Tuesday, July 25 & Wednesday, July 26, 8 p.m.
Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham

In many ways, last night’s Footprints program was classic ADF. Packed with an uber-stylish crowd consisting largely of young dancers, Reynolds Theater trilled with excitement when legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones stood up from his seat and gave an artsy wave to the crowd. And when Lucinda Childs, who received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award that night, mentioned that she’d once been a student at ADF, a hushed flurry ran through the hall. There was a feeling of community, of coming together in a timeless space to celebrate a shared passion.

But in the pieces that ran onstage, there was a distinct sense of time passing and perspectives shifting. Footprints is traditionally composed of ADF commissions that are created during the festival and set on ADF dancers, but this year’s show also included two existing pieces by Lucinda Childs. They were choreographed in 1993 and 2013, but Childs cut her teeth in the sixties and seventies, and her aesthetic still reflects that simpler era. Concerto and Kilar feature dancers in black who shear through space with clear balletic movements that hew precisely to the music. Onstage, the dancers are not people with personalities and histories; rather, they are whirling, interchangeable chess pieces: music come to life.

In contrast, the new creations are based on concepts; all three focus on individuals within the context of society, and all three are remarkably dark. That’s particularly the case in Shay Kuebler’s annex 7-25-17, an intense piece with visual imagery that evokes a sense of World War II-era crowds marching, swirling, and massing. Dressed in grayscale dresses and suits, the dancers travel in and out of solos and ensembles, but their individual movements matter less than the overall picture, which is one of a cluster of pedestrians eventually forming a mob.

Gesel Mason’s You Don’t Say… uses video, spoken text, and movement to highlight the challenges of revealing one’s true self. Amid lush, full-bodied movements, dancers ask one another innocent and not-so-innocent questions—“Are you flexible?” “Did you vote for Trump?” “Are you gay?”—that serve to objectify their targets. Early on, the dancers boss one another around and show off with club-style dancing, but at the end, they finally allow themselves to become more vulnerable, ready to really talk.

The last piece, Gregory Dolbashian’s HiveMind, is somewhat overshadowed by Kuebler’s work. With a dystopian spin, HiveMind appears to be another big ensemble piece pitting the individual against the tyranny of the crowd, and despite Dolbashian’s original, spidery choreography, with its interesting partnering, it feels like a dim echo of the earlier piece. That’s unfair, of course; it’s largely a matter of show order on a long night. And the dedicated audience of dance aficionados loved it nonetheless.