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.


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.



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.



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.




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.


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.


A Thoroughly Modern Ballerina: Wondrous Whelan Closes CPA Season

What do you do next after the New York Times has declared you “America’s greatest contemporary ballerina” but your body says the time is approaching to “leave ’em while you’re lookin’ good”? If you are Wendy Whelan, you retire from your position as a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet covered in glory;  plunge into the unknown with your Wendy Whelan New Works Initiative, and call the first work made after yourself: Restless Creature.

In actuality, Whelan’s career with the NYCB and the foundation of her Initiative overlapped, with hip surgery in the middle.

Wendy Whelan. Photo: Nisian Hughes.

Wendy Whelan. Photo: Nisian Hughes.

“I met with Wendy Whelan about three years ago to discuss the project,” said Carolina Performing Arts executive director Emil Kang from the stage on April 21. Restless Creature was co-commissioned by CPA, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and the Joyce Theater Foundation (yes, Carolina’s playing in the big leagues here). Whelan was scheduled to bring it to CPA a year ago, but a week after its August, 2013 premiere at Jacob’s Pillow (excellent video of artists in discussion here), Whelan went in for hip surgery and touring went on hold while she healed. She returned briefly to the NYCB, giving her farewell performance October 18, 2014, then turned her attention back to Restless Creature and other new projects.

Dance fans may remember that Whelan appeared, rather surprisingly, with the Martha Graham Dance Company at CPA two years ago, shortly before CPA announced its 2014 schedule. “We were the ones who gave the work its final technical rehearsals before its premiere at Jacob’s Pillow,” said Kang, to the eager audience last night, who had been waiting an extra year for this member of “ballet royalty” to sweep long-legged across the Memorial Hall stage, in four pas de deux with four (male) choreographer/dancers.

It was worth the wait. Whelan’s extraordinarily beautiful line and exemplary technique are well-known, but the force of her will, her precision and command of space, along with her humor and her joyful buoyancy, when experienced live, still leave the viewer alternately holding her breath and gasping in wonder. Whelan’s not that big, but she can make herself very, very long. Her outstretched arms gather it in, and her extended legs just eat up the space. There was nothing, other than the absence of big leaps (which would have been unlikely in these choreographies, anyway), to indicate that she’d so recently been under the knife. I didn’t see one second of hesitation or inappropriate delicacy; she was strong, bold and sure, and her partners certainly didn’t treat her like she might break.

It was fantastic to see works by these four compelling contemporary choreographers in such close proximity in time (program with music details below). There was barely time to reset my stopwatch between dances (11:43; 16:00; 11:24; 13:18, with Whelan dancing most of each one), so one could quickly spot the commonalities and contrasts. Alejandro Cerrudo’s Ego et Tu was smooth, a flow of opening and closing shapes and ribboning turns with some magical lifts that somehow signified a partnership of equality. A period of silence made the bodies stand out like bold print. Joshua Beamish’s Conditional Sentences was very brisk and funny, with quirky offsets and amazing reversals of motion above and below the waist. Kyle Abraham’s The Serpent and the Smoke, for which the back curtain was raised and the lights turned toward the audience, also had a liquid quality, but also wonderful passages of skipping, and a lot of mirroring of the bodies. For one indelible image, Abraham and Whelan both lay on their sides, facing the audience, each propped on one elbow, their forearms pressed into one column, their heads inclined towards each other above it, brilliantly lit from the front, burnished against the gloom behind them. There was something about opposites here, in a yin-yang way, balancing opposites.

First Fall, by Brian Brooks, was heart-stopping from start to finish. The stage was further stripped–the back scrim raised, the side curtains lifted to reveal the lighting trees, with all the lighting heads set low. Whelan emerges into the raw space, looking for an instant lost and young in her little yellow dress. After some tentative encounters, Brooks gives her a light instigating shove on the shoulder, and the genie billows out of the bottle. They move together in amazing ways–then the music stops. Once again, the unaccompanied motion looks bigger and bolder, more daring and honest, and as Whelan passes in front of the sidelights, the sculptural articulation of her musculature is clearly delineated. Then a new music begins, and the first fall happens. Brooks crouches on all fours; Whelan leans back and back and back until she has to let go and fall onto his back. He raises her, and they do this over and over in many variations as hypnotic as the Philip Glass music. My wits were thoroughly scattered, my heart beat madly. Here’s a little video from Jacob’s Pillow.

Kang hinted that Whelan will return to CPA–be ready to get your tickets. The new season will be announced next month.

EGO ET TU (2013)
alejandro Cerrudo, choreography
alejandro Cerrudo and Wendy Whelan, performers

sunny artist Management inc., Wendy Whelan, executive producers

ilter ibrahimof, valérie Cusson, producers the Joyce theater foundation, co-producer Carolina Performing arts,

Jacob’s Pillow dance festival,

the Joyce theater foundation, co-commissioners david Michalek, creative director
Joe levasseur, lighting design
karen Young, costume design

davison scandrett, production manager Meredith Belis, stage manager Courtney ozaki Moch, project manager

Music: “Monologue” from Perfect Sense and The Twins (Prague) by Max Richter;
Orphée’s Bedroom by Philip Glass; We (Too) Shall Rest by Ólafur Arnalds; Intermezzo II by Gavin Bryars

Atlantic Screen Group [Max Richter, “Perfect Sense”], Universal Music Publishing Group [Max Richter, “The Twins (Prague)”]; ©1993, 1984 Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc. Used by Permission [Philip Glass, “Orphée’s Bedroom”]; Nettwerk One Music Group [Ólafur Arnalds]; European American Distributors Company [Gavin Bryars]

Joshua Beamish, choreography
Joshua Beamish and Wendy Whelan, performers

Music: Partita No. 2 in C minor BMV 826 by J.S. Bach from Glenn Gould Plays Bach

kyle abraham, choreography
kyle abraham and Wendy Whelan, performers

Music: #304 and #320 by Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir
Music used by permission: Music Sales Corporation, G. Schirmer, Inc.; Touch Music

Brian Brooks, choreography
Brian Brooks and Wendy Whelan, performers

Music: 1957 Award Montage; November 25, Ichigaya; 1962: Body Building; Mishima/Closing; String Quartet No. 3 (“Mishima”) by Philip Glass from Brooklyn Rider plays Philip Glass

©1993, 1984 Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc. Used by Permission.

First Fall was commissioned by Damian Woetzel for the 2012 Vail International Dance Festival in Vail, Colorado.

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