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.






Dancing Durham: ADF Opens, and Local Dancers Provide Even More Action

Zoia Cisneros in UNDONE. Photo: Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell.

Zoia Cisneros in Nicola Bullock’s UNDONE.
Photo: Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell.

Each year it seems like a miracle, with this year being no exception–this difficult year of budget cuts and grant shrinkages. The American Dance Festival, one of the world’s great ones, continues to beat the odds and will once again open its performance season here in Durham–its 81st year of presenting great modern and contemporary dance. Beginning Thursday, June 12, 49 performances will occur over a six-week span in venues at Duke and in downtown Durham. There’s a very fresh feeling to this year’s schedule, with assorted new and experimental works by a wide variety of artists from around the world. But some of the freshest will come from Durham itself. On June 18, the ADF will present Here and Now: NC Dances–but check this out! All four choreographers–Renay Aumiller, Gaspard Louis, Diego Carrasco Schoch and Leah Wilks–chosen for this program are based right here in the Bull City. The Here and Now performances will begin at 7 pm and 9 pm in Reynolds Theater, for the one night only. Seats are cheap at $16.25. House is heavily sold for both shows–advance purchase recommended.

Performer and choreographer Nicola Bullock. Photo: Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell.

Performer and choreographer Nicola Bullock. Photo: Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell.

But ADF’s not the only dance game in town this year. Nicola Bullock, a dancer whose compelling stage presence and choreographic talent graced the recent Little Green Pig production of Tarantino’s Yellow Speedo, has been working for a year with six dancers on a project called UNDONE. Billed as an evening-length dance-theatre work on race, power and identity, UNDONE will open its three-day run in an un-airconditioned warehouse space at 305 S. Dillard Street at precisely the time the gracious opening-night speeches will begin in the well-chilled Durham Performing Arts Center a few blocks away.

“This piece developed from a desire to better understand how systems of domination, specifically racism, affect our relationships, worldview, dreams, and bodies,” says Bullock. A great deal of artwork, maybe more than is strictly necessary, explores questions of self-identity and otherness, but Bullock’s sensitivity and kinetic expressiveness make me expect real honest exploration of Durham’s favorite topic. The dance will include Leah Wilks, whose own work will be seen the following week. Go here for more on UNDONE. Tickets $15 at the door or online.

On June 14 at 7:30 pm, the Carrboro ArtsCenter will present something really special, for one night only. The Best Tap Show Ever will be danced by the tap stars who will be in town teaching at the North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival. These include Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance, fresh from her highly-praised appearance at Charleston, SC’s Spoleto Festival with her company Dorrance Dance. Musicians Robbie Link (bass), John Hanks (drums), and Jim Crew (piano) will augment the song of the shoes. Tickets $15 advance, $17 at the door, if there are any.

Yet another one-night-only performance will take place the following week, when multi-disciplinary artist Kaitlin June premieres her solo work Lightyear in the PSI Theater of the Durham Arts Council at 7:30, June 20. The artist will probe at the workings of memory and time with a fusion of dance, acrobatics, live music and spoken word. Tickets $10 at the door.

The company rehearsing UNDONE, which will be presented June 12-14 in Durham. Photo: Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell.

The company rehearsing Bullock’s UNDONE, which will be presented June 12-14 in Durham. Leah Wilks (L) will also perform with her company, Vector, in ADF’s Here and Now program June 18.  Photo: Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell.


Ocracoke Observer

Community newspaper of Ocracoke, NC

David Cecelski

New writing, collected essays, latest discoveries

Piedmont Trails

Genealogy and History in North Carolina and Beyond

Piedmont Laureate

Promoting awareness and heightened appreciation for excellence in the literary arts throughout the Piedmont Region

Gilbert and Sullivan's "Patience" -- Director's Blog

a countdown to the next performance, March 26-29, 2020

North Carolina Preservation Consortium

Preserving tangible and intangible heritage of enduring value

The Bamboo Wind

Sculpture & Video Poetry


A topnotch site

peter harris, tapestryweaver

TAPestry And DESIgn

Backstrap Weaving

My weaving , my inspiration, tutorials and more........

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Not At Home In It


inkled pink

warp, weave, be happy!

Peggy Osterkamp's Weaving Blog

"Weaving should be fun!"


Studio Life of a Weaver, Spinner, Dyer

Linda Frye Burnham

Writer and poet

The Upstager

All the world's an upstage.

Literary Life in Italy

Looking at Italy through literature

%d bloggers like this: