In this final dispatch we return to the map, the potent–and cautionary–metaphor that the American Dance Festival chose for its 2004 season in its title, “Mapping Modern Dance.” For the new turf uncovered in just over six week’s time–and sections of the old turf now found to be partially or completely defamiliarized–both bear witness to two facts. No map is permanent, be it of the heavens or the earth; and the shelf life of each map is indeterminate–at worst.
Which is why the Vedic priests and Buddhists of Tibet have their own strong opinions on these matters. After 12 days’ work around the clock in the Agnicayana ritual, a three-dimensional, seven-layer map of the cosmos gets torched just after it’s finished. In their moment of completion, equally intricate Buddhist sand mandelas–maps, after all, of sacred mansions and grounds where deities reside–are obliterated by smiling monks wielding brushes, brooms and fans.
Just a friendly reminder, in both cases, about not getting too attached to such things.
Some might go so far as to say that a dance trumps even these practices–as a map that is vanishing as it’s being made.
Given the temporality of the ADF itself, we observe the same in the ones who make the dance. The dance diaspora localizes, briefly. Then it’s forced to seek new shelter.
Despite millions of dollars and decades of intrigue surrounding permanent theaters, homes and studios, the ADF remains an annual–and a decidedly short-lived–phenomenon. Years after Raleigh’s Sanford Center project–with its promise of a year-round campus devoted to the festival–was unmasked as a cruel hoax to leverage property values near RBC Center, the dance world still finds its way to Durham every summer. Here it develops and presents a few new masterpieces, and assembles a world-class faculty to teach some of the most advanced dance students on the planet.
Six weeks later, everything–and almost everyone–must go.
So how have our modern dance maps changed since June 10? Let us count the ways: Pilobolus shocked us with the first concert in years that didn’t look (as much) like a Pilobolus concert. The subtlety that opened Michael Tracy’s Untitled had Jennifer Macavinta and Manelich Minniefee carefully stone-step each other over the surface of a dark water world. News at midsummer that Pilobolus’ four artistic directors had retained Itamar Kubovy as an executive director–and a mediator for the blowouts that have prevented the quartet from collaborating on anything in recent years–extended hopes for a company that looked like it was interested in reinventing itself on stage as well. Other mainstage bests included Grupo Krapp, which effectively satirized the potentially explosive issues of machismo and misogyny in their dance theater work Mendiolaza. Shen Wei’s Connect Transfer raised a series of questions even as it proposed a gesamptkunstwerk of sculpture, painting, music and choreography.
We also remember Hubbard Street’s complex Tabula Rasa by Batsheva Dance Company choreographer Ohad Naharin. It followed an untitled work by Daniel Ezralow which sucker-punched audiences with a poppy send-up of corporate culture at the start–and a moving meditation on September 2001 at the end. Batsheva’s DecaDance transformed a greatest-hits collection of Naharin’s first nine works with the troupe into an unsettling exploration of surveillance, fear, and religious and political brainlock–apparently all mandatory accessories of contemporary American society.
In the International Choreographers Commissioning Program, Toru Shimazaki’s energetic Red featured a standout solo by Dai Jian, a student choreographer in his own right who reportedly was being hired by Shen Wei at festival’s end.
Among works we wished had been on an ADF mainstage, alban elved dance company’s excerpt from Lena’s Bath stands out from the “Acts to Follow” series of North Carolina choreographers. Luckily, regional audiences will see more of alban elved when Duke Performances brings them back later in the year.
At first we worried that Festival of the Feet, an impromptu summit between tap, kathak and flamenco avatars July 1-3, was destined to be a disposable night of dance tourism on the cheap–one with more than a whiff of orientalism and empire to it all.
Having seen it, we’re still not convinced that the 20 minutes begrudged Carlota Santana, Roxanne Butterfly, Pandit Chitresh Das and their colleagues in individual sets (before a cross-wired closing jam) presented any of these traditions to best effect. Nor did the at times meager personnel on stage go unnoticed. Regional audiences already familiar with Santana’s Flamenco Vivo group have seen it fill a stage with memorable dancers and choreography. When only three of their dancers showed up for the gig this time, something was clearly missing.
With that said, the final mix–with dancers first accompanied by musicians from other companies, before trading fours to musicians combined at the end–was fascinating, even if steps redlined in a “can-you-top-this” competition far too early.
But the discussion following the concert, in which various principals clearly detected common cause and possibilities in the answers of their counterparts, was likely the most useful part of the evening for dance. It gave the sense if these masters ever had the chance to truly collaborate at length–in something less contrived than a showdown with such minimal prep as this–something wonderful could well emerge.
Other things we were uncomfortable with this summer: The empty spot where a deserving young company–or a showcase of truly professional North Carolina choreographers–should have gone June 15-16; the news that ADF School has zero input on the festival’s mainstage selections; and the absence of a Community Crossover project, for the first time in years, which might have demonstrated interest on the ADF’s part in strengthening ties with the community–and taught young practitioners valuable lessons in how dance and communities can each enrich the other.
Other more-than-momentary misgivings: Sasha Pepelyaev’s techno-filibuster, Mixed Doubles, during Russian Festival; Hubbard Street’s Rooster, which improbably managed to offend women and trivialize the Rolling Stones at the same time; Miguel Robles’ disco-riddled tribute to zombie heterosexuality, Something Beneath; and Larry Keigwin’s pointless new Female Portraits, which immediately preceded the premiere of a choreographed 20-minute chase scene, Natural Selection.
As noted earlier, some of the summer’s best work happened far from an ADF mainstage. Robert Battle’s Bassline was a joyous, chaotic tribute to the conspiratorial glee the best jazz inspires in us all. But the best iteration we saw this summer was in a superheated Ark performance one Wednesday afternoon. There we also saw Paul Matteson’s affecting solo in I Simply Live Now, Peter Schmitz’ excerpted adaptation of Susan Sontag’s AIDS-era short story, The Way We Live Now, and Sara Juli’s engaging, experimental dance theater solo, Burden.
The Ark also hatched Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s intricate, affecting character study, Can I talk to you?, and Montzerrat Conteras Robles ‘s unnamed, uncanny exploration of possession in ceremonial space on July 21. Elsewhere, student choreographer Tommy Noonan’s Love Song demonstrated major promise, as did Dai Jian’s emergence from a Butoh egg in his literal last-minute showing July 23.
Abigail Yager’s rep class with two divergent takes on Trisha Brown’s Twelve Ton Rose, Daniel Goode and Allison Ayer’s comic wrestling match in Jennifer Nugent’s improv class, and Tzveta Kassabova’s angular resistance when all four extremities were tied in Donna Faye Burchfield’s composition class were all perfect moments–in the words of an absent friend.
In the end one must release them, all, and watch them fly. But we remember well.
We close, noting the map-blind among us. We probably all have it to some degree: a curious malady, an atrophying of the visual senses and imagination, which occurs when people spend more time interacting with their own maps of things than with the actual terrain the maps claim to represent. From them we learn one must stay in touch with the turf–or be surprised to find it suddenly turning, underfoot.
They remind us that one of the most frequent mistakes made about dance history is this: it’s over. Another one, made almost as frequently: an art form’s past always accurately predicts (or, better yet, prevents) its future. Such necromancy has had a particularly unsatisfying track record with modern dance.
The only known antidotes to map-blindness involve fresh air, living in the present, keeping one’s eyes open and regular travel–particularly to places showing new work.
The cautionary outcomes of the map-blind suggest that, once one has finished writing in, writing out or writing off those entries on that self-made master atlas of modern dance, the wisest thing to do is simply burn it.
Anybody got a match?