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.

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ADF: A Thrilling Premiere by LeeSaar The Company in Reynolds

LeeSaar The Company dancers in Grass and Jackals. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

LeeSaar The Company dancers in Grass and Jackals. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

The American Dance Festival presented another world premiere of a work it had commissioned on June 30, when LeeSar The Company performed Grass and Jackals. Choreographed by Lee Sher and Saar Harari with the seven women who dance it, Grass and Jackals is both a visually thrilling and emotional experience for the viewer. The music is a complex soundtrack of song and instrumentals; a sense of longing is part of the musical tone. The sleek dancers (of similar size, with long dark hair) wear long-sleeved, high-necked bodysuits in dully gleaming black (costumes by Naomi Luppescu), which Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi)’s extraordinary lighting turns into a symphony of tone and reflections as the dancers move. The women also wear thick emphatic black eyebrows, which lend a grotesquery to their appearance.

The movement style is Gaga, the flowing style full of unexpected moves and unleashed corpo-emotive energy, developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. Sher and Harari are Israeli, though they have been in New York for nearly a decade, and they both teach Gaga. Their dancers provide a beautiful example of the style’s power.

Grass and Jackals is the first really surprising dance of this year’s Festival. Always I hope for, but rarely encounter, a dance that is as resistant as this one to verbal dissection. There’s an emotional journey of some sort through a difficult terrain; some battles, some adventures, some sphinxy pauses, some launchings toward freedom. The dancing is amazing throughout: the pliant dancers make astonishing shapes and do unexpected things. Both the choreography and the dancing are fresh and honest, very much present in the moment, but attuned to distant voice of myth and archetype. The work is understandable, but not with words. I both giggled and sobbed during the dance, and was nearly panting with hopefulness at its end.

The work closes with a scene of metamorphosis, in which one dancer peels away her black suit to reveal a golden one beneath. The light changes, the blacksuited dancers return–and a shimmering begins at the proscenium as a sheer curtain of glimmering threads descends between us and them. It is very beautiful to the eye and galvanizing to the heart.

The program repeats tonight and tomorrow, July 1-2, in Reynolds Theater, 8 p.m.

LeeSaar The Company dancers in Grass and Jackals. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

LeeSaar The Company dancers in Grass and Jackals. Photo: Christopher Duggan.

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