ADF: Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre

As I told a friend, concerning this storytelling dance with live music, it filled up my whole mind. More than a week has passed since I saw the performance of Exit/Exist by South African artists Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre, but it keeps shouldering more recent offerings at the American Dance Festival from the forefront of my consciousness. This is one that leapt into my upper echelon of dance experiences, onto the mental shelf of honor along with my first Eiko and Koma dance and a few select others. Great imagination, incredible aesthetics, and complete authenticity.

“Just a few minutes into Exit/Exist, the American Dance Festival’s second offering of the season, I felt myself slipping out of the critical zone. The commenting mind put down its note-taking pencil and disconnected the flow of verbiage. For an hour, there was only a man dancing, and four men singing, and a guitar ringing and chiming. Within, a play of emotions – awe, pity, rage, mystification, comprehension–and a kind of lust, a joyous greedy desire of the eye and ear.”

Read my review on here.

Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre Photo: ©John Hogg

Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre.  Photo:©John Hogg

Dance Local: Nicola Bullock’s UNDONE, and ADF’s NC DANCES

In Durham, you can still find artists working in warehouses. The "marquee" for UNDONE. Photo: ©Tim Walter.

The “marquee” for UNDONE.    Photo: ©Tim Walter.

Nicola Bullock. Photo: © Tim Walter.

Dance artist Nicola Bullock.          Photo: © Tim Walter.

Here in the Bull City one often hears the phrase “Keep it Durty, Durham,” an oblique slash at the city’s rapid slickification and a plea to keep the grit for which this former factory town is rightly loved. There could hardly be a better example of keepin’ it than choreographer and dancer Nicola Bullock’s project UNDONE, which took place in a former warehouse on Dillard St. Not only was the space rough and ready for anything, Bullock and her five collaborators were grappling with the classic “durty” topic of racism. Also in classic Durham fashion, there were posters, handouts and sign-up sheets for more involvement. But these six women hadn’t spent a year meeting and talking about how race “intersects with power, how it defines and transcends identity, and how it has informed the artists in their own lives” in order to keep talking–they wanted to show us.

UNDONE dancers in "the wings" prior to the performance. Photo: © Tim Walter.

UNDONE dancers in “the wings” prior to the performance. Photo: © Tim Walter.


UNDONE consists of a series of dance-theatre scenes examining different aspects of racism from different points of view and exploring three questions: “Who am I? Who are you? How do we understand each other?”  The sequences showed how much thought had gone into them, and how much heart. But it is a difficult matter to make successful theatre from good intentions. Each segment was strongest in its pure dance, and less so when it strived to make its points with too much narrative. There was in fact recorded spoken narrative, although it would have been better left out, as the recording, the sound equipment and the acoustics of the space made nearly every word incomprehensible.

Some scenes depicted various shy and delicate meetings between people of different races, and how the initial encounters could evolve or devolve. Leah Wilks was notable in one such scene that turned into a fight, and in a strange episode that seemed to have to do with minstrelsy and vaudeville performance prototypes. There was some smart expressive choreography, and all the dancers had strong moments (Bullock is beautiful to watch, and conveys emotions well with face and gesture), with their lifts and other contact moments being particularly good. The weakness in the work as a whole was its desire to be inclusive and complete–all the sections could be distilled for increased effect, and make their points more clearly in less time. Their length, combined with the time chasms that yawned between scenes, exerted excess drag on what could have been a buoyant and thoroughly engaging work.

Braiding is not dancing. Monét Noelle Marshall, near the end of UNDONE. Photo: © Tim Walter.

Braiding is not dancing. Monét Noelle Marshall, near the end of UNDONE. Photo: © Tim Walter.

Having myself spent decades trying to come to a greater understanding of racial issues, I did not find anything particularly fresh here, except for the wonderful fact that new waves of people have taken up the cause of understanding even as our larger society seems to become ever more racially polarized. Only one segment fed into that polarization, and artistically speaking, it did not fit well with the others.

In it Monét Noelle Marshall takes the stage alone, and begins re-doing her hair, and talking to the audience, eventually saying that since we’d already made up our minds about her, she wasn’t going to dance for us. This gratuitous insult shocked me.  I very nearly stood up and told her to get off the stage and make room for the dancers, because I’d come to a dance performance. My companion nearly walked out.  I had not in fact made up my mind about her, but I doubt I’ll pay money to see her now. This episode left a sour residue.

Still, I admired the effort and much of the work. I admire the willingness to GO FOR IT, with the most minimal resources and the maximum of spirit. Nicola Bullock is an artist to watch, and not only for the sunshine of her smile.

