ADF: One Duet, One Dastardly Duo

The American Dance Festival has presented two small-scale programs this season away from its main series venues of Reynolds Theater and the Durham Performing Arts Center. The first, which I had thought might be arid, was instead subtle and austerely beautiful. The second, which I had high hopes of being waspish and thrashingly sardonic, was instead…not much of nothing.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor. Photo: ©Vojtech Brtnicky.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor. Photo: ©Vojtech Brtnicky.

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University was the co-presenter on June 17 for Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor‘s reconsideration of Two Room Apartment, a work by all accounts important in the history of Israeli choreography. (Certainly, the commanding, sensuous movement style can be seen in many contemporary Israeli companies, and one thinks especially of Emmanuel Gat.) Created in 1987 by Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal, Two Room Apartment was originally for a male-female couple, but Sheinfeld and Laor have reworked it to reflect their own life and work partnership. They have used the original music by Ori Vidislavski, supplemented with songs by Elton John (“Yellow Brick Road”!) and Vains of Jenna. (Video teaser here.)

The Nasher atrium provided an ideal setting for this intelligent and wonderfully constructed dance, with a dark rectangle of marley laid down the center and chairs arranged on all four sides. I attended the 7 p.m. show, so there was still ample natural light, but it was augmented by a simple lighting array. Ready waiting in the performance area, and very carefully placed, were two folded jackets (one blue, one green), two folded towels (both white) and two water bottles (identical), and two rolls of wide white tape.

The two dancers appear, one tall, one not. For their ADF debut, they wear similar gray jeans, black tops and scuffed brown boots. Each takes a roll of tape, with which they delineate the two square rooms, side by side, one “wall” shared. The “ownership” of each room is indicated by which jacket is now within its space. They begin to walk around these rooms, each man staying on “his” side.

Tension builds with repetition, as in minimalist music. Speed increases. Small changes–a stumble here, a hair-smoothing there–begin to occur. Then meetings, collaborations, conflicts, transgressions, relentings, rapproachments, and sex and its aftermath are all danced, with a stripped-down dance vocabulary combining beautifully-timed simple movement with subtle gestures and expressions. Sheinfeld and Laor also exhibit a honed sense of the comedic, and  offer a right-sized (aesthetically speaking) jolt of nudity. The personal relationship interleaves with the artistic one–through all this, the artists are trying to choreograph a dance. Nesting a representation of dance-making within the dance they were actually making made the viewer feel both the domesticity of the set-up, and the way the domestic, in life, is nested inside of art-making. This is one smart, fully-thought-out work of art by two fine, fierce dancers.

Over the course of the dance, Sheinfeld and Laor cross every boundary, both those on the stage and all the implied and expected boundaries between roommates, partners, lovers and performers (the tall one kept a little flirtation going with a long-legged girl seated on the floor in front of me–apparently there’s someone on the outside in every performance). All that’s left of those boundaries in the end is a discarded wad of tape, and the heady scent of clean male sweat.


After that exhilarating work, maybe 13 Love Songs: Dot Dot Dot (2014) was at a disadvantage. This first evening-length collaboration between 60-something Ishmael Houston-Jones and 30-something Emily Wexler, also making their ADF debut, was presented June 24 and 25 in the PSI Theater of the Durham Arts Council. Supposedly they were to eviscerate the popular love song, but that Hydra has survived this ludicrous conceptual attack.

The ideas were murky, the dancing hideous, the stage craft abominable. The performers talked too much and very little of what they said was worth repeating, although there was one interesting piece by Houston-Jones (I believe that the “authenticity” of his Some Reasons Your Anus is Not Like Everest was supposed to contrast tellingly with the lyrics of classic pop love.) It was boring. And, nothing happened. No, I take that back, there was a good thing where they cut an onion and rubbed it on their faces to generate specious tears, crocodile tears, to accompany some sad song. But so much nothing happened that Wexler had to tell the audience when the show was over.

I’ve spent a week trying to think why ADF booked this and haven’t come up with a plausible reason. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in 30+ years of ADF, and that includes the revolting piece in which Miguel Gutierrez hovered his naked butt over an open flame on stage with real time video multiplying the yuck factor (turns out Houston-Jones is affiliated with Gutierrez). At least I remember Gutierrez’ piece. Already the main thing I remember about 13 Love Songs: Dot Dot Dot is how glad I was to burst out the door when its pitiful hour of crime against art was up.

Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler in 13 Love Songs: Dot Dot Dot. Photo:©Ian Douglas.

Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler in 13 Love Songs: Dot Dot Dot. Photo:©Ian Douglas.

ADF: Pilobolus


Pilobolus performing Skyscrapers in a previous ADF appearance. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

Pilobolus performing Skyscrapers in 2012. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.


Pilobolus and the American Dance Festival have been closely allied for most of the company’s 43-year history. We’ve seen the company transform itself again and again (aided by ADF-trained dancers, ADF commissions, and the 2000 ADF Scripps Award), its life as an artistic body mirroring its dances of flowing change and growth. But in the last decade or so, as founding collaborators and dancers have died or moved on, the dance company named for a protean fungus has struggled at times to maintain its vitality. To open themselves to new influences and fresh possibilities for their always-astounding physical style, the company has brought in choreographers and other artists to work on new projects. Some of these have been highly successful; others have not. Pilobolus also still follows its own early model, in which the company members make the works that some or all of them will dance.

