featured photo

The Kitchen

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 6-12: ADF Takes Shape
Fagan's New Work Good Omen for New Season

By Byron Woods
Copyright 2001 Byron Woods

DURHAM, North Carolina -- One crucial measure of the American Dance Festival's success in any given year involves the strength of its commissions, those new works it makes possible through its funding and support. Judging by this year's first fruits -- Garth Fagan's "Music of the Line/Words in the Shape," which opened the festival's 68th season Thursday at Page Auditorium -- the 2001 crop is off to a fine start.

Set to music by contemporary composer John Adams, Fagan's new triptych is an exuberant celebration of line, structure and form; in places, a collection of sound and sight sculptures. But the choreographer uses these primary elements to explore something beyond the abstractions of art. He ultimately probes and parses the construction of symbol here -- the process through which signs are created and meaning is imbedded in them.

Individual and group gestures slowly morph into potent sigils and glyphs, particularly in a pensive, deliberate second movement. Ultimately, the compositional tools of balance, visibility, stillness and the community of ensemble take on metaphorical resonance, and a work that has the air of an artist's sketchpad at points looks more in places like a primer for living.

Start with visibility and balance. As the dark, Bartok-like strains of Adams's "Chaconne: Body Through Which Dreams Flow" open the second movement, Natalie Rogers, Chris Morrison and Norwood Pennewell enact a moving triptych all their own. While Morrison and Pennewell's unison gestures frame her, Rogers balances on one leg while the other one scissors around it; her upper body and arms slowly flex and half-crouch. As she returns to a standing position, a slowly stylized arm gesture extends the moment further.

In itself, it's frankly not the most powerful gesture in an evening that held a number of them. But what charges the moment -- and those like it that follow -- is the unwavering and unapologetic eye contact Rogers makes with the audience. As she repeats the movement, and then performs it in and around the bodies of her colleagues, the gaze acknowledges the viewers and implies a relationship of some sort between them and the artist. But the tantalizing ambiguities start there. Is that gaze an interrogation of the audience, or a manifesto of defiance? A statement from a character about who she is, or a clear demonstration of how we all are, and what grace in gravity looks like?

Elsewhere in the second movement, two trios enact and explore new symbols of support. The brief still, hieroglyphic images burn in, before they develop in complexity, as arms and legs slowly arc, wave and radiate out in legato phrases that seem more sculpted in places than choreographed.

These stand in stark contrast to the first and third movements. At times the ensemble times plays to the insistent kinetic shimmer of Adams's "Coast" and "Cerulean," while at other points they demonstrate the necessity of stillness and balance in a world in which both are in short supply. The first movement features a choreographic fugue of sorts for five repeating phrases (including the one mentioned above), punctuated by exuberant leaps. While the final movement contains moments of strongly synchronized visual and sound sculpture, it comes off comparatively sketchy and underdeveloped, particularly at the end. The close of the work as it stands suggests more a work in progress than a work completed.

But given the strength of what preceded it, "Music of the Line/Words in the Shape" is worth the seeing in its present form, and worth completing as well. As it stands, Thursday's opening night performance was simultaneously rewarding and promising, for a new work and a new season as well.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home