The guide to the American Dance Festival: A focus on the masters, emerging dancers

The American Dance Festival is a prominent stage to showcase new and exciting dances, a place to shine a light on emerging dancers and to debut seen-in-Durham-first productions.

While the festival still nods to the future, the 86th edition of ADF definitely has an eye on the past as it pays tribute to the late Paul Taylor, the choreographer and dancer whose relationship with the festival spans 50 years.

This year’s ADF is June 13 to July 20, and Taylor was the driving force in programming. With the season dedicated to Taylor, his presence will be felt in performance, in a documentary, talks about his work and in an accompanying photo exhibit.

“He has a very deep and rich relationship with the festival,” said Jodee Nimerichter, ADF executive director, in an interview at Durham’s ADF Studios.

Over five venues, ADF will stage 38 performances by 25 companies and choreographers, including three world premieres. Highlights include modern-dance classics from iconic choreographers; a tribute to the Beatles’ 1967 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album; Philadelphia funk and flash from the 1970s; and high-energy tap dancing by North Carolina native Michelle Dorrance.

In a first this year, tickets to children’s shows will be $10 apiece. There also will be free pop-up dance shows around Durham and other parts of the Triangle. Mark Dendy, the energetic, longtime festival teacher/choreographer/dancer will bring the dances to spaces like the lawn in front of the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Nasher Museum of Art and CCB Plaza in downtown Durham.

Celebrating the masters

Taylor died in August at age 88, having spent six decades creating modern dance. In the 1950s, he was an ADF scholarship student and worked on the stage crew.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company has performed 50 times at ADF with 19 premieres and has been among the festival’s biggest draws. Fourteen of those were commissioned by ADF.

Taylor’s productions will among those to bookend the festival. “Icons” will kick off the festivities June 13 with a work by Taylor as well as modern-dance greats Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. This year is the centennial of Cunningham’s birth. Graham is one of ADF’s founding choreographers. (Graham died in 1991 and Cunningham died in 2009.)

On June 27-29, the main Paul Taylor Company will come for a three-night run of all classic Taylor works at Reynolds Industries Theater.

“Something we’ve never done before,” Nimerichter said, “but I thought would be incredibly exciting is that we’re presenting Paul Taylor in Reynolds.”

Taylor has connections to both Cunningham and Graham. He was a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, formed in 1953 at the artistically revered historic Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Two years later, Taylor joined Martha Graham’s company, where he remained for the next seven years.

ADF will close the season with “Footprints,” featuring more works by the three iconic masters, this time presented by ADF students.

More intimate venues

ADF is returning to Page Auditorium on Duke’s campus and has scheduled shows in Reynolds as well as Duke’s von der Heyden Studio Theater at the Rubenstein Arts Center. Unlike previous years, only one show will be staged at the larger Durham Performing Arts Center — “Pepperland” by the Mark Morris Dance Group. (More on that below.)

“I think what I’m trying to do is find spaces that fit the performances as best as possible, Nimerichter said. “We love DPAC, but we also realize that DPAC is very, very, very large for modern dance.”

The ever-popular Pilobolus will return to the refurbished Page Auditorium with a three-night show of four of their classic works. Nimerichter said the move allows an extra night of Pilobolus. Chapel Hill native choreographer/tap-dance wonder Michelle Dorrance brings her Dorrance Dance company to the Reynolds stage.

Nimerichter said DPAC works for large-scale productions, such as Broadway shows, or modern dance with live-music or large sets.

“If you picked that theater and literally dropped it in New York City, it’s still huge for modern dance,” Nimerichter said. “I wanted to try to bring back those more intimate experiences where you can really see the [dancers’] faces.”

Season highlights

A quick tour of classic legends, stand-out artists and homegrown talent:


This is a varied program of master works. Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels” (1948), which Graham described as about “the love of life and the love of love,” will be performed by Graham 2, the pre-professional company from the Martha Graham School. Merce Cunningham’s “Tread” (1970), full of playful entanglements from the imp-like experimentalist, will be performed by New York-based Stephen Petronio Co. Paul Taylor’s “Piazzolla Caldera” (1997), where tango meets modern dance, will be performed by Taylor 2. Reynolds Industries Theater, Duke’s Bryan Student Center, Thursday-Friday, June 13-14, 8 p.m., with post-performance discussion Friday; Saturday show, June 15, 7 p.m.; $12-49.


