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American Dance Festival.

AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL DUKE UNIVERSITY Durham, North Carolina June 10-July 24, 2004

Since modern dance must retain the capacity, to surprise, it's gratifying to note that the surprises started early--during Pilobolus' opening-weekend stand--at the 2004 American Dance Festival, Granted, the festival's seventy-first season rarely varied from a familiar mix of established American companies leavened by newer foreign choreographers. Still, unexpected developments were not limited to the dozen world premieres scattered over this year's mainstage shows.

In Pilobolus' untitled new work by Michael Tracy (later called Warm Heart at New York's Joyce Theater), the atmospheric Jennifer Macavinta and Manelich Minniefee duet--along with the two works preceding it--bore witness to the company's recent attempts to reinvent itself. It also displayed another recent rare commodity: Pilobolean subtlety. After spiraling out of a figure suggesting a rotating Taoist yin-yang symbol, Macavinta and Minniefee unobtrusively incorporated weight-sharing and balance techniques while stone-stepping a precarious path across lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge's darkened, star-strewn world.

Going from perch to precipice, Macavinta's character became frozen with fright, but unlike recent company works this dilemma, while amusing, wasn't overplayed for cheap laughs. Ultimately, Minniefee "unthawed" Macavinta's character by first embracing and then carefully waltzing her still-rigid form across the stage, Part shaman, part physical therapist, his character stretched each of Macavinta's extremities from behind before using hypnotic band gestures to send her head and body swimming through space.

Preceding Heart was Jonathan Wolken's Megawatt, which avoided the flashy weight-sharing moves and acrobatics that have characterized Pilobolus. Following it, Alison Chase's opaque work-in-progress (called Night of the Dark Moon in New York), if nothing else, shunned any easily digestible storyline.

Even with a program closer of 1975's Untitled, Durham audiences saw the least predictable Pilobolus concert in recent years a sign of changes in progress and. hopefully, ones to come.

In Redemption, a world premiere, Ronald K Brown promised an extension of the pilgrims' progress toward spiritual and political activista seen in last year's Come Ye. But in ceding its center to poet Cheryl Boyce Taylor's oratory, this uneasy dance-and-spoken-word amalgamation sacrificed momentum while retreating into a vague, unsatisfying mysticism. At midwork, Taylor recited the poem "Redemption at the Crossing" alone onstage for five minutes. Adding Guinean percussionist Mamadouba Camara's opening solo, Brown's dancers remained offstage for more than eight of Redemption's twenty-two minutes.

When the dancers did appear, Omatayo Wunmi Olaiya's costumes suggested an undifferentiated group, not the villagers and city, folk of Brown's earlier work. If outflung arms and exaggerated rolling steps suggested pilgrimage, later passages saw the apparently infirm passed forward from one dancer to another. It seemed clear that redemption is communal, not a solo activity.

However, Taylor's luminous poetry overreaches when it seems to assert that some ill-defined, final "crossing over" is the only labor left for the activists of today. Brown's dance similarly falters when it sheds insufficient light on what redemption looks like and how it works, where this crossing is, or how we as a culture might get there.

A "Festival of the Feet" presented abbreviated sets by three tap avatars and smaller-than-usual versions of kathak and flamenco companies. Pandit Chitresh Das, Carlota Santana, and tappers Roxane Butterfly, David Gilmore, and Jason Samuels Smith closed with a communal jam to each other's musicians.

FOR MORE INFORMATION www.americandancefestival.org. Also, visit www.dancemagazine.com for another ADF review.
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Article Details
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Author:Woods, Byron
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:556
Previous Article:American Ballet Theatre.
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