We noticed something a little alarming about the American Dance Festival’s 2019 season. A decade ago, the festival greeted DPAC’s opening as a long-overdue answer to one of its biggest problems: Where to put productions by top-ranking companies that were too large to fit in Duke’s Page Auditorium or Reynolds Industries Theater? Since then, ADF has routinely booked its biggest acts, including Pilobolus and Paul Taylor Dance Company, in the 2,100-plus-seat downtown behemoth.
But this year, the festival has dialed back DPAC to a single show. Moreover, this seemed to be part of a larger contraction. In recent years, ADF had scattered main-stage productions in nontraditional spaces across the Triangle, including bars, hotel lobbies, and farmers markets. This year, only two main-stage shows are taking place off-campus: Mark Morris Dance Group at DPAC and Rennie Harris at The Carolina Theatre.
But according to ADF executive director Jodee Nimerichter, this contraction is a feature, not a bug.
Ten years of shows at DPAC were enough to determine that, when it comes to modern and contemporary dance, one size does not fit all, as the INDY has also sometimes noted in its festival reviews. Though Kidd Pivot’s Betroffenheit and Shen Wei’s Neither filled every inch of the DPAC stage, small-ensemble and solo pieces often seemed dwarfed.
And as the dance world itself has trended—for economic reasons as well as aesthetic ones—toward smaller works by smaller companies, ADF had to scramble to find the right fit for intimate works. Given the lack of small-size performance venues in the region, the festival went everywhere from Motorco to the Cameron Village Library for staging space.
But with the opening of the one-hundred-fifty-seat von der Heyden Studio Theater in the Rubenstein Arts Center and lengthy renovations finally completed at Page Auditorium—the festival’s original anchor venue, starting with its first North Carolina season in 1978—access to intimate, professional-grade small and medium-sized spaces at Duke is secured.
“We love DPAC, and we want to keep using it for the pieces that demand it,” Nimerichter says. But she’s also eager to be shed of the venue’s downsides. High production costs have forced ADF to cut the length of company residencies in the past, and patrons and performers both have been affected when crowds that would pack any other venue have looked like lackluster audiences in the DPAC’s supersize room.
“It’s a Broadway roadhouse; it wasn’t meant to specifically be for modern dance. If you picked up that theater and put it in New York City, it would still be incredibly difficult for any dance company to fill it,” Nimerichter says. “I’m thrilled that audiences will get to feel the intimacy with the artists that in many ways has been lost [at DPAC].”
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