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AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL '99.

AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL '99 THE AFRICAN AMERICAN DANCE ENSEMBLE REYNOLDS INDUSTRIES THEATER JUNE 14-16, 1999 MARTHA CLARKE PAGE AUDITORIUM JUNE 17-19, 1999 DUKE UNIVERSITY, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA

Two opening attractions I took in attest that this year's American Dance Festival is diverse in styles, though conservative in aesthetic. Both Chuck Davis's African American Dance Ensemble and a new theater-dance piece by Martha Clarke are highly charged--with broad emotion and sexual tension, respectively.

Davis has long been the Pied Piper of African dance, educating us about its customs, and enthralling audiences with his robust, good-natured presence. Who else could convince an audience of four hundred strangers to hug each other? His company of energetic dancers works hard to win us with choreography that recalls African American themes already thoroughly explored by Alvin Ailey, Ulysses Dove, and others. They succeed in Ex3=Encouragement! Empowerment! Excellence (Balante), Davis's deftly choreographed salute to the power of African ritual. Then they take a stylistic stretch into postmodernism with a world premiere by New York downtowner David Dorfman. Unfortunately, his Over Home lacks choreographic focus and, at thirty minutes plus, it needs editing.

Clarke's Vers la flamme turns five Chekhov short stories into a framework on which to paint surreal narratives about love and lust. Her cast of seasoned dance-actors turns human emotions into movement images that stab your heart one minute and tickle your funny bone the next.

Onstage, virtuoso Christopher O'Riley swathes the action in astonishingly pungent renderings of piano etudes and preludes by Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. The skewed walls of designer Michael Yeargan's set are painted, a la Magritte, with fluffy clouds in an azure sky, which makes the space at once finite and infinite. Jane Greenwood's nineteenth-century-style costumes define the characters, and Stephen Strawbridge's moody, eerily articulate lighting virtually breathes with the action.

At her best Clarke has an uncanny ability to elicit vivid emotional imagery with poetic simplicity, and here she shines: rejected lover Paola Styron, "The Lady with the Lapdog," pathetically slides on her belly toward George de la Pena after he spurns her. "The Darling," Kate Coyne, and her Second Husband, Alexandre Proia, prop themselves against the rear wall and defy gravity, tilting and floating in a delicately bawdy flirtation that might have been a model for Chagall. Then she and her Married Lover, de la Pena, engage in riotously graphic intercourse.

In "Enemies," the pain of loss reads poignantly at the final moment in the faces of de la Pena, the cuckolded lover, and Felix Blaska, his doctor, who's been summoned on false pretenses away from mourning his baby's death. Margie Gillis, rejected mistress in "The Grasshopper," hurls herself repeatedly to the ground in grief, her long red hair flailing on the floor. And in "A Nervous Breakdown," Proia literally climbs the walls of the bordello where he's trapped in a nightmare of his imagination, while Styron, nude, waits in bed.

Vers la flamme breathes new vitality into an old-fashioned concept--narrative--and Clarke explodes the dimensions of storytelling to new visual and visceral heights.

The annual six-week festival and dance school opened with the Bill T. Janes/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and then presented Pilobolus, Tharp!, John Jasperse Company, Eiko & Koma, Philadanco, David Dorfman Dance, Argentina's Brenda Angiel Dance Company, an evening of work by international choreographers from Russia, Israel and China, and, a perennial favorite, the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:SOLOMONS, GUS JR
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Sep 1, 1999
Words:564
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