A futurific statement that fuses styles, a performance piece that satirizes TEDx, a clothing switch that indicates something deeper, a beat boy with a sense of humor, and a finely timed clockwork piece that steals your breath. These are the creative works produced when the American Dance Festival invites a select group of ADF alumni to present their most creative works in Coming Home: ADF Alumni Return.
It is the highest compliment that an artist can receive when their own colleagues show up in force and fill most of the auditorium. The dance community appreciated the exciting inaugural performances with rousing whoops and a heartfelt standing ovation, one of the favorite moments of this year’s American Dance Festival.
Being chosen for the first-ever American Dance Festival Alumni Concert is an honor since the all ADF panel is created of illustrious alumni. This inaugural year for Coming Home: ADF Alumni Return features five choreographers from a field of over 130 entries, including Burr Johnson (ADF student 2006-09), Raja Feather Kelly (ADF student 2008), Julio Medina (ADF student 2011), Chafin Seymour (ADF student 2010), and Alex Springer (ADF student 2003) and Xan Burley.
The first piece of the evening is called “Untitled” and features Burr Johnson dancing to music by Girls’ Generation in an interesting one-piece, short white jumpsuit designed by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung. In an abstract, androgynous manner with sharp shapes and influences from jazz, ballet, and even yoga, Johnson covers the stage in athletic leaps and pretzel-twists that defy gravity and a body’s normal twists. The interesting music moves from an upbeat, pop sound to whale calls, then back to the pop sound, the dance moving smoothly from one sound to the other, highlighting Johnson’s brilliant ability to weave together different styles seamlessly.
After a short intermission, Raja Feather Kelly and the feath3r theory (TF3T) performed a rather unusual piece that belonged on a different stage. “TEDx on Love” can best be described as performance art, a sarcastic, funny parody of the currently popular TED talks. In body suits that cover the face/head, the crayon-colored cast provides their version of what love means, often adding what they call “fillers” and awkward movements that can only be described as geeks moving to their own drummer.
Though the performance is funny, it doesn’t feel like part of what should be a showcase of the best dancers. Instead, this particular excerpt should be part of a play or an improv performance. Kelly’s focus for the past 30 years has been on the creativity of Andy Warhol. As winner of many prestigious awards for his choreography, Kelly creates innovative dance performances that have been performed Off-Broadway.
After intermission, Alex Springer introduces “You Being Me Being You and the Eye,” a statement on identity and reality. His partner, Xan Burley, and he perform a discordant, often uncontrolled, dance. Often appearing unrehearsed, the choreographer is stunning in its moments of synchronicity; and the statement it makes about how we see ourselves. With a strong narrative arc, the couple moves through music by Alexandre Lunsquii, or should I say sounds? An array of beeps, groans, and sounds more likely to be attributed to a robot than a human provides jerky background noise against which the dancers present a struggle of movements that bring the two together briefly for a leap or a turn, then breaks them apart into individualized journeys for their own identity. The twist at the end of the performance is worth the price of admission.
In “I Gotta,” beat boy Julio Medina challenges the audience the way that street dancers challenge each other. With a sense of humor and some good spins and stands, Medina uses the entire stage with a game board anchoring the middle and four spots he moves to and from with the use of lighting. His philosophy is to use the “windmill” technique in his dance, combining breaking and modern with props and spoken text. The style is lively and contemporary, and Medina’s performance deserved the rousing applause it received.
And, finally, the most interesting dance of the evening: “Gaze” by Chafin Seymour, in collaboration with the performers David Glista, Cameron McKinney, and Sean Nederlof. Opening in a misty, rainy setting, with the three dancers prone on the floor, “Gaze” is a finely tuned dance with the performers each following the other within a hairsbreadth to mimic the last move the leader makes. It’s an intriguing and well-danced performance in four parts that features stunning choreography performed exquisitely by the dancers. The piece is as mesmerizing as watching an engineered clock tick through its movements at the top of the hour. Perfection.
As always, the American Dance Festival brings the best performers in the world to Durham each year, and the addition of this alumni evening provides just one more reason to see this year’s performances. Some of them will come back, as these five did, and stun us once again. The Festival continues on various Durham, NC stages through Saturday, July 21st.
SECOND OPINION: June 24th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9011; and June 22nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2018/06/22/coming-home-adf-alumni-return and June 20th mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/coming-home-adf-alumni-return/Event?oid=12552047.
COMING HOME: ADF ALUMNI RETURN (American Dance Festival, June 23 and 24 in the R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus in Durham, NC).
BLOG (ADF Blog): http://www.americandancefestival.org/projects/blog/.
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Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.