In the time to come, I’m sure Triangle dance enthusiasts will remember July 9, 2002 as the day the American Dance Festival fell.
And if we don’t, don’t worry: Paul Ben-Itzak will be glad to remind us, judging from his July 12 essay, “Free to Dance,” on Danceinsider.com. In typically understated prose, the editor of The Dance Insider rues the day the ADF was “stormed and taken by one willful young person” who single-handedly cast a possibly permanent shadow over co-directors Charles and Stephanie Reinhart and the 68-year-old institution as a whole.
The one-woman Delta Force in question was no ultrafundamentalist yahoo. It was Ariane, the Reinharts’ 24-year-old daughter, and her coup d’etat was consummated when she simply performed on an ADF mainstage on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, in Duke’s Reynolds Theater.
With that said, we may officially add “perspective” to the list of the missing in what at least has been a vividly imagined Battle For The Soul of ADF. With it, journalistic objectivity has largely gone missing in the ADF’s recent skirmishes with the dance self-righteous. Not to mention a thorough examination of the artist’s work.
Let’s start there, for a change.
Benjamin Iobst’s soundtrack of Tibetan singing bowls provides an ambient preamble to choreographer Shen Wei’s Body Study, and after a lengthy darkness, we see a sumptuous, surreal and disturbing dreamlike world similar to ones Shen has recently explored.
The voluptuous form of a woman lies upon a stark rectangle of a set, the only object on an otherwise unlit stage. Her naked back is turned to us.
She appears to have no head.
This does not prevent her thighs and legs from slowly, gracefully extending away from her torso; nor does it keep her arm from casually gliding along the contour of her midsection and hips. As may already be intuited, two trademarks of Shen’s work, the altered logic of nightmare and specific, arresting details, are both in ample evidence here. When Reinhart’s leg is at full extension, Shen directs her foot exactly 90 degrees down until, like the needle of an antique phonograph, the tip of her toe comes in contact with the floor.
Other strategies further defamiliarize the human body. Slightly changing the position of the lower arms and hands is enough to make a woman sitting with her back to us someone whose face we don’t want to see. A similarly subtle shift of shoulder blades and arms turns her upper body into an equally disturbing zone. The casual movements each body part engages in compounds the effect, in visuals that suggest David Lynch as much as René Magritte.
Reinhart’s total body control pulls this Study off, embodying a sci-fi surrealist scenario that can only add to Shen Wei’s growing reputation.
The same may not be said, though, for choreographer Mark Haim’s Room for Closure, a particular disappointment given his striking solo choreography in both The Goldberg Variations and portions of An Anatomy of Intent. Closure‘s comparatively muddy psychodrama opens on a woman whose arms indicate strenuous walking but whose feet never move, while neutral human shadows appear on white panels at opposite corners.
While the synthetic arrhythmia of the European dance band Autechre persists, we shift upstage to an unlit area littered with baskets and bowls. A golden spotlit bowl becomes a point of focus. In uneven light, Reinhart’s motion is hampered before reverting to seated and low-to-the-ground gestures punctuated by awkward body rolls. These do not communicate much, nor does their composition suggest particularly novel or intriguing forms. Later reiterations clarify little, nor do they add much: After making the initial point that someone is negotiating obstacles, little further development seems to occur.
Toward the end, one of the shadows appears to help Reinhart’s character stand, and then further interacts with her. But how the work builds remains as unclear as its point. While there’s no shortage of images in Closure, they rarely seem to make much more than a random assembly.
Martha Clarke’s 2 A.M. continues our foray into the realm of vague communications and uncertain psychodrama. No doubt this overtly minimal setting of “Vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen (Concerning a Drowned Girl),” a song from Kurt Weill’s Berliner Requiem, played much differently in New York’s 70-seat Joyce Soho than it did to Reynolds’ 600 seats. Microgestures would have to have been enlarged or replaced with broader movements; vocals would need significant adjustment.
Neither entirely happened on opening night. In the opening sequence her character uttered a series of sudden gasps, but little differentiated them. Instead of a dramatic development in desperation, fatigue or danger, for too long we experienced a mere plateau on which only one gasp pointed to something different–a moment of sexual coercion.
After them, what Reinhart’s breathless singing voice added in characterization it subtracted in intelligibility. But just how interested in communication was a production that provided no translation of even the title to one of Weill’s more obscure songs, much less its lyrics? Lacking that knowledge, 2 A.M.‘s context and content, unavoidably, was even more diluted.
Doug Varone’s Drawing Lesson provided cheer at the concert’s close. Reinhart’s comedic impersonation of an operatic diva scored points from early on, though once again her performance had not entirely made the transition from a small black box to Reynolds Theater. Reinhart’s character switches from “backstage” to “on” are certainly amusing, and her simultaneous operatic singing and dancing is an accomplishment. But a number of satiric twists weren’t developed or adjusted for the room, and repeatedly, comic points seemed rushed, a particular shame given the richness of this material and the abilities of the performer.
Reinhart’s ADF performance leaves a number of questions unanswered. With four decidedly “undancey” dances, her technical range remains unclear from this performance.
There is also the unavoidable context of the performance: She is the bosses’ daughter. Does her artistry justify what is otherwise, after all, an obvious act of nepotism? If it doesn’t, what does?
Silences are difficult to interpret. Still, I must believe that the public silence–from the entire dance community–that greeted the announcemen, this spring, of Ariane’s ADF appearance was a response to the other news that broke about the same time: Her mother, Stephanie, was in New York fighting leukemia and having a hard go of it. Only one source, The Dance Insider, condemned the move. Significantly, no one else did. I chose to see Ariane’s work before passing judgment on its appearance at ADF.
Under different circumstances, a relatively unseasoned artist would have had more time to hone her craft before such a decision would have been contemplated. It is, unfortunately, far too easy to imagine Stephanie’s life-threatening illness making Ariane’s appearance this summer something of a command performance. Perhaps, briefly, even something to live for.
What is owed Stephanie Reinhart for her decades of service to the ADF? It’s hard to say. The dance community in toto ultimately decides the debt, and how it’s satisfied. I believe it has done so in this case, by sanctioning a one-time event with something besides condemnation.
What a critic owes an artist is much easier to define: a “zero read,” an objective account of what a performance made that critic think, feel and learn. The critical support, in short, to help sharpen a promising practice. Done.