The American Dance Festival opened this week with a Gala performance honoring Charles L. Reinhart, the festival’s President since 1968. The evening began with a short film account of the life and legacy of Reinhart. William Bell, the mayor of Durham, continued the celebration by offering Reinhart a key to the city, and declared Thursday, June 9, 2001 Charles Reinhart Day. It was Reinhart who moved the festival to Durham in 1978.
The performance event that opened the season last night was full of variety with several speakers and 4 dance companies performing.
Dr. Charles R. “Chuck” Davis, the charismatic director of the African American Dance Ensemble, began his company’s performance by teaching the audience some moves they would use later in the dance Honoring The Legacy. Danced in front of three tapestries to the music of live African bongo drums, the dance was exciting and had a spontaneous feel, even when the dancers moved in unison. The dancers smiled authentically while kicking, spinning, jumping and at least once, butt-bouncing. It is impossible not to smile while watching this group perform.
In I am a Dancer, Mark Dendy channeled the great pioneer in modern dance, Martha Graham. He spoke believably, comically, and deeply as Graham, then danced a short number to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. At the end of the performance the ghost light was left on, a symbol for theater performers and goers that Graham’s legacy would continue to shine.
The amazing Scottish Dance Theater performed Drift next. This duet danced by James MacGillivray and Natalie Trewinnard was understated, unassuming and unpretentious. Dancing out a volatile relationship, the movements were violent at times, but never jarring or lacking grace. Both dancers defied gravity, lowering to the floor from an upright or airborne position in a single move, and effortlessly lifting their bodies again.
Martha Clarke’s Pagliaccio, originally choreographed by Clarke in 1975, was re-imagined with John Kelly. The performance was creative and captivating, and sometimes funny. There was no music, but sound was provided by a number of buckets which Kelly wore on his feet, banged together, sat on, or in, and balanced upon. There was no movement easily identified as dancing, but the poise required to successfully pull off a piece like this is that of a dancer.
When the stage lights lit the dancers of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago from the top I was immediately anxious to see what this group would do. In variations of jeans and t-shirts, you could see the strength of the dancers while they stood still under the lights. They danced an excerpt of Ohad Naharin’s Three to Max. This dance was jarring at times. For much of the dance, the movement was a means to an end, linking poses. I waited and longed to see the dancers break free from the limited movement, and that happened a few times throughout the long piece, but all were too short-lived. One of the musical selections was the repetitive sound of counting over and over, which began to give me a feeling of desperation. Perhaps the choreographer’s intention was to give the feeling of being trapped in a cycle with no foreseeable end. There were many visually appealing spots, and the dancers showed strong technical skill, but my favorite part of this dance was the last minute, during which they finally filled the stage with motion.
ADF has 47 performances this summer, including world and US premieres and reconstructed masterpieces. The next performance is Rosas, premiering at ADF from Belgium. Get information on all the performances and venues here: http://www.americandancefestival.org/performances/2011performances.html