The cast of UNDONE: Monet Noelle Marshall, Leah Wilks, Zoia Cisneros, Lindsay Leonard, Jessi Knight Walker and NIcola Bullock. Photo: © Tim Walter.

The cast of UNDONE: Monet Noelle Marshall, Leah Wilks, Zoia Cisneros, Lindsay Leonard, Jessi Knight Walker and Nicola Bullock. Photo: © Tim Walter.



The following section was published June 20, 2014 with the title “Now. Here. This: NC Dances at ADF” on Reprinted here by permission.

The American Dance Festival has been easing in to regional inclusiveness over several years, using various programming methods to allow some representation of North Carolina’s choreographers and dancers. This year’s program, Here and Now: NC Dances, which was danced June 18th, (I saw the first performance) was the most successful of the experiments thus far.

This is partly due to the increasing maturation of local dance artists (and that’s partly due to the increased presence of ADF), and partly because the four participants were chosen by a jury of choreographers from outside the area who were presumably less influenced by politics or personal friendships than jurors from inside the local dance community might have been. These four choreographers and their dancers acquitted themselves well in the challenge to work up to the ADF’s high standards—thereby ratcheting up expectations audiences will have for them and other NC dancers (though these four choreographers are all based in Durham). It’s good for everyone.

The ADF signaled its commitment to nurturing and presenting local as well as national and international dancers by producing this program as part of its ADF at Duke series—with the NC Dance Festival as co-producer, as was the case last year. There seems to have been a greater allocation of tech resources, too, as each piece had specific scenic needs and each was beautifully—and differently–lit.

From Gaspard Louis' Annatations, at ADF's Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014. Photo: Grant Halvorsen ©ADF.

From Gaspard Louis’ Annatations, at ADF’s Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014.          Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

The program opened with Gaspard LouisAnnatations (2013), for nine dancers, which he premiered last fall on the same stage with different dancers. Here, it had the same haunted cello music written and performed on stage by Josh Starmer; the same swimming angels by Steven Silverleaf hanging overhead, the same lovely cloud-colored costumes by Jakki Kalogridis—but the lighting (John Kolba) was strikingly different and more entrancing, as was the dancing. From the first sequence, the dancers created a sense of oceanic forces at work on their global-scaled kinetic patterning. Throughout the dance the feeling of waves rushing continued. The dancers were able to change directions with lovely fluidity, and all that fluid coming and going generated a sense of the infinite. For all the group synchronicity, the dancers were well differentiated, but not particularized into characters. They are souls in the sea of souls—like water, all the same but every moment different. Louis’ choreography allows each dancer to claim generous space with raised and extended arms and legs, so it’s particularly exciting when lines cross and when pairs come together for lifts and turns. Often tender, these encounters are never romantic or sentimental. There are also some refreshing outbursts of acrobatics amid the balletic grace. Altogether, this version was clearer, more sharply focused, and at the same time spiritually wider and larger than the earlier version.

Leah Wilks in her dance Mess, at ADF's Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014. Photo: Grant Halvorsen ©ADF.

Leah Wilks in her dance Mess, at ADF’s Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014.                   Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Leah Wilks brought us back from the vast unknown with her tightly focused solo, Mess (2014), set to Quiet 6 by Michael Wall, with video backdrop by Jon Haas. At the outset, we see Wilks crouched midstage, wrapped around herself into a ball, poised in a circle of light from a single overhead spot. She unfolds, extends and inverts herself into an astonishing headstand with some daring leg action challenging her balance. Eventually she rolls out of the circle and the lighting becomes more general while she explores the chaos. There’s more play with a projected circle of light. When it rises on the back wall, she moves toward it, her silhouette and her shadow merging. Although Wilks moves wonderfully and has a big stage presence, the choreography did not sustain my interest at every moment.

From Diego Carrasco Schoch's A Place Apart, at ADF's Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014. Photo: Grant Halvorsen ©ADF.

From Diego Carrasco Schoch’s A Place Apart, at ADF’s Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

A Place Apart (2009) by Diego Carrasco Schoch came next. A duet for two men, it was both charming and annoying. The two begin the dance in the aisles of the theater, a golden light revealing first one then the other as each performs some graceful moves balanced on the steps, accompanied by intermittent bursts of obnoxious news and patter from TV and radio sources. This continues as the men take the stage, then a note, a chord, a run of notes, from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata begin to sound between the audio-trash lines until finally we and the dancers hear the music. They perform a romantic duet with some great lifts, fine développés, lovely arabesques, and tender delicacies of interaction—there’s lots of touching—but not much real emotion. The dance ends downstage in a square of golden light, dancers glowing, while we were left to wonder why the choreographer had introduced ugly reality into his pretty stage world. It is not like we don’t all know about its “assaultive” qualities.

