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2, 6-12: Inspiration, Perspiration, and Leadership
ADF Celebrates 25 with Promethean New Dances from Taylor and Pilobolus
By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2002 Tom Patrick
DURHAM, NC -- Arriving students,
faculty, and guests have been greeted by an excited community here, eager to celebrate
the near quarter-century that the nation's pre-eminent dance festival has called
this warm environment home. Except for brief wartime suspensions, the American
Dance Festival has run continuously since 1935, beginning at Vermont's Bennington
College, then migrating to Mills College(in Oakland), Connecticut College, and
finally here to the grounds of Duke University. I am in no way able to encapsulate
the scope of the festival's contribution to the dance world, but I can tell you
that the lists of premiered-here gems, distinguished faculty, and talented dancers
that the ADF has produced is truly staggering. Just log on to the
ADF web site for a trek through Modern Dance history. Literally everybody
-- the heavy-hitters and the up-and-comers -- comes through here, focusing the
talent, infectious enthusiasm, and deep history of the festival into new and precious
dance experiences for all. Wherever it's based, ADF is truly "the home of an American
The ADF opened its twenty-fifth
season here this last weekend with heavyweight champion Paul Taylor Dance Company
unveiling a Taylor premiere, and an anniversary gala Sunday night before classes
begin next week.
Paul Taylor is certainly no neophyte
to the festival; witness his accounts of student days and encounters with Martha
Graham during the Connecticut College summers (in his witty auto-bio "Private
Domain,") and that his dances premiered at ADF stretch back to 1961's "Insects
and Heroes," followed the next summer by the evergreen "Aureole." Since those
times, the Taylor Company has been a regular visitor (almost every summer that
I danced with it, certainly) and many of Mr. Taylor's works have been premiered
at and/or commissioned by the festival. For this alone we cannot be too thankful
for the committed momentum provided by ADF's leadership and staff. Through recessions,
funding cutbacks, and the emergence of piped-in, stay-at-home media, they have
consistently assured creative people in dance an ongoing home, and the faithful
and curious audiences access to The Real Thing.
Thus it was with great pride and
gratitude that co-director Charles Reinhart welcomed us to a packed Page Auditorium
Thursday night, as the Taylor dancers waited backstage. (Co-director and spouse
Stephanie Reinhart -- also celebrating her twenty-fifth year affiliated with the
festival -- was indisposed and could not attend. We wish her well, and congratulations
as well!) In a brief front-of-curtain speech, Reinhart expressed thanks for "an
extraordinary twenty-five years" at ADF's NC home, and that he's felt quite lucky
to be a part of it (modesty, Charles -- much more than a part!). Also, he announced
the dedication of this anniversary season to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation,
whose support for modern dance he called "unprecedented." Accepting this honor
onstage was the foundation's president, Joan Spero, who thanked Charles and Stephanie
Reinhart "for their inspiration, perspiration, and leadership."
And on with the show!
covered performances of "Cloven Kingdom" and "The Word" during the PTDC's
spring season in New York this March. Here too they were spiritedly performed,
and very well received. To note a few cast changes: Orion Duckstein performed
mightily in "Cloven" (replacing Andy LeBeau on this tour-stop) plunging through
the tough men's quartet with great speed and brio. In "The Word," Takehiro Ueyama
replaced Richard Chen See (who's recovering from injury) in a central role and
exhibited a dramatic ferocity and thrilling attack in that dance's more violent
passages. Though not new to her role, Heather Berest still brought her enviable
flexibility and articulation to bear in a strong solo of pathos, exquisitely rendered.
Then the lights dimmed to usher
in the evening's climax: the premiere of Taylor's "Promethean Fire," set to three
musical pieces by J.S. Bach. I did a cursory bit of preparation for this one last
week, looking up Prometheus in a "Dictionary of Gods," and discovering him described
as him the heroic opponent to Zeus. Prometheus (whose name means "forethought")
stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind as a boon that separates us from other
living creatures. Legend gives Prometheus credit for acting as mankind's protector,
against whom Zeus created Pandora and her box of woes as a countermeasure. It
was Prometheus (not enough forethought in this case!) whom Zeus chained to a great
rock, inviting an eagle to feast upon his liver, until the prisoner was rescued
by Herakles. So...were we, the first audience for this dance, to be treated to
a mythic tale, or was this to be occasion for another sort of piece -- as my Oxford
dictionary also defines "Promethean"(adj) as "daring or inventive"? Lord knows,
from Mr. Taylor, it could have meant anything, as his works are often elusive,
and even his titles are sometimes red herrings or obliquely personal in meaning.
The program notes simply include a Shakespeare quote: "...fire that can thy light
relume...," from what specific work I do not know ("Othello" perhaps?).
After a few moments of Bach's "Toccata
& Fugue in D minor," the curtain rises, and we see the PTDC's full complement
of 16 dancers (a company first, as some are always kept in reserve as understudies
-- in this case, Mr. Chen See's place was taken by Taylor 2 dancer John Byrne).
