Forces of Dance showcases works of legends
The American Dance Festival’s Forces of Dance program features work by some real winners. That’s because all four choreographers are recipients of the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement. ADF students perform a world premiere by Twyla Tharp as well as reconstructions of work by Bill T. Jones and Martha Graham. Lin Hwai-min receives the award during a ceremony at Friday's Forces of Dance program that includes a solo performance by Chou Chang-ning.
Twyla Tharp presents an ADF-commissioned world premiere, “A Treefrog in Stonehenge.” The title comes from two different kinds of technique classes Tharp offers that Alex Brady and Rika Okamoto teach across the country. In a six-week class at ADF this summer, they also taught these techniques to the 16 ADF students in the premiere to help them perform Tharp’s work, these teachers said.
Brady and Okamoto know the demands because they have performed Tharp’s work including the Broadway shows “Come Fly Away” and “Movin’ Out.”
“Her phrases are sometimes very difficult,” Okamoto said. “She references all kinds of movements and sometimes an eight-count phrase will include ballet, modern, yoga and sports moves like boxing,” Brady added.
Tharp initially created the new work for Okamoto and Brady and, at the same time, with the full cast in mind, just as a composer creates music for an orchestra, Okamoto said.
The choreographer saw daily videos of rehearsals and gave these teachers feedback. Tharp also spent two days in Durham working with the students.
The world premiere also includes references to Tharp’s past work, such as the 1970 “Generation” and to the square dance she requested after she received the Scripps/ADF Award.
Bill T. Jones’ 1996 “Love Re-Defined” presents plenty of challenges, Leah Cox said in an interview. Cox, who danced with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company from 2001-2009 and currently serves as the company’s education director, worked with ADF students on this dance.
“There’s a lot of challenging partnering, many exits and entrances,” Cox said. “There’s lots of different ways of people relating onstage.”
The work also reflects members of the Jones/Zane company at the time. “They didn’t always get along but they recognized they were part of the same tribe,” Cox added.
She also shared with students Jones’ philosophy of creating a community in which everybody’s voice is essential – something practiced in his company.
“That resonated with me,” said Ryan Smith, an ADF dancer in the 10-member cast. “It’s important for people to listen and create a space where everybody can show up – to be valued for who they are not who they feel they need to be,” Smith added.
“It’s physically and emotionally demanding and draining,” he said of this work.
The warm-up every day called for an hour of continuous movement that built the stamina needed to perform this dance, he added.
Three days after he leaves ADF, Smith will be in New York to pursue a career in dance. And he believes his experiences at ADF, including being in the Forces of Dance program and the networking, will help him do that, he added.
Duane Cyrus, former Martha Graham dancer, who worked with 16 ADF students on Graham’s “Ritual to the Sun,” said he saw promise of professional careers in his cast.
In 1990, he was one of the last dancers personally hired by Graham, who died within a year of him joining the company. In 1993, Cyrus rejoined the Alvin Ailey Company. He currently directs his own dance and theater company: Cyrus Art Productions and is associate professor of dance at UNC-Greensboro.
While with Graham, Cyrus danced in “Ritual to the Sun” from her 1981 “Acts of Light.” Graham referred to this section as “Helios,” Cyrus said in an interview. “It’s one of my favorites. In reality, it is a demonstration of the Graham technique presented in an artistic format… It’s an ingenious idea,” Cyrus added.
The Graham technique enables dancers to use their bodies to communicate ideas by articulating shapes through such movements as contraction and release and control of the torso, he said. Graham also introduced psychological aspects. “We all have inner thoughts and struggles,” he said. And, the body expresses these, too.
“Graham said ‘The body never lies,’” Cyrus added.
“In Ritual to the Sun,” the Halston-designed, gold, skin- tight, full-body leotards especially encourage truthfulness, Cyrus said. “You can’t hide a thing.”