From Renay Aumiller's Acquiring Dawn, at ADF's Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014. Photo: Grant Halvorsen ©ADF.

From Renay Aumiller’s Acquiring Dawn, at ADF’s Here and Now: NC Dances, June 18, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson ©ADF.

Another multi-dancer piece completed the program. Renay Aumiller’s Acquiring Dawn (2013) became such a whirlwind after its quiet orderly beginning that is was hard to credit that there were only six dancers onstage. Set to Aurora (edited) by Hans Zimmer, with fashionably post-apocalyptic costumes by Karl Green and eerie lighting by Bill Webb and R. Mitch Fore, Acquiring Dawn is a dance that sticks in the mind, demanding more consideration, although it struck me as a little studied at the time. It begins with six women in tattery dresses standing far upstage in the gloom, each behind a little pile of white fluff. Each woman takes up a double handful and, walking forward, spreads it into a stripe running toward the audience. And again, while desultory flakes fall from above. And again—but one dancer begins to drag through her line, then to toss and scatter. Soon all but one has given herself over to disorder and confusion, dancing like a storm coming up, spinning pale dust devils around themselves until they drop into dark exhaustion. The one remains to see the dawn, which sends in its splendorous colors as the music swells. I particularly admired the choreographer’s willingness to not dwell on this moment. It lasts no longer than a camera flash, but reignites a sense of hope as Aurora sparkles on the ashes of the wrecked world.






So Darn HOT: Tapping at the Carrboro ArtsCenter


Photo: Denise Cerniglia.

Teachers from the 2013 NCRT Festival, Michelle Dorrance, center. Photo: Denise Cerniglia.


“The Greatest Tap Show Ever” may not always hold that title, but the show I saw last night at the Carrboro ArtsCenter was certainly the most purely enjoyable tap show I’ve ever seen. Presented by the  North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (celebrating 30 years, thanks to the buoyant leadership of Gene Medler) and the North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival, the show featured half a dozen first-rate teaching tap artists in town for the 3-day festival/workshop, accompanied by the excellent dance band combo of John Hanks, Robbie Link and Jim Crew. Sadly, Medler was down in the back and not able to join the other dancers on stage, but otherwise the whole event had an insouciant air of mischievous fun, with everyone cracking jokes and peeking from behind the stage curtains.

Michelle Dorrance, local heroine now taking the world by storm with her company DorranceDance, performed short joyous dances, but also one longer work that hinted at what a very special performer she is. Along with a graceful style and complex sense of rhythmic progression, she brings powerful emotional intensity to the stage. I’ve seen some fine tappers, but I’ve never seen anyone choreograph tap as if it were avant-contemporary dance. She’s got some unusual moves, uses her arms and hands very expressively, and looks outward to the audience even while her feet draw intricate patterns making her shoes sing with textured tones. Whether you were or weren’t in the sold-out house at the ArtsCenter, you may wish to book tickets for Carolina Performing Arts‘ presentation of DorranceDance on Sept. 25-26.

Each of the other dancers–Derick Grant, Nico Rubio, Melinda Sullivan (who danced and sang “Too Darn Hot”) and Joseph Wiggan–was nearly as impressive as Dorrance, and each has a distinctive style and impressive credentials. All performed delightful turns, showcasing their special moves, and challenging and copycatting each other in the finale. It was just so charming–partly because it was on the tiny stage (well-miked for the dancers) of the tiny ArtsCenter where everyone’s practically on top of everyone else, and the waves of love flow unimpeded from stage to audience and back again.

As spectacular as the dancers were, and as solid as the band was, there was no doubt as to who was the diva. Ms. Yvette Glover–Savion Glover’s mama–commanded the proceedings with twinkling majesty. Having known most of the performers for years, and some since they were toddlers, she bossed them around and was fussed over by them in return. Between emceeing, she sang two songs in an enormous voice time has rasped but not ruined. Flying in, she said, she was so struck this time by the beauty of the trees, so she commanded the band to learn the music to accompany her on the sung version of Joyce Kilmer’s Trees (here’s Paul Robeson singing it.). Later she sang, a cappella, a heart-expanding version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and you could have heard a pin drop between phrases, the house was so quiet. Then the thunder of tapping feet resumed, playing out the secret rhythms of the heart.


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