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& Analysis 5-24: ACDF Growing Pains
Allocated Space and Time Tapped Out, College Fest Must Find Way Out of Box
By Byron Woods
Copyright 2002 Byron Woods
WASHINGTON -- The metrics were impressive,
when announced from the stage of the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center. The
37 dance works performed over three nights at the Tenth American College Dance
Festival were selected from 413 pieces presented in nine regional festivals, by
over 5,000 participants from over 250 colleges and universities -- five/sixths
of the 300-odd current member organizations in the American College Dance Festival
And similarly impressive were the
works we saw on the evenings of May 13 to 15 -- a broad range of artistic expression,
technique and choreographic achievement.
But we come from the 2002 Festival
with the sense of an organization now at a crossroads. It's heartening to know
that the ACDFA has grown significantly over recent years. This, paired with the
quality of the work we witnessed, gives us significant hope for the present and
future of dance in this country.
Growth, however, must be accommodated
and adequately planned for -- or stopped, one of the two.
The Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater
was an enviable venue at one point for this national gathering. Now its 475 seats
aren't enough to accommodate the Festival's own personnel, much less admit the
general public. Similarly, two nights were once enough to professionally present
the fruits of contributing artists. The 2002 Festival packed 37 performances into
three 12- and 13-work marathons -- verifiably the outer limits for a public concert.
Even viewed with a decidedly critical
eye, the overwhelming majority of the works we saw clearly belonged there. Significantly
reducing their number at this point can't be supported on the merits. If we are
all very lucky, the future will add to this dilemma, not subtract from it.
Such a gathering in Washington,
DC provides a priceless opportunity as well to present this art form to a larger,
prestigious -- and potentially quite influential -- community -- besides the one
of the dance insiders who contribute to it. That opportunity is wasted when the
general public is told, as callers to Kennedy Center were this year, that the
Festival "is a private event and no tickets are available for it."
Plus there is the double-standard
implicit in the presence of a yearly college theater festival at the Kennedy Center,
but only a biennial one devoted there to dance, which remains to be addressed.
If a young artist has the misfortune to create a work of art in an inauspicious
year, it may never be seen.
According to executive director
Diane DeFries, the ACDFA has an agreement with Kennedy Center through 2010. This
news is of limited comfort, though, given that the Center blatantly ignored professional
presentation standards, in the presence of the assembled collegiate dance community
of practice, in its Millennium Stage showings of Dance/USA's
award-winners last week.
If the Center similarly concludes
that dance doesn't merit further accommodation, will the ACDFA stay trapped in
a box which fundamentally limits its scope, size, influence and success? How will
those limitations, in turn, limit dance in America? And if that box didn't fit
in 2002, what's it going to feel like in 2010? If no better accommodations exist
at Kennedy Center, where can the ACDF go?
With fundamental questions like
these facing the ACDFA, points of practice seem like small potatoes in comparison.
But the 2002 Festival did bring up a question that even the organization's executive
director was at a loss to answer when we interviewed her. Since the regional festivals
already completely determine the makeup of the national gathering, why is it necessary
for them to further dictate to the national judges what works can and cannot be
considered for the ACDFA/Dance Magazine Award? Why can't the national judges award
any work they believe most worthy -- particularly if the regional judges can?
The dance community of practice
should do more than watch carefully as the ACDFA takes up these and other questions
over the coming months. Its members should voice their opinions as well, not only
to the Association, but in all such public forums where the practice is discussed,
engaged and debated.
Here, then, is a sampling of Festival
"Lemon Wemon" -- Hollins College
"Captive Swans" -- University of Alabama
"Perfiction" -- Mills College
"Aftermath" -- Florida State University
Ann Liv Young was preaching squarely
to the dance community congregation, and asking it some pretty pointed and useful
questions about the politics of the beauty aesthetics applied to -- or inflicted
on -- the female form in "Lemon Wemon." But this all-out anarchic assault on rarified
image, costume, movement and gesture raised the question "When you subtract all
politically problematic aesthetics from dance, what's left?" more effectively
than it ever answered it.
Christopher Dean Bottoms's "Captive
Swans" raised the same constellation of issues. Instead of jettisoning technique
like Young did in large part, Bottoms used it to prosecute classical ballet, torpedoing
excerpts from a series of famous works -- to the music of Janet Jackson. Lesley
Braithwaite's marvelous satire solo, "Perfiction," laid hands on the same issues,
though using craft and technique to critique the political underpinnings found
in same. Finally, Florida State's melodramatic "Aftermath" seemed a near textbook
example of what these pieces were in protest against. "Aftermath" reassures us
that only beautiful people will survive the Apocalypse -- and that they'll all
be costumed by Victoria's Secret.
"Quadrabox" -- Montclair State University
Guest artists Tigger Benford and
Martha Partridge's fun, Stomp-like quartet, featured four dancer/percussionists
seated in a diamond of red blocks, enacting a childhood clapping game run amok,
using hands and feet to lay down complex syncopation and counterpoint. One section
quoted the rhythm track from Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" verbatim.
"Subconscious Faults" -- Virginia
Students Lisa Jones and Darby Iva
Pack's self-choreographed duet to Tracy Chapman's "Nothing Yet" was one of the
festival's strongest works; a sinuous, strong achievement in choreography and
performance. Daniel James' sambient lighting placed us on the Serengeti near dusk
in this dance of elegy and resistance, where two women support each other through
"Remembering" -- University of California
Though this work experienced difficulty
in building and sustaining intensity, Sri Susilowati's interpretation of poet
Zieba Shorish-Shamley's "I Remember You," an homage to the present-day plight
of Afghan women, closed with one of the festival's most haunting images. The long
trains of print fabric three women have worn throughout this dance of conscience
are wrapped around their bodies at the end -- either as burkas or winding sheets.
