses, flops, and curls, first slowly, then gradually developing in speed and rhythmic complexity. Their poses of rest - lying as if sleeping on their sides, a hand languidly tracing an arc on the floor above their head, the forehead resting in the palm - are belied by the sharpness with which they lift their heads to look at something: these women are always alert.

Read the full review here.

More to come...