This year’s program at ADF opens with a new work by the company so successful that you could go home right after feeling satisfied. On the Nature of Things, commissioned by the ADF, had its premiere on June 26 in the Durham Performing Arts Center, danced by Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Eriko Jimbo and newcomer Mike Tyus. Moving slowly to the sound of a sweet searching violin (rich, questing music by Michelle diBucci and Ed Bilous), Tyus carries the red-headed Ahern onto the stage and lays him on a raised circular table, where shafts of cold white light gleam on his pale skin, making of him a marble sculpture. Tyus returns with his arms full of Eriko Jimbo, placing her carefully on top of Ahern, then stepping back. Suddenly, the work’s title is not the pretentious boast it sounded. We are in the Garden with first man and first woman and…The Other One–god, devil or both (when he bowed from the tabletop at the end, I thought I caught a few notes appropriate for a man of wealth and taste). Ahern and Jimbo circle and sniff, alternately revealing themselves to each other, and entwining in numerous complicated ways. The movement was extraordinary, even for Pilobolus, because of its condensation into such a circumscribed area, and it was gorgeously sensual. And what a pleasure–nothing but skin-toned dance belts between our eyes and their magnificent bodies.

Mike Tyus, Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, and Eriko Jimbo of Pilobolus in the premiere of On the Nature of Things, June 26, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

Mike Tyus, Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, and Eriko Jimbo of Pilobolus in the premiere of                             On the Nature of Things, June 26, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.


After one of the video interludes I wish they’d quit doing (so jarring to flip from the small screen to the big live stage and back), they reprise the colorful, sassy Skyscrapers (2012), with its clever take on tango (music by OK Go). Here’s a place where the video obsession serves them well. The dancers cross a limited stage area in front of a moving life-sized projection of highly chromatic buildings and streetscapes. They flit and figure 8 in brightly-colored outfits to match their backgrounds, reaching the far side of the stage just as a new color way glides into place on the backdrop and a new dance pair cavorts before it. It is very cute and fun, but the best thing is seeing Pilobolus dancers in more or less regular clothes and shoes. Ordinarily, we see them rooting themselves to earth with their feet, so it is quite piquant to see them disguised as  mere mortals in high heels and pointy toes.

After another video (unlikely explosions), they danced the 2011 ADF commission Korokoro, choreographed by the company with Takuya Muramatsu of Dairakudakan. I found this dance of strange contrasts more engrossing this time around, with some memorable classic Pilobolus rolling and rising, with bodies transforming, inverting and merging to separate and scatter–all in an apocalyptic environment or perhaps on another planet. There is a great moment when the dancers look like they’ve been caught in the Star Trek Transporter, half-way dematerialized, thanks to the smart lighting and video projections by Neil Peter Jampolis and John Kane.

The second new, ADF-commisioned work of the evening was created by the company along with Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, who are both writers. The Inconsistent Pedaler did not come alive for me as a dance, or even dance theatre. It was more like a sit-com that didn’t really work. The storyline involves a birthday party, clearly in a facility, for a 99-year-old man. Neither dark enough nor funny enough, it was merely depressing. Although there were some clever aspects, such as the schtick with the bicycle which posits that movement drives music, just as it drives human life, mostly the piece was just a mess, and the final image could hardly have been any more hackneyed.

The evening ends with another well-known but always welcome work, Megawatt. This was the best performance of it I’ve seen, because Eriko Jimbo was totally blowing all circuits as she flipped all over the stage like a live wire. Despite this high-energy dance coming at the end of a demanding program, all the dancers were hot–and Jimbo was sizzling.

Pilobolus will return to the DPAC June 27 and 28 at 8 pm. Earplugs recommended for the final work.

ADF: Ballet Hispanico


Jamal Rashann Callender and Lauren Alzamora in Ballet Hispanico's Sortijas, June 20, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Jamal Rashann Callender and Lauren Alzamora in Ballet Hispanico’s Sortijas, June 20, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Ballet Hispanico gave a sensuous and thought-provoking performance to begin the American Dance Festival’s second week on June 20-21. Its highlights were Cayetano Soto‘s dark, spiky male-female duet Sortijas, set to a haunting song by Lhasa de Sela, and a new work by Rosie Herrera, Show.Girl, which looks at Cuban-American Latina identity, Miami version. Herrera continues to refine her unique sensibility without suppressing its outrageous vitality, and Show.Girl may prove a pivotal dance in her career.

Read my full review here, published June 21, 2014 on 

From the first act of Rosie Herrera's operatic cabaret dance-theatre work, Show.Girl, June 20, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

From the first act of Rosie Herrera’s operatic cabaret dance-theatre work, Show.Girl,                     June 20, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Not even the most amazing moment in the second act fan dance of Show.Girl. June 20, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Not even the most amazing moment in the second act fan dance of Show.Girl. June 20, 2014.       Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Ballet Hispanico in Eduardo Vilaro's Danzon. Photo: © Paula Lobo.

Ballet Hispanico in Eduardo Vilaro’s Danzon. Photo: © Paula Lobo.


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