As the American Dance Festival nears its end, you feel as though you’ve been running a marathon. But when you stop to catch your breath, you realize this year’s festival has been a substantial look at the current dance scene, with few disappointments. One exception was Dynamic Duos (Reynolds Theater, July 1). Its four duets seemed too academic, and dance took a secondary role to theater—something that has been true of much of the festival.
It makes you wonder whether dance in its purest form can survive. The funkiest offering so far was Awkward Magic (June 30, Motorco Music Hall), choreographed and performed by Deborah Lohse, Gregory Dolbashian, Jordan Isadore and several other dancers. Though fun, it was basically a burlesque revue, full of splits, butt wagging, eyelash batting, gum chewing and hip thrusting at 33 rpm.
What stands out for me is when dance, in all its glory, captures center stage. Paul Taylor Dance Company (DPAC, July 2), an ADF mainstay, offered two works from the 1980s, Syzygy and Last Look, as well as one of Taylor’s best-known works from the 1970s, Esplanade. This contrast allowed the audience to gain a better understanding of the 84-year-old choreographer’s mastery of runs, falls and whirling off-balance turns, flinging bodies through space into soft landings. Also on display was Taylor’s ability to manipulate themes of joy and hardship. Hardly anything could be more uplifting than Esplanade, danced to the music of two Bach violin concertos, contrasted with Last Look, which portrays Taylor’s ideas about conflict and confusion.
Making its ADF debut was Company Wang Ramirez (Reynolds Theater, July 8). The couple mixes hip-hop and ballet with many other movement references to create a unique vocabulary of dance and gesture. Sébastien Ramirez is French but of Spanish descent, and his partner, Honji Wang, is of Korean heritage but from Germany. The U.S. premiere of their 55-minute duet, Monchichi, was a moving portrait of a relationship’s many moods.
From his crazy breakdancing to her cat-like walks, Ramirez and Wang were like a mesmerizing contemporary version of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They used theatrical elements to enhance their choreography, but most striking was their ability to use their bodies to tell their contrapuntal story with snaking arms and intertwined legs: dance first, theater second.