Dance Review Print



American Dance Festival: International Choreographers Commissioning Program

July 16, 2003 - Durham, NC:


One of the most interesting if least touted events at ADF each year is the performance of pieces generated in the International Choreographers Commissioning Program. The works are new, untested, and not as refined as they may become. They often have a refreshing raw immediacy and fizz with the energy of the ADF student dancers who perform them. This year's International Choreographers program, which took place on July 16 in Reynolds Theater during ADF's final week, featured works by choreographers from France, Japan and Russia, had both the rawness and the fizz.

The evening opened with "POST-C.A.R.D.S.," choreographed by Dominique Boivin to music by Pan Sonic, Köhln, Amon Tobin and Jacques Brel. An orange traffic cone sat downstage, and the curtain rose to reveal upstage one woman on a treadmill and another in a shiny blue dress standing like a road worker holding up a SLOW sign. This made me a little anxious to start with - after the unfortunate Maguy Marin experience earlier in the ADF season, I was fully prepared to sit this one out in the lobby - but the work turned out to be delightful, more in the humorous line of La Maison, the other French group seen earlier, and not a diatribe at all.

Treadmill Woman was in profile to the audience, looking into the wings, and she ran like a metronome, her pace steady and sure throughout the dance. Of course, the viewer couldn't know that would be the case and alternately forgot her and expected her to do something. She was doing something - providing a foil, almost like a bass line supporting some fancy guitar work, for the antics of the other six dancers as they whirled through a series of sketches: snatches of narrative and fragments of memory. The first of these was performed by two men in black and white, who did a kind of mirroring thing, very acrobatic. There were many acrobatic sequences throughout the work, as befits Boivin's background. But there were also lots of swinging, jazzy moves with an air of aggression to them - they reminded me of the gangs' dances in West Side Story , and they were performed with zest and verve.

The really memorable image from the piece, though, was a completely unexpected move by the woman with the sign. She had just been standing there, chunky and stolid, holding up that incongruous command as dancers raced by her. Suddenly she put the sign down, ran full tilt diagonally across the stage - and launched herself into the air, coming down in a spectacular belly flop next to the traffic cone. While nothing else in the piece achieved quite that level of insouciant risk-taking, the whole dance was imbued with a go-for-it attitude and a cheerful sense of fun right up to the end, when the woman took up her position with the sign again. Looking up at it, she reversed it to say STOP, then looked at the audience and gave the smallest of knowing nods before the curtain came down.

"Enact Oneself," choreographed by Akiko Kitamura to noise - uh, I mean music - by Yusuke Awazu and Yuzo Kako was the unpleasant pill hidden among the sweets. Four pairs of dancers occupy four pairs of chairs; eight music stands surround them. The scene is depressing, the light bleak. When movement begins it is fitful, interrupted, but manipulative and hateful. Lots of shove, jerk and slap. When "music" finally starts it sounds like rain with static in it, and it goes downhill from there. This is the kind of thing I hate so much that I cannot tell whether it was done well by its own standards or not.

"Lazy Susan," the evening's final work, was happily very different. Russian choreographer Tatiana Baganova has created a work that needs only a very little tweaking to make it wonderful. Danced to String Quartet No. 1 by Christos Hatzis and "Major Let Down" and "Waist/Waste Collapse" from Falso Movimento by Chris Lancaster, "Lazy Susan" had by far the most developed movement vocabulary of the evening's three pieces. It was mostly well thought out, deeply humorous, and full of beautiful, inventive sequences.

For "Lazy Susan" the stage was divided across its width by a scrim. Usually only one side was lit, and the action bounced back and forth between the two zones. Bouncing was something we saw a lot of: there were bouncy dancers, bouncing balls, even a trampoline in the back zone. The trampoline, almost like a character itself, performed many roles. Not only was it itself, but it also doubled as a dining table, a pool, and other round things.

The dancers spun through rounded postures, circular movements, rotating patterns along with the up-down bouncing. The variety was pretty amazing, and there was some lovely dancing and lots of sweetly funny stuff. It got particularly interesting when a pair of accordions and their players turned the bouncing motion on its side, stretching it out and elasticizing it so that bounce became push-pull. This culminated in a surprising, erotic sequence in which the men and women passed round green apples back and forth, from mouth to mouth.

Unfortunately, there was a tedious coda to the piece, a sort of Mad Hatter's tea party with all the dancers gathered around the trampoline and talking silly talk. The ending just wasted all the fizz that had so delightfully bubbled to a head earlier on. Without that ending, "Lazy Susan" would be a great dance, and even as it was, it ensured that I'll return to the International Choreographers night next year, to see what grand silliness might be offered.