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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
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
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
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
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