ADF: Coming Up June 23-27

Thresh (Part I) 2016

Lucas Melfi and Rachael Mehaffey in an earlier performance of Natalie Marrone’s Thresh, which will be the opening act in Reynolds June 23-24. Photo: Alec Himwich.

 

The American Dance Festival continues to highlight North Carolina connections in this 40th season in the state. On Friday and Saturday the 23rd and 24th, Natalie Marrone’s company The Dance Cure will open for Bill Young/Colleen Thomas & Co. in Reynolds Theater. Marrone’s work was shown in the combined ADF/NC Dance Festival program four years ago.  Young was raised in Durham, but has always worked in New York: this is the company’s ADF debut. They will perform Young’s Interleaving, which cuts four earlier dances into thirds and recombines the sections so that there are four beginnings, four middles and four ends laminated into one arc. It’s an interesting way to mess with time perception, weighting the time-frame of the collected stories more heavily than the time flow-through of each story, and rather cinematic in concept. The piece is 30 years old, but the artistic penchant for taking things apart and putting them together differently never goes out of style.

Natalie Marrone and The Dance Cure won their stage time in an ADF competition for North Carolina choreographers earlier this year. They were chosen from 18 entrants from around the state who submitted video of works up to 15 minutes long. Marrone’s 10-minute duet Thresh will be danced by Rachael Mehaffey and Lucas Melfi, both of whom were seen recently in Renay Aumiller’s boneGlow.

Marrone lives in Chapel Hill and teaches part-time in the Duke Dance program. We spoke by phone earlier this week, when I asked her about the challenges of making and presenting contemporary dance in this area. “There are many opportunities to present a dance that has already been made,” she said dryly. “Funding sources are geared for production, not process.”

The process takes time, and time is expensive. The choreographer needs time to see and consider her ideas embodied by the dancers; she needs time to revise, edit, add–and she needs time to do that again and again. And, she says, “the dancers need time to work with the choreographer,” so that nuance and depth can develop as they come to know and trust each other. “I always want to go deep,” Marrone says. “Before I taught at Duke, it was very expensive to make a dance. And it was hard to find a dedicated space: we don’t need a space for two hours–we need it for six months!”

Marrone has worked on Thresh on and off since January, 2016, and in it she continues to combine her interests in vernacular dance styles and her own family history with a contemporary dance vocabulary. There’s a good descriptive piece about the dance by Susan Broili in the Herald-Sun.

Alex Escalante17

Bill Young/Colleen Thomas & Co. make their ADF debut with the revival of Interleaving, a 30-year-old work–that mined their own previous work. Photo: Alex Escalante.

 

Starting Saturday the 24th, Seattle artist Jody Kuehner, in her stage persona, Cherdonna Shinatra, will bring us some playful-serious West Coast attitude in her first ADF appearance. Actually, Kuehner has been to ADF before, when she danced in Mark Haim’s wonderful This Land is Your Land at the Nasher in 2013. But Cherdonna is about to burst upon us for the first time with Clock That Mug or Dusted.

We–Jody and I–spent an hour talking this morning, sitting outside Joe Van Gogh, where her silky short pink hair looked amazing against a backdrop of purple thistles in the sprawly little pollinator garden by the Broad Street curb. Kuehner identifies herself as queer, and in her performance persona she indulges in an extreme version of “hyper-femininity:” Cherdonna is an performance art drag queen. “‘Queer’ has become more of an expansive identifier,” she told me. “It’s associated with a value system of gender fluidity. It’s not about reproduction; its about partnership.”

We discussed the persistence of rigid gender expectations, and the current groundswell of bold gender fluidity, and how feminist art and action have and have not changed in the decades since the early female body artists made their radical messes, taking “the personal is political” to its artistic limit.

Like these earlier performance artists, Cherdonna’s on a mission. She wants us to free ourselves from inequalities of expectation, inequalities in what’s required and what’s allowed in expression of self. She wants equality all across the gender spectrum, equality under law and under social code. She’s the Notorious RBG* of performance art. But unlike RBG, who is cloaked but not masked and who must work for equality of the sexes in a clear framework, Cherdonna can do as she damn well pleases, no edges, no boundaries, and under her mask of make-up, she is pleased to communicate about the freedom of choice to live as you will.

Expect excess. Expect talking. Expect expressive movement, body slathering and what Kuehner calls “live painting” (the results of which will be collected and used in the next section of this ongoing performance work, one great, bright, brittle all togetherness) Expect intimacy. “I want people to be with,” Kuehner told me. “I like these intimate spaces.” In the flash of a smile, Cherdonna appeared. “Cherdonna’s philosophy is–we’re all in this together.”

LouDaprilePhoto_HIGHRES

Cherdonna Shinatra will be getting messy in 6 performances of Clock that Mug or Dusted, in her ADF debut, at the Living Arts Collective. Photo: Lou Daprile.

