WALK in The Gardens with Vanessa Voskuil: More ADF Footprints

The American Dance Festival 2016’s Footprints program was bifurcated this time, with the second part occurring in Duke Gardens July 28-30. Part Two, featuring a work by Vanessa Voskuil, takes place in and around the heron fountain circle, and should you be quailing at the idea of standing around outside in the heat, know that the circle is well shaded by the 7 p.m. start time. FREE.

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A horizontal moment in Vanessa Voskuil’s WALK. ADF in Duke Gardens, 7/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

This outdoor venue provides a much better setting for Vanessa Voskuil’s choreography than Reynolds Theater did three years ago. It allows her to work with the indefinite and the random, and to create with shape and movement on a large scale, without the contrivance and constriction required by a theater. Walk is without a clear moment of beginning, and the end is equally indefinite. The dancers move among the people who’ve come to see them, and the many others who find themselves in the midst of something as they transit the circle on their own trajectories. It’s a sweetly worded statement of this dancer’s understanding of the relationship of dancing and living–that we are all part of the performance.

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This exquisitely balanced figure eventually brought her crown to the fountain–a timeless image within the larger timeless image. WALK, ADF, 7/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Voskuil described the dance as a series of solos–but they are simultaneous solos by the 16 dancers (I think there were 16, but not ever seeing them all at once, it was hard to keep count). Many things of a ritualistic nature are walked and danced in a very slow tightening circle around the grand fountain. There’s little in the way of music, but the dancers all move at the same slow pace, smooth, almost tranced, and very liquid in their actions. There are echoes of some great modern choreographers, from Isadora Duncan on, and several of the young Terpsichores wear sneakers.

The basic image, of dancers in circling in nature, predates history, I feel certain. It’s an archetype; it cannot be reduced to a cliche. As an archetype, the great circle dance provides endless nourishment to art, and Walk is a smart response to its impetus. Voskuil recreates something primal– as art; and creates it not in nature, but in the artificial nature of a garden.

Perhaps because I know that Voskuil is from Minneapolis, MN, and because I lived there for a year when I was 12 and was much affected by the glacial landscape with its thousands of ponds and lakes, watching this dance threw up memories of people circling those small bodies of water–walking, cycling, skating, sailing, twisting in and out, each person on his or her own mission, projecting a line of motion that wove neatly through all the other lines. One thinks, too, while watching Walk, of Seurat’s La Grade Jatte, with its ritual promenading by the water, its parasols and late shadows, its rhythms receding into the distance. As a dance, Walk cannot indulge long in motionless monumentality, but its slow weaving and turning around the water’s edge invoke timelessness nonetheless.

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WALK by the water. Vanessa Voskuil’s piece in Duke Gardens comprises the second part of the ADF 2016 Footprints program. 7/28/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Snazzy Socks Kick Off FOOTPRINTS, in ADF’s Final Week

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The student ensemble in Dafi Albtabeb’s IT’S NOW. IT’S NEVER, in the ADF Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Sometimes the Footprints program, which occurs near the end of the American Dance Festival summer season, includes dances in which the ADF 6 week students learn a classic dance by a great choreographer of the past, their feet re-impressing the blurring footprints of history so that it may continue to inform the present. But this year, all three dances by the youngish choreographers in the Footprints program indicate the trail toward the future. These brand-new pieces are performed by the talented young dancers who come to the ADF School to further their training and begin their careers.

The evening’s first work is by Dafi Albtabeb (with Nini Moshe), the Israeli choreographer whose work was included in the 5 x 5 program earlier this season. Ostensibly, It’s Now. It’s Never is about the variability of memories, the way they change slightly with each recall. This idea is clearer at some moments than at others during the dance, which is composed of large chunks of movement that fit uneasily together, and some sections that go on a bit longer than really needed, as well as an opening sequence that struck me as slightly nasty (everyone’s pants were down around their ankles), all set to fragments of this and that sound and music. However much it may need further development, the work includes some vivid shape-making and some supercharged dancing, and who could complain when the stage swirls with a confetti of colorfully-clad bodies?

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Beth Gill’s FOOTPRINTS under David Ferri’s inventive lighting, in the ADF Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

Beth Gill’s Footprints is whole already, and absorbing from the first moment, when student dancer Joyce D. Edwards takes the stage like a queen in a purple crushed velvet unitard. Her dancing was controlled and elegant, her lines distinct and beautiful. I could have watched her alone all night, but soon she was joined by others, also in wonderfully colored costumes, all gliding along in a magical way to music by Atom TM, unfolding like flowers and scuttling about with the oblivious grace of nocturnal animals. ADF staff lighting genius David Ferri, who designed the lighting for the whole program, has outdone himself on the lighting effects for this piece, with delicate washes of color, and the light bubbles pictured above. The lush costumes are by John Brinkman (he did all the costumes for the Footprints program). The choreography’s full of surprises, but they don’t ambush you and beat you on the head with their knobby ideas. I was reminded of how I felt when I first began seriously reading poetry: mystified and satisfied and hungrier than when I started. It is getting harder and harder to find a dance that defies verbalization, but this is one.

