5 By 5 = variety, in ADF’s 6th event in 2016

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.

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Smart phones light the magic circle in Rosie Herrera’s Carne Viva, commissioned by the ADF, at its premiere in Reynolds, as part of the 5 By 5 program, 6/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

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.

 

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Mark Dendy caricaturing Donald Rumsfeld in an excerpt from his Dystopian Distractions. Photo: Grant Halverson.

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.

 

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Olivia Court Mesa and Yochai Ginton depict lovers’ struggles in Dafi Albtabeb’s Never the Less. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

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.

 

 

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Gabrielle Revlock with her space-sculpting Halo. Photo: Grant Halverson.

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.

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Brian Brooks Moving Company in his Torrent of dance. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

5 By 5 continues June 29 and 30, 8 pm, Reynolds Theater. Tickets here.

 

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Perpetual Motion for Its Own Sake: Brian Brooks Moving Company at ADF

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 7/17/12 IN THE ARTERY AT INDYWEEK.COM.

From DESCENT. Photo: Christopher Duggan, courtesy of ADF.

Brian Brooks makes a big production out of very little material. He choreographs all of the dances, which initially give the impression of being big and glitzy, for the aptly named Brian Brooks Moving Company. And he does it with a limited vocabulary that depends on virtuosic physical expression for what interest it arouses.

The dancers are supremely fit body-machines, capable of many rapid repetitions without pause. The body and certain aspects of its capabilities (such as, how close can one get to perpetual motion?) seem to be the main area of exploration for Brooks. And aggression. There’s a lot of aggression, playful and not, in the dances in the BBMC program in Reynolds Theater at the American Dance Festival this year.

Big City (2012) opens the program. Seven dancers amid a forest of hanging, articulated shiny metal tubes, perform to a relentless score by Jonathan Pratt. Like rats in a crowded cage, or workers in Manhattan, all seven struggle ceaselessly for dominance, success and survival among the glittering canyons of the sharp-edged city. They do the same things again and again and again, and since those things are not all that interesting, and since the pace changes only to become a little more frenetic, I became very tired of it well before the curtain lowered on the last man moving.

One section stands out, however. Brooks writhes and rolls among the shiny rods, never touching a one, his hands and feet making stepping stones along the path he creates for the diminutive Jo-anne Lee, who treads them, balancing with outspread arms as he turns beneath her.

In the solo I’m Going to Explode (2007), Brooks shows off his muscular skills as a suited white-collar worker having a minor freak-out before putting his jacket back on and trudging back to his job. It’s clever but shallow. Again, the idea runs out before the dance stops.

An early scene from Brooks’ DESCENT. Photo: Christopher Duggan, courtesy of ADF.

Descent (2011) includes more memorable images—as opposed to forgettable blurs of repetitive motion—than any of the other pieces included here. The power of these images was greatly enhanced by the striped lighting designed by Philip Treviño, but there’s nothing in the way of dramatic build. A scene in which dancers cross the dim stage while fanning lengths of colored gossamer cloth aloft into the light seduces the eye; the smoke-like curls of cloth recall the stage smoke puffing into the first scene, in which a walking dancer carries on another angled stiff across his shoulders. As the pair moves slowly through the striped light, they are joined by two more pairs, drifting. Other than that instance, it was not clear how the scenes related to each other.

I had been looking forward to Motor (2010), which received several positive reviews after its performance at the Joyce Theater in New York last year. The set looked fantastic in photos—all reviewers commented on it—and the subject seemed ideal for BBMC. However, in this program, only an excerpt is performed, and there is no set. Brooks and David Scarantino dance a duet. Their hopping abilities are extraordinary. They move around the stage in unison, on one leg each, and the leg-changes are so cleverly managed that one hardly sees them. It’s quite a feat—dancesport—and perhaps it makes sense within the context of the full dance. As it was, it seemed like Mark Dendy or Larry Keigwin Lite. Very Lite. Definitely less filling.

This is the third time I seen Brian Brooks Moving Company perform, and the third time I’ve seen the same tropes and movement sequences repeated throughout the evening, to much the same surface effect. Brooks and company do what they do very well, but they touch no deep chord of emotion, nor do they light up the synapses with syncretic understanding. And the work is not entertaining enough to keep this viewer happy in the shallows of movement for movement’s sake.

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