American Dance Festival director Jodee Nimerichter’s adventurous and probing spirit is clearly at play in some of her programming, with its insistence that dance can be so many things. Last year we got a program of four ADF-commissioned duets; the year before, four solos by mature male choreographers. This year, in 5 By 5, we get a mixed program by five very different choreographers: two solos; one duet; one quartet and one octet.
The quartet which opened the program is an ADF commission by Rosie Herrera (who made a duet last year with Larry Keigwin). The new work, Carne Viva, in its premiere on June 28th, recalled the surprising surreality with which Herrera first rolled over us in 2009. This is a fairly short piece, set to three songs (as always, Herrera has chosen powerful music). It opens with an incredible feat that makes an indelible image: A tall man holds a short woman up in the air, his arms straight up. He holds her in the air longer than seems possible, then gently sets her down. He’s radiant with ardor; she’s distant and bored. Again he lifts her, this time sinking himself and pressing his head on her belly when he sets her down. And again, arduousness turning ardor to anger, he lifts her high; clutching and grasping at her feet when he sets her down. She exits; another woman appears and he lifts her, and exits with an anguished scream.
During the second song, two women–lovers?–tussle in an extremely dynamic segment; during the third, mystery and magic return. The piece concludes with a stunningly passionate female solo set against a backdrop of pure anomie–all the others are alone with their phones.
Rosie Herrera is an example of how important the ADF can be to dancers’ and choreograpers’s careers. Former director Charles Reinhardt came across Herrera in her home town of Miami and invited her to the festival. Her work was well received and she was invited to return and new work commissioned. (She has now been presented at ADF several times.) While at the festival, she became acquainted with dancers here; two are included in this show–Durham native Hannah Darrah, and local dancer/choreographer Shaleigh Comerford, a piece of whose was included in last season’s Here and Now program (for which Herrera was one of the adjudicators). And of course, the other side of this is that we, the audience in Durham, has had the privilege of watching Herrera mature and expand on her early powers.
We’ve also seen Mark Dendy more than once, but I still don’t get it with him. He always seems to me like he’s squandering his talent on irrelevancies. His solo piece on this program is, blessedly, brief. What you see in the photo is what you get: Dendy in a chair, masquerading as one of the more horrible characters of recent American power politics, Donald Rumsfeld, and miming Rumsfeld’s actions during an interview which we hear in a recording. It involves a story about Rumsfeld, who knew nothing about him, meeting Elvis in his latter days of performing in Las Vegas. Possibly the point was that today most people are as ignorant of Rumsfeld as he was of Elvis; or maybe it is that Elvis is still widely–universally–known, but Rumsfeld, once so powerful, has become an unknown. Whatever, it was awfully irritating to hear Rumsfeld’s voice again.
Israeli choreographer Dafi Albtabeb’s duet, Never the Less, contained some striking similarities with Herrera’s work, with several positions and motions used for much the same purposes. But Albtabeb focused on a single couple, probably in a long-term committed relationship. Everything that happens is recognizable, and some of it painfully so–everything except the silken smoothness with which it unfolds. The dancing is very fine.
Gabrielle Revlock brings us back to physical delight and the amazement of physics with her hula hoop dance. In and out of the hoop she goes, shimmying it up and down and around in a rather incredible sequence. It’s almost as if the hoop is carving space, and certainly we become hyper-aware of different parts of her body as she moves the hoop. In her little white romper, a cross between old-fashioned gym suits and something a goddess would wear for frolicking, she seems playful, but as you can see from the photograph, she has some serious skills. My companion wished for more ritual meaning in the work, but I thought the motion and the space brought enough joy that anything else would have been superfluous.
The program closes with the marvelous Brian Brooks Moving Company. Brooks’ splendid choreography, a kaleidoscope of cycling patterning and dispersal, is set to a “recomposition” of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” by Max Richter. This recomposition or refreshment is highly textured and muscular, full of pleasure and excitement. The dancing is the same: fresh and strong, pretty and lyrical, bold, and buoyant. Apparently there is still room in the 21st century for some 18th century aesthetics.
5 By 5 continues June 29 and 30, 8 pm, Reynolds Theater. Tickets here.