They simply stand and face us, until front-and-center couple Patrick Corbin and
Lisa Viola circle each other and interlock arms in a pose. From this point onward,
the stage is filled with motion, in huge group dancing. The performers' precision
is admirable, and once again one must concede that Taylor is the master of making
the space vibrate with movement and relentless surges of motion as the dancers
course through intricate weavings and patterns, always covering lots of ground.
Their costuming -- by longtime collaborator Santo Loquasto -- is all black: attractive
velvet unitards, wrapped in slick bias stripes, a flattering halter-style for
the women, and with a bib-overall line for the men. The background is black, the
floor is black, the lighting is low, and so the picture that emerges is largely
that of bare feet, arms and faces.
Nevertheless, the excellent Taylor
troops course around the stage at a breakneck speed, weaving through a doubly-interlocking
circle effect, whizzing perilously close and through many crisp canons. Though
I admired the speed and immense craft of it all, the "vocabulary" mystified me.
It looked largely made up from fragments of other dances, strung-together, rather
arranged or composed (in this viewer's humble opinion). At hand were snippets
of "Airs," quotes from "Images," references to "Musical Offering," and "Runes"
(even The Back Exercise!) and I was reminded how likely it is that bits of current
repertory or teaching find their way into the newest work-in-progress, as solutions
at stuck places or as suggestions from well-intentioned dancers. In this case,
however, I was struck by such swiftly shifting thematic material or "ideas," that
none seemed to take root --surprising here after PT's many enduring works to Bach
(witness "Esplanade," "Brandenburgs," and "Musical Offering") which expand upon
that composer's fertile mind for theme-and-variation at a level that would undoubtedly
make Bach proud. This time, though, I found at times the treatment of the music
to seem rather perfunctory, more marked off by the yard than treated as a shaped
and influential entity.
The denser tapestry of Taylor's
newest is also backdrop for some delicious -- if fleeting -- work for pairs, trios,
and quartets. In particular I loved Mr. Duckstein and Amy Young in an epic adagio
passage, gripped in a see-saw battle, very intense. Beautifully-carved passages
too, for the jubilant Silvia Nevjinsky, Annmaria Mazzini, Andy LeBeau, and Takehiro
Ueyama, and a gorgeous trio later of Ms. Mazzini, Mr. Ueyama, and the luminous
Maureen Mansfield. In time, the masses reign again, and all sixteen of the cast
are drawn into a tight pile, all but two bleeding away from the stage.
In contrast to the fullness of this
opening, I felt that the relative emptiness of stage-space for the second section
-- strictly a pas de deux for principals Ms. Viola and Mr.Corbin -- was bit of
a shock. Far from relief of saturation, it seemed immediately a lonely place,
as these two accomplished dancers were put through some tough paces in a dance
of largely classical elements. (Personally I found much of it on the "busy" side
-- steppy, while hearing Bach's "Prelude in E flat" pulse gently along.) The couple's
time together here begins formally, and on turning a little more sour they are
bathed in saturated red lighting, an invocation here perhaps of the "fire": the
temperature growing unbearable in a platonic relationship or maybe a fall-from-bliss,
Pandora's box having opened....
"Promethean Fire" continues with
a shortish final section, large in scale again and full of fleet, sweeping crosses.
Very nice stuff here, but while I love the gallantry of a piece like "Arden Court"
or "Airs" and the soaring dance material therein, I felt here a little continuation
of a cringe at seeing the Taylor women subjugated to a less-robust role -- predominantly
as the comforted, protected, and escorted. (Equally surprising here because the
men and women are costumed so similarly and the dance is of a largely abstract
appearance.) I've always felt that the women of the PTDC were of such stuff that
they could take a punch, fall down stairs, and come up dancing perfectly, really
a strong breed, and I guess some moments of "Promethean Fire" bothered me a little
in that role-regard. Regardless, everyone danced gloriously, of course, very much
so -- only a group like this can do dances like this, providing the catalyst for
PT's alchemy every time.
In spite of its odd bits I wouldn't
hesitate to call this Taylor/Bach piece "monumental" in a way. I do like many
of its abstract elements -- I think of Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona, the unconventional
paths of that building's lines. And hey --not to drop things to too low a level
here, but I love the way that music is treated in Disney's "Fantasia," and I enjoyed
a sense of that here while those strong bare feet, backs, arms, and faces sparkled
through those large-scale sections of "Promethean Fire." It has a great directional
flow and rhythmic clarity about it, like good big architecture does, and likewise
So, don't let my nitpicking spoil
anybody's fun. I realize I cannot "lightly" scrutinize Mr. Taylor's work, and
I have my own blind spots too that leave me to miss things. I suggest you see
"Promethean Fire" for yourself, and as with all of Paul Taylor's rich repertoire,
see what it evokes in you. I'll bet that's what Paul has in mind.