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Lee Sher and Saar Harari’s new choreography, BUNKER, was powerfully performed by the student cast in ADF’s Footprints program, 7/25/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

The program concludes with new work by Lee Sher and Saar Harari of LeeSaar The Company, set on ten advanced students, all of whom seemed to either be already trained in or natural to the full-bodied Gaga style. It was fantastic to see what Sher and Harari could do with a large group of dancers! I found Bunker very unsettling, due to its military references and soldierly behaviors (someone quipped that it must be the Israeli army, as the members of this unit are mostly female). But neither the images nor the narrative are so literal as to dilute the ambiguity inherent in soldiering. The paradox remains: the comrades in the bunker have each others’ backs, but they are all stone killers. They preserve (or try to) their culture and values by destroying those of others. Beauty is not the point in Bunker, but power is, and it is emphasized by the army green costuming that chops up the line of the leg to focus the eye on the forceful musculature of thigh and buttock. The costumes help, but the real power is in the dancing of movement written with bold honesty by the choreographers, performed at full throttle by the ensemble. The viewer may be kept mentally off-balance by the shifting emotional tone of the musical selections, but her body will rejoice in sympathy with the balance and freedom of the dancers.

This excellent selection of Footprints continues July 26-27 in Reynolds Theater; its second part, an outdoor dance by Vanessa Voskuil, will take place in Duke Gardens July 28-30. The Gardens dance is free; tickets here for the Reynolds performances. The ADF 2016 grand finale will take place in the DPAC July 29-30, with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

ADF: Footprints–follow those tracks–and then th-th-that’s all, folks, until 2015

Leonie McDonagh.  Photo: Brian Farrell.

Leonie McDonagh takes her dancers over the top in her Footprints dance. Photo: Brian Farrell.

 

The well-programmed 2014 American Dance Festival performance season comes to a close this weekend with the final performance of Footprints in Reynolds Theater on the 26th. What a year it has been! full of surprises and fresh juxtapositions. I’ll have a few reflections next week, but right now, let me encourage you to follow the tracks and catch the three ADF-commissioned world premieres of the Footprints show.

The ADF has many roles. One is to support the creation of new dances, and another is to give the advanced students and young professionals in the ADF School the opportunity to work with choreographers and perform on stage. The Footprints program this year combines these two aspects of the ADF mission with that of presenting important, interesting new work to audiences. We get to see the super-fresh art danced by the fresh and enormously enthusiastic young dancers.

I have this theory that it takes about 12-15 years for the zeitgeist of a new century to really take hold. Well, kids, we are definitely not in the 20th century any more. We’ve passed that awkward cusp time when the ashes of the old are raked by all and sundry and may flare into a simulacrum of newness. These dances, as different as they are, share the complicated hyper-charged sensibility of NOW. The ideas about simultaneity that so intrigued artists 100 years ago appear thin and simplistic in light of the layering used by these three choreographers.

Leonie McDonagh literally piles it on in the hilarious opening sequence of Four Fingers and One Thumb. Netta Yerushalmy runs bands of action across the stage, making stripes of dancers weaving across the stripes of marley floor laid up and down in her Pictogrames. Carl Flink has action boiling out of the shadows in An Unkindness of Ravens, and overtaking other action before being layered over by another. They also share a sophisticated visual sensibility, so that color and light and graphics become key elements of the performance. Rather than single pieces of music, these dances have soundscapes.

Flink’s work is dark, full of strife, and I had a hard time engaging with it after the belly laughs and hot pink finale of McDonagh’s piece. But that’s just me, wanting to hide my head from war. And strife is not missing from the other two dances, it is just prettied up and played for laughs. All are very strong. As I heard someone say while leaving the theater, “the ADF got something for its money with these commissions!”

Recently I was chatting with a friend who was worrying about the decline of audiences for music and theater. I told him people were not going to quit wanting art, but the art would be different. In Footprints, it already is.

 

Carl Flink's An Unkindness of Ravens closes the Footprints program. Photo: ©Bill Cameron

Carl Flink’s An Unkindness of Ravens closes the Footprints program. Photo: ©Bill Cameron

 

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