American Dance Festival | Multiple venues  |  Through September 11

OK now: this is much more like it.

After COVID necessitated online-only performances in 2020 and a brave, single-week season outdoors last year at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), the American Dance Festival returns to a far more familiar—and reassuring—form this year. Over the next month and a half, its 15 programs encompass modern dance’s past, present, and future.

And that’s not counting a bonus week in September when the festival returns for four wide-ranging evenings at NCMA’s Bryan Amphitheater.

We’ll have more on those in the fall. For now: a run-down of the works the ADF brings to Durham this and next month.

Devotion | Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre | Reynolds Industries Theater | June 16-17

The women in the last part of Rosie Herrera’s triptych inquiry into religious iconography take on the crucial final component in faith: embodying their beliefs. A mother, a partner, and a devotee all know that devotion can take you to extremes; it’s no coincidence that the work’s original title was Negotiating Surrender. “It’s one thing to say something; another to ground it in your body,” Herrera says. “You come to the edge of yourself.”

Rennie Harris Lifted | Rennie Harris Puremovement | Page Auditorium June 17-18; Children’s Matinee: June 18

Hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris’s Funkedified rocked the Carolina Theatre in 2019. Here, he turns to gospel house music for a work where the street and the Black church both lay claim to the souls of young people, in an exuberant production featuring local gospel singers and dancers.

Made in North Carolina | Jose Velasquez, Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, Justin Tornow, Ramya Sundaresan Kapadia | Duke Chapel lawn; Reynolds Industries Theater; June 21

Regional choreography gets its full due this season: after enVISION, ShaLeigh Dance Works’ astounding season opener last week, choreographers take us from street dance to classical Indian Bharatanatyam dance and song in an evening of four commissions. In the midst: Mesa, Justin Tornow’s Merce Cunningham-influenced meditation on the multiplicity of timescales we operate within at the same time.

Helen Simoneau Danse, Stephen Petronio & Johnnie Cruise Mercer | Reynolds Industries Theater; June 23

As an entire concept, power needs reclaiming—particularly after the political and social abuses in its name in recent years. Helen Simoneau explores the soft, introverted, shared, and quiet power needed to be vulnerable and open and to empower communities for the greater good. Stephen Petronio was a member of ACT UP in the 1980s; he and Johnnie Cruise Mercer reflect on activism across generations in the queer community, in a work to new music by Monstah Black.

Pilobolus | Page Auditorium | June 24-25; Children’s Matinee: June 25

This colorful festival mainstay, long known as the proverbial gateway drug of modern dance, turns 50 this year with an ADF-commissioned world premiere and a work for children that literally lifts the curtain on its famous shadow puppet/choreography works.

An Untitled Love | A.I.M by Kyle Abraham | Reynolds Industries Theater; June 28-29

After his bracing Nina Simone Suite at the 2021 ADF, Abraham’s new work, described by critic Brian Siebert as a “theatrical love letter to social dance,” veers back and forth between host Jae Neal’s urban house party to darker meditations on Black police violence and isolating gender roles. The soundtrack: soulful old-school hits by D’Angelo.

Radioactive Practice | Abby Z and the New Utility | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center; June 30–July 2

Choreographer Abby Zbikowski is known (if not notorious) for the physical rigor of her work. The New York Times notes that in pushing dancers’ bodies to their limits, Radioactive Practice “braids emotional toughness with unrelenting physicality” in “a bold new energy that speaks to survival and purpose.”

Paul Taylor Dance Company | Page Auditorium | July 1-2; Children’s Matinee: July 2

Another ADF mainstay, the legacy company of the preeminent modern dance choreographer presents puckish repertory works Cloven Kingdom and Syzygy and A Call for Softer Landings, innovative new work from rising Kidd Pivot dancemaker Peter Chu.

Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim | Ragamala Dance Company | Reynolds Industries Theater; July 6-7

For centuries, Hindus have trekked to Varanasi, not only to pour the ashes of the dead into the Ganges but to bathe and seek ritual purification in the waters. Water and fire also figure into Ragamala’s atmospheric meditation on that faith’s intertwining cycles of birth, death, and rebirth.

The Running Show | Monica Bill Barnes & Company | Reynolds Industries Theater; July 9-10

If they’re fortunate, a dancer’s career is not a sprint but a lifelong marathon. Monica Bill Barnes’s pithy, humorous works have taken us into dance’s backstage before; Barnes incorporates the voices, bodies, and stories of ADF and local dancers in a sports-inflected look at the impact of aging on a performer’s life.

Burnt-Out Wife | Sara Juli | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center; July 12-15

Sara Juli’s solo shows dismantle cultural taboos with stand-up comedy, music, truly over-the-top choreography, and stories from her own life. ADF presented Burnt-Out Wife online in 2020; in the live version, she brandishes a hairbrush microphone in a hot-pink bathroom to interrogate the challenges in her own marriage.

Inheritance: A Litany | Janis Brenner | von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center; July 12-15

A litany is more than a prayer. It’s a list: an accounting of challenges, blessings, or both. Autobiographical artist Janis Brenner details specific physical, psychological, and spiritual traits she’s inherited from her parents in music and movement that swings from dreamlike impressionism to arresting specifics, in work she’s defined as a dance, a play, an opera, and a comic drama.

Footprints | Charles O. Anderson, Kimberly Bartosik, Shen Wei | Reynolds Industries Theater; July 16-17

When Shen Wei worked with ADF students for a month in 2000 in an earlier version of this yearly series, he formed a company with them, launching an American career that ultimately won him a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Wei returns to the vineyard to create a new work (and receive the Scripps/ADF Award for lifetime achievement). Afro-contemporary choreographer Charles O. Anderson’s scathing (Re)Current Unrest underlined racism under Trump, and Kimberly Bartosik has explored intergenerational schisms in work incorporating urban parkour tracing.

One. One & One | Vertigo Dance Company | Reynolds Industries Theater; July 19-20

The aching desire for oneness, with the self, with fellow humans, with the planet—and the schisms and conflicts that impulse has historically wrought—form the basis of a meditation by a noted Israeli dance company, performed on a stage covered in earth.

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