Footprints, the final performance of the 2014 American Dance Festival season, featured the work of three emerging choreographers performed by students from the ADF Six-Week School, which has been educating young dancers since its beginning summer in 1934. Performed on July 24-26 in the R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus, the program comprised three distinctly different works that made for an excellent evening of dance.
The curtain rose on Netta Yerushalmy’s Pictogrames to reveal a white stage floor that seemed to stretch on for days. The white dance surface extended forward to the edge of the stage apron, out into the wings, and all the way to the back wall. Extending the white environment was a white media screen lowered several feet from the fly space to form a horizontal header for the space.
A female dancer in a loose white tank tunic and white dance pants (think white undies) bounced onto the stage, her arms hanging loosely down and slightly out to the side. As she continued her bouncing, groups of dancers (wearing different-colored tanks and the same white undies) crossed the stage with comical running/hopping/bouncing steps. (I wrote “Marx Brothers” in my notes at this point; and although the simile isn’t quite right, there was definitely that feeling of exaggerated physicality.)
The dancers crossed, and crossed, and then crossed the stage again. Occasionally, a dancer stopped and froze like a statue, only to be picked up and moved by other dancers to another part of the stage. Much of the movement was deceptively simple — running or walking or skittering or hopping or bouncing (there was a lot of bouncing) — but made interesting and funny by the way it was presented: the back curtain raised just enough to reveal the legs of the dancers as they made crosses behind it, a disembodied arabesque leg sticking out into the stage space from the wings, a loose clump of dancers crossing the apron of the stage while staring out into the audience.
One of the most interesting sequences was when the dancers all entered the stage (now wearing bright yellow jeans) and dropped flat on their backs onto the stage, lying at odd angles. Jiggling/bouncing on their backs, they were suddenly lying at right angles to one another, their positions now lined up with the grid lines of the stage. Jiggling/bouncing again, they were now in another configuration.
The music for Pictogrames (Nautilus, Orlok by Anna Meredith, and Mark degli Antoni) was more backdrop than accompaniment. The movement was the thing in this piece, delivered with wit and precision by the choreographer and her young dancers.
Irish choreographer Leonie McDonagh stepped the humor up quite a few notches with Four Fingers and One Thumb, a delightful romp that made fun of stereotypes and poked holes in iconic images. The opening sequence — multiple dancers making repeated attempts at executing a handstand sandwich (for lack of a better term), supported only by one dancer providing a steadying hand on one end — set the tone of the piece. Later, a mob of dancers pushed and shoved each other, jockeying for the chance to step up to a microphone placed front and center and deliver one-liners. Then it was a chorus line of male dancers in tighty-whiteys.
Later, three groups of dancers performed a hip-hop combination while other dancers brought on signs and held them above the dancers’ heads. Above the black dancers: “I can’t believe she’s making me do hip-hop just because I’m black.” Above the white dancers: “I can’t believe she’s making me do hip-hop just because I’m white.” Above the Asian dancers: “$&#*$#^ We’re Asian!” Later, a lone male dancer delivered knockout punches (complete with sound effects) to his fellow dancers as they Irish-danced past him.
Four Fingers and One Thumb had sight gags galore — too many to relate — and the physical comedy of the piece was made all the more effective by the dancers’ considerable technical skills. Musician Andy Hasenphlug provided live original music and sound effects (and a few gags of his own) from his position downstage right. The finale, which featured a hot pink staircase (and all of the dancers dressed to match), was the perfect ending to this over-the-top comedic work.
An Unkindness of Ravens gave weight to an otherwise light-hearted program. Aided by Greg Brosofske’s soundscape, which created a “Twilight Zone” atmosphere of tension and suspense, Minnesota-based choreographer Carl Flink created a darkly intense world inhabited by dancers in dusty street clothes. A smoky stage, devoid of masking curtains and dimly illuminated by bare bulbs suspended stage right, revealed three pairs of dancers, one partner lifting the other overhead, and a group of four dancers standing around a man lying on the floor.
Later, a man and a woman are dragged and flung across the stage floor until they lie sprawled in uncomfortable positions downstage. Suddenly, chains drop, suspended from a ring held aloft downstage left and forming a circular shower of metal strings, through which one of the male dancers carefully threads his arms and legs and head. Flink’s dancers go on to confront one another, then rail in unison against an unseen foe, running across and in circles around the stage, pounding out a frantic rhythm with their feet.
Even more compelling is the moment when a pair of dancers dance a combative pas de deux center stage as the other dancers circle them eagerly, watching with hungry eyes the playing out of the two-person drama. An equally powerful image is that of the dancers rubbing their palms together slowly, in a gesture that simultaneously speaks of plotting one’s next move and comforting oneself. There is throughout the piece a feeling of “eat or be eaten” — only in a figurative sense, of course, but fear-inducing just the same.
John Brinkman created the costumes for all three pieces, and David Ferri designed the lighting. Their contributions to the vision and success of the three very different works were invaluable.
ADF has been fostering young dancers and presenting the work of emerging choreographers since its beginnings 80 years ago. Former Six-Week School students include Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Martha Clarke, and Mark Dendy. Mark Morris and Bill T. Jones were once young choreographers supported by ADF. Years later, both choreographers returned to ADF with their companies, and, still later, to receive the ADF Samuel T. Scripps Award. Of all the ADF performances you may have seen this summer, the Footprints playbill is the one you want to save — just so you can check it some time in the not-too-distant future to see which of these young artists has become another Merce Cunningham or Bill T. Jones.
SECOND OPINION: July 25th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2014/07/25/adf-footprints-and-then-th-th-thats-all-folks-until-2015/; July 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/25/4029556/review-new-works-in-adfs-footprints.html; and July 23rd Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/for-the-american-dance-festivals-footprints-program-leonie-mcdonagh-choreographs-adf-students-in-a-comedic-sendup-of-the-world-of-dan/Content?oid=4211267
The American Dance Festival presents FOOTPRINTS, world premieres by Carl Flink, Leonie McDonagh, and Netta Yerushalmy at 8 p.m. July 25 and 26 in R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center, 125 Science Dr., Durham, North Carolina 27708, on Duke University’s West Campus.
Duke Box Office: 919-684-4444, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.duke.edu/.
SHOW: http://www.americandancefestival.org/performance/adfduke/footprints/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/250016201864419/.
2014 SEASON ANNOUNCEMENT: http://www.americandancefestival.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Season-Release-for-Web.pdf.
PRESENTER: http://www.americandancefestival.org/, https://www.facebook.com/AmerDanceFest, https://twitter.com/AmerDanceFest, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Dance_Festival.
NOTE: This show is recommended for mature audiences, because of language.
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.