AND THEN, as if the ADF and larger Durham community hadn't seen enough good dancing
this weekend, a special anniversary gala took place Sunday night, and it was a
marvelous sampler. The evening was also a benefit for the ADF School's scholarship
fund -- this helps this year's 319 students from 47 states and nineteen nations,
and those next year and beyond get to the sultry South and train with the best.
After cordial welcomings from Mr. Reinhart and the president of Duke University,
Dr. Nannerl Keohane, thanking the many benevolent contributors and the evening's
dancers, the capacity Page Auditorium crowd settled in for a special evening.
Asadata Dafora's "Awassa Astrige/Ostrich,"
which premiered in 1932, has been in the repertory of Dayton Contemporary Dance
Company (DCDC) since 1997, one of many esteemed classics in this fine troupe's
trove. The crowd at Page quieted immediately upon hearing the drums begin, and
we were all held enrapt while G. D. Harris hypnotically became a warrior interpreting
the king of the birds. A long and sinewy man, with amazing control and fluidity,
Harris showed exquisite poise in long plies -- real regality. It was captivating,
of a subtler sort of virtuosity, and brought the audience to screams at last.
Mr. Harris bowed once, in character, though the house was reluctant to let him
Like DCDC, Pilobolus will be in
season here later this summer, and the troupe gave us Sunday the premiere of "The
Four Humours." Through the minds'-eyes of its creators, Robby Barnett and Jonathan
Wolken (in collaboration with the cast) this quartet was taken on rides of imbalance.
Coursing through those four humours of medical lore -- the sanguine, phlegmatic,
choleric, and melancholic -- the performers truly defy gravity and bend physics
in their various and blood-spotted rehabilitative gear. They are Mark Fucik, Renee
Jaworski, Matt Kent, and Jennifer Macavinta, excellent all, by turns clouds and
comics and rolling octopeds. They executed effortless[looking!] launches into
subtle sculptures and hilarious shtick to Richard Peaslee's energetic score, but
were part of a larger world, and it was these spillings, changes of balance and
proportion that made this such a Pilobolean piece a propos! It's said that timing
is everything, and in the case of Pilobolus that of the performers' bodies working
together is a real language and poetry, arising from the unseen difficulty of
looking like nothing's stressed. The cast deftly ran the cycles of primacy and
settled, in the end, for a sweet moment of balance.
Last summer, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence
premiered "Walking Out the Dark" and the ADF, and subsequently Mr. Brown visited
Cuba to study indigenous and interconnected dance styles. "Walking Out the Dark
- Part II" is Brown's further exploration of the Cuban and African traditions,
and is quite a mesmerizing quartet. Diedre Dawkins, Daryl Spiers, Keon Thoulouis,
and Mr. Brown used the stage space openly and simply, regarding one another throughout,
and it then became not a stage but a bright open place. The music (Asikan Bata,
Cutumba Ballet Folklorico) employed an infectious series of parallel rhythms,
and the dancers were amazingly articulate, all rippling and pulsing. "Walking...
II" seemed a deeply shared experience for them, a celebration in golden light.
It was that sort of light that reflects from performers' contact with each other,
and the obvious joy and focus that it entails. Again, well-deserved cheers and
screams filled the air.
Paul Taylor Dance Company reappeared,
bringing the evening to a thundering close with a rocking performance of Taylor's
1997 "Piazzolla Caldera," which also gave its premiere at the American Dance Festival.
In Santo Loquasto's hot-weather setting of smeary red backdrop, hanging lamps
and sexy wardrobe, the dozen dancers struggle and relent in a dreamscape of a
dance, all to the luscious sounds of Gidon Kremer's violin in Astor Piazzolla's
compositions. It's a wonderful dance, evoking a side of love that's feverishly
sought, quickly forgotten, or ever-elusive. From the sizing-up of the opening
male-female contingents through the impassioned grappling of Lisa Viola and Patrick
Corbin's duet, all eyes in the house were locked on them, and silence reigned
as Annmaria Mazzini seared in a solo of longing, alone among so many.
The dance's softer second section
(the "Celos" quartet) brings on vertigo with its swinging lights and the drunken
clutches of Andy LeBeau and Rob Kleinendorst, who weave and lean, drawn to the
contact and strength of each other, tumbling and grasping. My favorite section
of choreography, however, is the next duet, for smoothie Michael Trusnovec and
a serpentine Silvia Nevjinsky. Trusnovec and Nevjinsky are smooth, light-footed
partners through an intense push-pull of weight and trust, spiraling and surging
as the violin wails into a heady stratosphere. LeBeau and Kleinendorst are pulled
in, too, and they all collapse into a steamy embrace. A passionate finale of stalking,
fleeing, grasping and physical shouting from all ensues, an absolute burst of
power as the music and dancers coalesced into a brighter and brighter center.
They brought us all to our feet.
It was an appropriate way to conclude
a celebratory evening, benefiting for -- and from -- many summers of great dance
at the American Dance Festival, all those students, artists, teachers and their
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