Snazzy Socks Kick Off FOOTPRINTS, in ADF’s Final Week

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The student ensemble in Dafi Albtabeb’s IT’S NOW. IT’S NEVER, in the ADF Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Sometimes the Footprints program, which occurs near the end of the American Dance Festival summer season, includes dances in which the ADF 6 week students learn a classic dance by a great choreographer of the past, their feet re-impressing the blurring footprints of history so that it may continue to inform the present. But this year, all three dances by the youngish choreographers in the Footprints program indicate the trail toward the future. These brand-new pieces are performed by the talented young dancers who come to the ADF School to further their training and begin their careers.

The evening’s first work is by Dafi Albtabeb (with Nini Moshe), the Israeli choreographer whose work was included in the 5 x 5 program earlier this season. Ostensibly, It’s Now. It’s Never is about the variability of memories, the way they change slightly with each recall. This idea is clearer at some moments than at others during the dance, which is composed of large chunks of movement that fit uneasily together, and some sections that go on a bit longer than really needed, as well as an opening sequence that struck me as slightly nasty (everyone’s pants were down around their ankles), all set to fragments of this and that sound and music. However much it may need further development, the work includes some vivid shape-making and some supercharged dancing, and who could complain when the stage swirls with a confetti of colorfully-clad bodies?

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Beth Gill’s FOOTPRINTS under David Ferri’s inventive lighting, in the ADF Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Beth Gill’s Footprints is whole already, and absorbing from the first moment, when student dancer Joyce D. Edwards takes the stage like a queen in a purple crushed velvet unitard. Her dancing was controlled and elegant, her lines distinct and beautiful. I could have watched her alone all night, but soon she was joined by others, also in wonderfully colored costumes, all gliding along in a magical way to music by Atom TM, unfolding like flowers and scuttling about with the oblivious grace of nocturnal animals. ADF staff lighting genius David Ferri, who designed the lighting for the whole program, has outdone himself on the lighting effects for this piece, with delicate washes of color, and the light bubbles pictured above. The lush costumes are by John Brinkman (he did all the costumes for the Footprints program). The choreography’s full of surprises, but they don’t ambush you and beat you on the head with their knobby ideas. I was reminded of how I felt when I first began seriously reading poetry: mystified and satisfied and hungrier than when I started. It is getting harder and harder to find a dance that defies verbalization, but this is one.

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Lee Sher and Saar Harari’s new choreography, BUNKER, was powerfully performed by the student cast in ADF’s Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

The program concludes with new work by Lee Sher and Saar Harari of LeeSaar The Company, set on ten advanced students, all of whom seemed to either be already trained in or natural to the full-bodied Gaga style. It was fantastic to see what Sher and Harari could do with a large group of dancers! I found Bunker very unsettling, due to its military references and soldierly behaviors (someone quipped that it must be the Israeli army, as the members of this unit are mostly female). But neither the images nor the narrative are so literal as to dilute the ambiguity inherent in soldiering. The paradox remains: the comrades in the bunker have each others’ backs, but they are all stone killers. They preserve (or try to) their culture and values by destroying those of others. Beauty is not the point in Bunker, but power is, and it is emphasized by the army green costuming that chops up the line of the leg to focus the eye on the forceful musculature of thigh and buttock. The costumes help, but the real power is in the dancing of movement written with bold honesty by the choreographers, performed at full throttle by the ensemble. The viewer may be kept mentally off-balance by the shifting emotional tone of the musical selections, but her body will rejoice in sympathy with the balance and freedom of the dancers.