 

The Living Arts Collective is very small. You probably want to have a ticket before going. If you can get there without a car to park, all the better for you.

*”At the core of Ruth Ginsburg’s lifelong project is the conviction that there should be no separate spheres for men and women in the eyes of the law, and that distinctions based on what “most” men or women do, on the choices that “most” of them make, is an obstacle to full legal equality.” Linda Greenhouse, writing in the New York Times 6/22/17.

ADF: Catch Up

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Hillel Kogan (r) and Adi Boutrous performed We Love Arabs for the American Dance Festival at Reynolds Theater on Duke University’s campus in Durham, N.C. on Friday, Jun. 16, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.

For CVNC, I reviewed the remarkable piece of dance theater We Love Arabs (first 2 photos) from its first appearance at the Cary Theater. See Dance as Comedy in ADF’s First Cary Performance.

Also for CVNC, I reviewed the grand opening night (last 3 photos), a very successful all-NC program. See Forever Young: The American Dance Festival, Lookin’ Good at 84.

Adi Boutrous (standing) and Hillel Kogan helping each other across the river, in We Love Arabs, at the American Dance Festival at Jun. 16, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.

 

Tap

Elizabeth Burke and Luke Hickey delighting the full house at DPAC during ADF’s fantastic all-NC Opening Night extravaganza, 6/15/17. Photo: Ben McKeown.

 

Carolina

A Carolina Ballet dancer soaring in an ADF commission on ADF Opening Night at DPAC, 6/15/17. Photo: Ben McKeown.

 

AADE

ADF Opening Night in DPAC included extraordinarily splendid drumming and dancing by the African American Dance Ensemble in the celebratory Mendiani. Photo: Ben McKeown.

 

ADF: Tommy Noonan’s JOHN

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The American Dance Festival’s presented Tommy Noonan in his work JOHN, in Shaefer Theater, June 18, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.

 

Taste in art is so personal that almost any artwork will have its appreciators, so it is difficult to say that any art–traditional, transgressive, experimental, whatever–has sinned against an absolute standard. There may be only one mortal sin that art can commit–to be boring.

Again, “boring” is entirely individual. However, I was bored throughout the 5 pm Sunday matinee presentation of Tommy Noonan‘s John in Sheafer Theater, as ADF 2017 continues. (Noonan, in addition to being a director, choreographer, performer and teacher, is co-director of the Saxapahaw non-profit Culture Mill, Inc., which produced this work.) Using a pastiche of spoken quotes, video clips and the idea of John Travolta, celebrity dance star, appearing on a TV show, Noonan attempts a cautionary (but not very) parable about the lowering effects of media “culture” and its inevitable ends. Initially, I twitched between irritation and disgust, both of which offer promising avenues towards some new understanding. But all too soon the yawns began. As my companion said, “if that disco music hadn’t been booming, I’d have taken a nap.”

OK, I was a poor candidate for appreciating this show: I lived through disco and do not wish to revisit it; I have always been repelled by John Travolta; I make my life as TV-free as possible. I find the falsity of the host/star/audience thing almost unbearable, and the willingness of people to participate in it completely confounding. And yes, I was confounded by the evident enjoyment most of the crowd seemed to take in participating in a parody of TV talk show fakery. I was anomalous.

The show is all about fakery; about the layers and layers of artifice of contemporary American life; about artifice as authenticity, and where art may come in, and what’s a con, what’s a lie; about the direct line between celebrity (famous for being famous) worshipping “culture” and the monster in the White House. Worthy topics, if the artist does more than create yet another shiny surface from a hash of recycled sparkly bits. As hard as I tried, I could not find substance or sustenance in the shallows under the surface of John–“there is no there there,” in Gertrude Stein’s words. No new thoughts, no fresh perspectives, no fresh targets for artistic disdain. But its subject was high on the list of trending topics!

And what a waste of dancing talent. The point of repeating, ad nauseum, John Travolta’s famous dance sequence from a film, as seen in a TV clip, is so obvious that you can’t really call it a point–more of a bludgeon. Noonan’s very strong–it takes him a long time to wear down as he further dulls a pop culture moment that had already been flattened into an “iconic” image. The one instant of brilliance in John is the second when Noonan begins to morph the John character into one resembling the current president. But then the wave of obviousness rolls back in.

Of course, what seems obvious, hackneyed or passé depends very much on where one is on one’s own timeline. Everything is new to someone at any given time. But I always thought that art, serious art, aspired to go deep enough into the mysteries that it could continue to offer something as you went below its surface, down, down into the heart of its subject. But in this era, in which surface is supposedly substance (even to an artist critiquing said supposition), I find myself not only anomalous, but anachronistic in holding to such a quaint belief.

Repeats June 19, 8 pm in Shaefer Theater, Bryan Center, Duke.

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