Saffron veils conceal their faces, as they stand, and slowly turn to face us:
mute, powerful icons which somehow, though faceless, still bear the countenance
"Table of Content" -- Weber State
Scott Halford and Jill Heslington
were equally amazing in Erik Stern's detailed physical exploration of the top,
bottom and four legs of a conventional table. Heslington was nominated for best
performance from the Northwest region, but Halford's singular physical control
through an extended gravity-defying navigation of the tabletop's underside demonstrated
why Spiderman should have gone into modern dance instead of that crime-fighting
"Stripped" -- Harvard University
Tina Yap Tanhehco's fast-forward
list of interpersonal discontents starts off funny and ends up fighting mad. First
she and Neil Grams Ellingson meet cute and then disrobe -- just before he gets
jettisoned for dancer Ryuji Yamaguchi. After athletic conflict, our heroine trades
him inas well for a solo with other select encumbrances, which she tears off just
in time to "really" come out swinging at the end.
"Groove" -- Sweet Briar College
"Perfiction" -- Mills College
Amy Mullin's self-choreographed
solo is a comic achievement in characterization and choreography: a prim, witty
left-handed tribute to Verdi's "La Traviata", one calculated down to the individual
note. Lesley Braithwaite's work, just as strong as Mullins but unnominated for
national award, provided hilarious counterpoint and commentary to two texts: Nina
Hagen's "Fisch Im Wasser" and the Kama Sutra. Superior.
"Many Feet Bring Houses" -- Lindenwood
"Ye gods." Rob Scoggins' raucous,
jaw-dropping, flyapart celebration of anarchy and rude human rituals satirized
dance form and conventions without abandoning same altogether. The largest number
of people on stage having the best time simultaneously while clothed, and actually
dancing in a quite impressive manner -= that's the award this piece would have
won in a walk.
"Gumboots" -- Bowling Green State
Given the misery in African gold
mines that the gumboot dance tradition originally springs from, I confess I found
an all-white college student gumboot crew here an unsettling sight. The rhythmic
complexity of Marc Woten's trickster-leader turn struck what should have been
close to an appropriately subversive note, playing the audience and playing with
the audience. I'm just not certain that the dancers -- or most of the audience
-- fully knew just how expensive those steps were in their original development.
"pOrtal" -- University of California
"At Third Glance" -- James Madison University
At times the quartet in Benjamin
Levy's intricate fugue of dysfunction takes on the appearance of a precision drill
team given the task of collapsing, repeatedly, over an extended period of time.
Levy's learned well from John Jasperse and David Grenke that human joints -- and
relationships -- have the potential of fractal dominos: destabilizing any of a
large number of single points leads in turn to a different set of systemic failures.
The audience gasped more than once to Christopher Hojin Lee and Pearl Wang's precarious
aerial balance work. But where Levy convincingly synthesized - and extended --
his impressive teachers' influences into an intriguing new statement, Casey Blake
came off more like the Milton Berle of modern dance in "At Third Glance," which
read in places like a series of quotes lifted more or less verbatim from a number
of professional and student works (including Tatiana Baganova, Mark Haim) presented
during recent years at the American Dance Festival. "At Third Glance" -- an all
too appropriate a name for an amalgam of gestures and phrases we had clearly seen
"Perpetuum" -- Connecticut College
In Filip Condeescu's dance theatre
piece, a male outsider meets a not terribly friendly group, gets chewed up and
spat out by its women and befriended by its only man, discovers he's attracted
to him, attempts to negotiate what appears to be his first gay relationship, only
to be betrayed when the man chooses the group over him. Though it flirted with
melodrama at times, these dances of attraction and repulsion -- simultaneously
at times -- were propelled the work to music by Gobran Bregovic and Iggy Pop.
The work won the ACDFA/Dance Magazine Award for best choreography.
"Tari Kandagan" -- University of
Hawaii at Manoa
Ben Arcangel won the ACDFA/Dance
Magazine Award for best performance in this cross-gendered interpretation of the
female princess Anjasmara from the Javanese folk-myth of Damarwulan. He offered
precise and frequently minimal head, neck, body and hand gestures, in a work which
became quite repetitive before its end.
"Dance with Two Army Blankets" --
University of Florida
They looked like a bunch of guys,
not dancers -- until they started Shapiro and Smith's 1993 exhaustive exploration
of what five people can do with two very sturdy army blankets on stage. Fully
committed, robust and one of the more impressive performances in the festival.
Did I agree with the final results?
To some degree, yes. But where the official judges were limited in their assessments
by prior regional nominations, no such restrictions hampered my unofficial considerations.
From all I saw, the advanced performances in "pOrtal" were challenged only by
those in "Table of Content" and "Captive Swans." The choreography in "Perpetuum"
was closely challenged by "pOrtal," followed by "Perfiction," "Stripped," and
Traditionally, this is where one
usually concludes with a comforting bromide, like "but the participants were all
winners, in a larger sense."
But the uncertain times at ACDFA
do not lend themselves to such at present. The organization is growing and healthy
-- and now it must make significant decisions to adequately support and continue
There should be a yearly festival
for collegiate dance in the United States. It should be in a venue where the public
can actually come and see it. It should be widely and effectively promoted as
one of the principal case-makers for dance in the United States. It should associate
only with partners as equally committed to the highest production values in dance
presentation. Its judges should be free to reward whomever they see fit as exemplary
choreographers and performers. And given the festival's national scope, there
obviously should be more than one award for each.
When the ACDFA sees to each of these
essential items, I'll feel a lot more comfortable declaring all of us as winners.
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