This piece pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ groundbreaking 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Classical-music aficionado/choreographer Mark Morris takes on the Beatles with a new piece and six songs from the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, plus six Pepper-inspired original compositions. Live music. No sing-along, though. Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), Wednesday, June 19, 7 p.m.; Thursday, June 20, 8 p.m.; Wednesday night performance followed by ADF Fête (the big party), requires a separate ticket; post-performance discussion led by Morris, Thursday; $12-74.

Dorrance Dance

Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance and her company presents “SOUNDspace,” originally choreographed for acoustics of New York City’s St. Mark’s Church and adapted for her company’s ADF debut; sophisticated music for quick feet. Reynolds Industries Theater, June 21, 8 p.m.; June 22, 7 p.m., with post-performance discussion; Sunday, June 23, 3 p.m.; $12-49.

Murielle Elizėon & Tommy Noonan/Culture Mill

World premiere and ADF commission of “They Are All,” a multi-generational piece drawing on the work of professional dancers and neuroscientists, plus experiences of Parkinson’s patients; from Culture Mill, performing arts lab in Saxapahaw. von der Heyden Studio Theater, Duke’s Rubenstein Arts Center; June 25-26, 8 p.m.; with post-performance discussion June 26; $33.

Paul Taylor Dance Co.

The company presents two different programs. The one called Program A features works originally premiered at ADF: “Aureole,” “Scudorama” and “Promethean Fire,” a little bit of heaven, a little bit of hell and hope from fire. Program B features “Airs,” “Dust” and “Company B,” the last Taylor’s reaction to the home-front tone during World War II, set to Andrews Sisters’ recordings. Taylor photo exhibit during festival in Reynolds lobby; screening of documentary “Paul Taylor Creative Domain,” Wednesday, June 26, 5 p.m., Duke’s Rubenstein Film Center. Reynolds Industries Theater. See website for times. $10-54.

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble

Dance inspired by the African-American experience, including Donald McKayle’s “Uprooted,” about undocumented immigrants, and new ADF-commission by young Los Angeles choreographer Micaela Taylor. Reynolds Industries Theater; Tuesday, July 2, 8 p.m., with post-performance discussion; Wednesday, July 3, 2 p.m., 8 p.m.; $12-43


Showcase of four earlier works from 1975 to 2007, including exuberant “Day Two,” with slipping, sliding and splashing on stage. Page Auditorium; Thursday, July 4, 7 p.m.; Friday, June 5, 8 p.m., including post-performance discussion; Saturday, July 6, 7 p.m., some nudity at evening performances; children’s matinee, Saturday, July 6, 1 p.m.; $10-65

Eiko Otake: “The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable”

Eiko (formerly of Eiko and Koma) pairs with three New York City artists, plus noted Durham painter and Duke professor Beverly McIver, winner of the American Academy’s Rome Prize; world premiere and ADF commission. von der Heyden Studio Theater, Duke’s Rubenstein Arts Center; Monday-Wednesday, July 8-10, 8 p.m., post-performance discussion Monday; $33; moderated talk with Eiko and McIver at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, Saturday, July 6, 2-3 p.m.

Rennie Harris Puremovement/American Street Dance Theater

Multi-media show of choreographer Rennie Harris’s Philadelphia childhood in 1970s. Funk band “Invincible” will perform. The Carolina Theatre, Durham; Wednesday, July 10, 2 p.m., 8 p.m.; Thursday, July 11, 8 p.m.; $12-51.

Malpaso Dance Co.

This Cuban repertory company of 11 touring dancers makes its ADF debut. Three works, including, “Tabula Rasa,” by choreographer Ohad Naharin, with Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and creator of movement-language Gaga, meant to heighten sensation and imagination. Page Auditorium; Friday, July 12, 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 13, 7 p.m.; children’s matinee, Saturday, July 13, 1 p.m.; $10-54

“A.I.M.” by Kyle Abraham

Last summer, Abraham’s dancers gave a visually and emotionally stunning performance. Now, in addition to other works, Abraham performs a solo he created. Reynolds Industries Theater; Tuesday-Thursday, July 16-18, 8 p.m., post-performance discussion Tuesday; $12-43


Finale with three other works by Graham, Cunningham and Taylor, including Taylor’s masterwork, the soaring “Esplanade,” performed by ADF students. Page Auditorium; Friday, July 19, 8 p.m., including post-performance discussion; Saturday show, July 20, 7 p.m.; $12-43.


For a schedule and tickets, go to americandancefestival.org/

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