This excellent selection of Footprints continues July 26-27 in Reynolds Theater; its second part, an outdoor dance by Vanessa Voskuil, will take place in Duke Gardens July 28-30. The Gardens dance is free; tickets here for the Reynolds performances. The ADF 2016 grand finale will take place in the DPAC July 29-30, with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

ADF Puts Company Wang Ramirez and Its WOW Factor on the Big Stage

 

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Sebastien Ramirez in Borderline, at ADF 7/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Company Wang Ramirez blew like a fresh clean wind into the ADF last season. This year they have returned with a darker work that–although it was made in 2013–captures the fearful zeitgeist of 2016. The dancing–augmented by aerial work–is no less amazing than that in last year’s American Dance Festival presentation of Wang Ramirez’ Monchichi. But Borderline replaces the cheerful identity-wrestling of Monchichi with unnerving switchbacks in the imagery–home becomes prison; flight becomes captivity;  friendliness morphs into hostility with a single gesture. Borderline‘s 70 minutes are utterly engrossing, its aesthetic glories underlined by the hinted horrors of confinement and restraint, and by occasional outbreaks of violence.

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Sebastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in Borderline, ADF 7/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

The company’s style is based in hip-hop, but incorporates–whatever it wants or needs. In this case, there are five dancers and an aerial rigger, whose work is not hidden, keeping us aware of his complex role. He can give the dancers freedom from gravity; he keeps them safe. But he also restrains and restricts them. In the beginning, two women in harnesses, led to separate lines, struggle and surge toward an open steel construction. One will make progress, but her progress drags the other back–or perhaps she/they are both puppets and the rigging master represents Fate. Eventually one dancer reaches “home” and we breathe in relief. But “home” quickly turns to a prison cell. Every image of safety or freedom is complemented with one of danger or confinement. The steel constructions (which reminded me of Antony Gormley’s constructions for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Babel) are continually reconfigured by the dancers, and the flow of movement is never broken–yet one feels the hovering possibility of brokenness, of a forced halt, of freedom impeded. There are many images implying a puppet master controlling the action.

It’s possible that I’m over-reading this, but I don’t think so. It seems more likely that these multicultural Spanish-French-Korean-German artists were just ahead of the political curve with their interest in boundaries and borders, in what flows over and between and what is halted or corralled by the lines and boxes we make around our cultures and countries.

Whatever its meanings may be, Borderline is also chock-full of beautiful scenes and astonishingly vital movement–the kind of movement that makes a person proud to belong to the human race, and supplies a modicum of hope that we will continue to dance the earth a little longer.

One note: the lighting is very dim. The camera saw these scenes better than I was able to. If you have opera glasses or binoculars, take them. But by all means, go tonight if you can. Check with the DPAC for tickets–last night’s house was quite full. Be sure to stay for the joyous curtain call dancing. Last night Honji Wang whipped out a bunch of fouettés in the midst of her breaking and floor-spinning.

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Company Wang Ramirez in Borderline, at ADF 7/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Opening Tonight: A Youthful VIOLET

One of the lesser-known pleasures of summer around here is the theatre production which culminates the annual Summer Youth Conservatory program of PlayMakers Repertory Company. Talented stage-struck students from Triangle area schools work for about a month with professionals in PlayMakers’ facilities at UNC-CH to prepare a show, generally a musical; a little later in the process students interested in the backstage work join them for technical training. Then late in July, the show gets a full production in the Paul Green Theater in the UNC Center for Performing Arts. The ones I’ve seen have been thoroughly enjoyable, full of heart and overflowing with good energy.

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L to R: Presyce Baez as Flick, Wilson Plonk as Monty and Ainsley Seiger as Violet in PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory production of VIOLET.  Photo: Jon Gardiner.

 

This year’s production, Violet, derives from a story by the late great Doris Betts, “The Ugliest Pilgrim.” With wonderful, varied, music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, it’s a fine conversion of the touching story about a young, scarred  girl from Spruce Pine, NC, and her travel into the wider world. The lead role is filled by Ainsley Seiger, who did such a fine job last year in Guys and Dolls. Matthew Steffens, who led that production, directs and choreographs again this year.

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Marcella Cox and the ensemble in PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory production of VIOLET. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

 

Violet opens tonight, July 21, after a preview show, and will play July 21-23 and 29-30 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on July 24 and 31 at 2 pm. Modestly priced tickets here.

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