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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

It’s HAPPY HOUR: ADF 2017 is Open

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Anna Bass, left, and Monica Bill Barnes in HAPPY HOUR. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

I don’t know much about office parties or happy hours, and what I have known is pretty dreary. Not so with the crazy happy hour party thrown by Monica Bill Barnes & Company at the Durham Arts Council’s PSI Theater as the first Durham performances of the American Dance Festival 2017 season. Go on, have a good time!

Join the throng, join the confusion, buy a raffle ticket, have a beer, have wine, have pretzels, popcorn and vitamin C gummies! And watch these clever gals portray a couple young guys in suits, perfect right down to the beery bro reconciliation after one cuts out the other from a hook-up opportunity. If you choose, you can work up some kind of gender politics statement and lay it over this prolonged vaudevillian skit, buy why bother?  But if nothing else, you’ll wish that every man wore his trousers as well as these women wear theirs.

Barnes and Co. are serious, but never heavy. They may portray sadness, but angst really is not their thing. So refreshing! Both Bass and Barnes are almost uncanny in their abilities with subtle gesture and expression: their faces dance almost as much as the rest of their bodies. They are funny in their impersonations–but not mocking. Their humor does not have a cruel edge. Their movement draws on any and all styles–it feels familiar, but not derivative, and it is very finely tuned and precise. If you are having doubts about this life being worthwhile, watching them frolic will almost certainly restore your own joie de vivre.

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Monica Bill Barnes, standing, with Anna Bass in HAPPY HOUR. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

The company’s tagline is “bringing dance where is doesn’t belong.” ADF actually started this season with the company leading choreographed dance work-outs at the NC Museum of Art. At Happy Hour, however, its your laugh muscles that get the work-out.

There were supposed to be brews after-show with the dancers, but on Tuesday night, they did not appear at Bull McCabe’s for such a long time that the moment for that fun had really passed, so I don’t know that you can count on that aspect of the advertised events. But you can still enjoy the $3 beer special as you mentally re-play the cascade of delights, and come to realize just how much on-stage work goes into giving an audience a care-free hour.

Repeats June 7, 8 and 9 at 6:30 pm.

 

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