Review: ADF concludes with demanding, magnificent works

Jul. 28, 2013 @ 07:31 PM

The Forces of Dance program, July 26-27 at Durham Performing Arts Center, ends this 80th anniversary American Dance Festival season with work by this year’s Scripps/ADF recipient Lin Hwai-min as well as past honorees Martha Graham, Bill T. Jones and Twyla Tharp.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Chou Chang-ning personifies strength, grace and a suppleness that defies the usual restrictions of bones and joints in her solo from Lin’s “Moon Water.” She mesmerizes with the fluidity and intricate articulations of her arm movements.

ADF students’ performances in work by Graham, Jones and Tharp approach the level of heroics as they tackle very demanding dances.

Graham’s “Helios,” from her 1981 “Acts of Light,” is a magnificent celebration of light, life and dance. The sun, source of light and life, takes on mythic proportions due to a strong sense of ritual, especially in unison movements, by this 18-member cast. In their gold costumes, dancers look like sunbeams when they shoot, in wide, soaring leaps, across the stage. Seated, their faces tilted upward, dancers seem to bask in the sunlight.

Jones’ 1996 “Love Re-Defined” offers a study in relationships within the microcosm of a dance community. Daniel Johnston’s offbeat style and sincere lyrics offer words of wisdom to sustain and nurture relationships such as “don’t let the sun go down on your grievances.” Partnering represents different degrees of care. A dancer holds his partner high above his head as though she is a rare gift. Two male dancers exhibit a rather careless attitude as they toss a woman as though she is a log. The “King Kong” section portrays Kong’s love for a human woman. The dance ends with a gesture of love as a man extends his hand to an approaching dancer.

Tharp draws from two techniques, a fond memory of ADF and her insistence on full-out, fearless movement in her world premiere, “Treefrog in Stonehenge.” There were circles with dancers facing various directions and a sense of being grounded. At one point, their feet seem stuck to the floor as though they had suction cups like Amazonian treefrogs. A square dance motif references the square dance held at ADF after Tharp received the Scripps/ADF Award. There are also plenty of virtuoso moves. But close to the end, the choreography allows the cast a time to be still except for their chests moving up and down from their efforts.

The Footprints program, July 22-23 at Reynolds Industries Theater, features work by Rosie Herrera, Adele Myers and Vanessa Voskuil.

Herrera’s “Make Believe” does just that with dancers depicting various scenarios that include an understated gospel choir and one woman’s unsatisfying relationship with a man in black dressed as a cowboy. Her initial, hysterical crying brings him onstage but he does nothing to comfort her. This pattern is repeated. There’s also a “dance party” – with some unconventional moves -- to music by Patsy Cline. Dancers on their backs propel themselves with their feet. Four couples dance and the odd-man-out dances alone but not lonely as he immerses himself in the joy of movement.

Myers’ “The Dancing Room” will continue to be developed as a female quartet with interactive set, according to program notes. So, presumably, in working with six ADF students, Myers was experimenting with material for this quartet. The work presented in this program has a strong, percussive drive. It opens with a single dancer, legs wide, as she pounds one foot then the other on the stage. At times, there’s a martial arts feel with a low center of gravity – dancers crouched – as they run backwards.

Voskuil’s “Gates” ends the program on a high note. The stage takes on a mythic atmosphere when the large cast of 24 dancers plus an additional 10 or so, seated in the audience, comes onstage in a most unusual way. They enter by walking backwards, hands to their sides, eyes focused ahead, down the theater aisles and up the stage steps. Voskuil’s expert use of a large cast makes for a powerful and mysterious work. At times, there’s a meditative, Eastern quality in the group of supplicants led by a woman with magical powers. Her hand motions seem to conjure thunder. At other times, the group’s grotesque movements bring to mind the cataclysmic aspects of Japanese butoh. The group shakes uncontrollably, drops to the floor, rolls into the orchestra pit, pulls themselves out and scurries, on all fours, up the theater aisles. When they return, they sway as though on a sailing ship in a calm sea.