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DURHAM, North Carolina--The American Dance Festival has provided a home for modern dance for much of the art form's history. The ADF's sixty-sixth season, June 10 to July 24 on the Duke University campus, marks the conclusion of a five-year celebration of 100 years of modern dance with the greatest number of commissions in the festival's history: sixteen.

Tracing its roots to 1934 in Vermont when Bennington College offered summer classes in modern dance followed by a festival the next year, the ADF, after twenty-nine years at New London's Connecticut College, moved south to Durham in 1978. Here its mission remains the same, according to codirectors Charles and Stephanie Reinhart. "We've been true to the commitment to help the choreographers make new work, find a wider audience, and train dancers and choreographers coming up," Stephanie Reinhart says.

Modern dance and jazz music were the favorite performing arts of the late Doris Duke, whose fortune was amassed from the tobacco fields and factories of North Carolina. In 1997 the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation awarded a three-year grant of $1.826 million to the ADF to encourage new works through the Doris Duke Millennium Awards for Modern Dance and Jazz Music Collaborations and the Doris Duke Awards for New Work.

The 1999 Awards unite the talents of Bill T. Jones with composer Fred Hersch and Paul Taylor with Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra as well as fund new works by Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Meredith Monk, Martha Clarke, Eiko & Koma, John Jasperse, and David Dorfman. All but Monk will debut works at the festival. Other ADF commissions will feature the collaboration of writer-artist Maurice Sendak with Pilobolus and Dorfman's dance created for and set on the Durham-based African American Dance Ensemble.

These premieres continue a long tradition in which more than 200 dances have received their first performances at the festival, including such classics as Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels (1948), Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane (1949), Merce Cunningham's Summerspace (1958), and Taylor's Aureole (1962).

Taylor also attended the festival as a student. "The festival was a turning point in my life," he said, when announcing a benefit concert for ADF during the 1981 season. "It got me started with a new kind of life that I wanted." As a festival student, Taylor saw Graham for the first time. "She was wearing red and walking across a green lawn," he said. "She was carrying a red parasol and looked very theatrical. It's a picture that I will never forget. She saw me in class and said she wanted me. She got me for six years." Taylor danced in her company before founding his own troupe.

This year's ADF summer school promises to have the largest attendance ever with the youngest students, ages 12 to 16, displaying a greater mastery of modern technique than in the past, the Reinharts add. "These are not kids whose parents are looking for a place to put them in the summer," says Charles Reinhart. "They're dancers."

The festival has also encouraged up-and-coming dancemakers through its Emerging Generation and Young Choreographers and Composers in Residence programs. Famous "graduates" include Jones, Mark Dendy, Mark Morris, Tharp, and Laura Dean.

In the last two decades, the festival has looked back to honor black choreographers and forward to encourage the spread of modern dance around the world. In 1987 it began the Classic Revivals and Black Tradition in American Modern Dance project to pay homage to and preserve the works of black choreographers, beginning with Donald McKayle, who set his Games on the African American Dance Ensemble. Over the years, the project has presented such classics as Pearl Primus's Strange Fruit, McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, Eleo Pomare's Blues for the Jungle, and Talley Beatty's Mourner's Bench, performed by the Joel Hall Dancers, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Philadanco, which will also present an ADF-commissioned premiere this summer by Barak Marshall.

Marshall will show another new work as one of the three ADF commissions in the International Choreographers' program that includes work by Tatiana Baganova from Russia and Li Han Zhong and Ma Bo from China. A part of the festival since 1987, this program grew out of the International Choreographers' Residency Program established in 1984 to allow foreign dancemakers to immerse themselves in modern dance.

The festival continues to recognize lifetime contributions to the art form through the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award of $25,000. Pina Bausch will receive the award on June 20. To acknowledge the value of great teachers, the ADF established the Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Chair for Distinguished Teaching in 1991. This season the award recognizes Viola Farber, founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, founder of her own company and studio, and distinguished teacher, who died last year.

The ADF develops audiences through community classes, lectures, and demonstrations. "We know what modern dance is not," says Charles Reinhart. Over the past two decades, ADF audiences have seen the wide range of what modern dance can be--dances have been presented in a garden, creek, swimming pool, on the grass, and in trees.

As for the future, the festival, already online at, plans to expand its cyberspace offerings to facilitate international linkages and make its archival material more available in hopes of encouraging humanistic studies and dialogues.
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Article Details
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Author:Broili, Susan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 1, 1999

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