North Carolina talent takes the stage at the American Dance Festival


Every summer since 1978, Durham, NC has become a place of inspiration and a place where dreams are born and realized for dancers from all over the world. Choreographers, dancers and companies travel from the United Kingdom, Canada, New York City, etc., to take to the stage or studio at the American Dance Festival. Those of us living in the Triangle find ourselves in a vibrant international hub celebrating the greatest dance talent in the world — Paul Taylor, Pilobolus, Scottish Dance Theatre, Shen Wei Dance Arts. It makes a lover of the arts glad to be a North Carolinian.

This year, audiences also had the opportunity to see work created by our own neighbors, choreographers who are part of North Carolina’s dance community. Together with the North Carolina Dance Festival, an annual adjudicated tour to cities around North Carolina, the American Dance Festival welcomed five local choreographers to the main stage at Reynolds Industries Theater.

The program was a sampling of diversity in North Carolina’s dance community. Each work was a beautiful example of smart, honest and timeless choreography.

Featured choreographers were Lindsey Kelley and Mindy Upin, John Gamble, Cara Hagan, and Natalie Marrone.

Kelley and Upin created and performed A Tribute and Reflection of the Relationship, a funny and endearing dance that felt like an authentic look at their own shared memories. It was set to a medley of Queen songs, and even with its intimacy among the two specific friends, it could have been any two friends who have sung [badly] along together to a song on the radio. The pair went from stillness to bursts of grand movement, but what made the dance most memorable were the little things, like making faces, bike-riding and a little kiss on a pony-tail. Watching the never-grow-up friendship journey was a sentimental and nostalgic experience.

Gamble’s Changeant d’habit de Sexe was set to cabaret music by Jacques Brel. Seven women dressed in dapper men’s attire and invoked European male impersonators in the late 1800’s. It was an intriguing dance of mostly pas de deux, with the seventh woman adding tension by disrupting the pairs, and perhaps exerting control.

Worlds Apart, by Hagan, was a series of four seemingly unrelated stories told by regular people. The dance was a moving visual expression of the storytellers’ feelings and linked all of them together with the common thread of the dancer-human. From the woman discriminated against in her church who said she thought the idea behind Christianity was to love one another to the girl who saw her father cry in Pizza Hut, to the old friends who each swore the other was the most kind, the selected stories were examples of the joys and challenges we all face. Hagan’s work is comparable to literary fiction, with a theme you may not recognize or appreciate until the dance is over. It’s the sort of work that gains relevance in your mind as you continue to think about it the next day.

The final dance of the evening was Strega Stories Part II: Revolt by Marrone, in collaboration with the dancers. The dance was based on interviews with Italian Americans who have participated in traditional healing methods of southern Italy. It was visually and musically exciting to follow what felt like a band of gypsies on their journey. Ritual, tradition and healing were apparent themes, expressed in circles with a dancer animated by a hovering and shaking hand. The dance developed from a slow journey to traditional music to a tribal drum-circle kind of dance, reminiscent of a Grateful Dead show, down to the swirling skirts and dreadlocks. The scene was so vibrant it was often hard to believe there were only four dancers on stage.

You don’t have to wait to visit New York City to see fresh and original work on stage. From just about anywhere in North Carolina you are a short drive from dance artists dedicated to creating expressions of something true and relevant.

By Denise Cerniglia

Postmodern experientialist of the arts. Follow my public posts on Facebook at to keep up with mostly dance, some opera and classical music happenings. Also, visit my dance photo blog at

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