If you are a dance-lover who wants to be ravished and overtaken by the beauty and passion of what's on the stage, if you want to abandon the cool calculating mind for the blood's fever, the second program in the American Dance Festival's season is for you. The exquisitely composed concert of six classic works alternates dances by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Limón Dance Company for a highly dramatic and emotional evening in Duke University's Page Auditorium.
It begins with Asadata Dafora's 1932 solo composition, Awassa Astrige/Ostrich, danced by DCDC's G.D. Harris, clad only in an ostrich-feather girdle. With his magnificent body gleaming in the dim golden light, he stalks and prances, preening and powerful. For three and a half blood-thumping minutes, one understands completely the totemic transference of animal power into the human — the magical flow of knowledge from one world to another. It is like a dream, when your dreaming mind uncovers a truth and sends it through to your conscious mind, so that even in your dream you know you are knowing something real.
The dream shifts but continues with Jiri Kylián's 1987 work, Evening Songs, danced by the Limón Company to some lovely Dvorák Lieder. Led by Francisco Ruvalcaba and Roxane D'Orléans Juste, the four women and three men move through air seeming thick and dim as dusk, which they press through and scoop to themselves, as if the atmosphere were as much the beloved as the man or woman beside them. The dancers moved through the choreographer's patterns and conjunctions with the cosmic certainty of the constellations wheeling through the summer sky.
With Eleo Pomare's Las Desenamoradas (1967), performed by DCDC, the dream shifts to nightmare. Based on Federico García Lorca's devastating The House of Bernarda Alba, and set to John Coltrane's scalding music Olé, this dance is a ferociously dramatic story of thwarted sexuality and love denied. Alise Craig, as the mother, was truly frightening. There was a moment when she was jousting with the suitor, the remarkable William B. McClellan, Jr., that I thought she was actually going to lay him out with the staff she brandished. This is no happy dream of love. It rips the wishful veil from the dark heart of desire. Like Lorca's work, this dance is full of terrible images that will stay with you forever.
The program's second half balances the first, opening with José Limón's beautiful 1942 solo, Chaconne, set to the chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor for unaccompanied violin. Danced here by Raphael Boumaïla (Roxane D'Orléans Juste will perform it on June 9), it was a quiet flow of deep feeling expressed in the precise angle of a foot, the subtle turn of a wrist, and most of all, in the series of arcing arabesques. From this interlude, we were swept into the wrenching, raging, sorrow of Talley Beatty's Mourner’s Bench, performed by DCDC's McClellan. This is the third movement of a ballet titled Southern Landscape, 1865, and is set to "There is a Balm in Gilead" (recording by the Tuskegee Institute Choir), the consoling strains of which float out in poignant variance with the thrusting, vaulting, physical wailing of the dancer.
Man's weakness and perfidy, the poison hidden in the wonderfully-wrought ring of humanity, are the subject of Limón's gorgeous dance that closes the evening. The Moor’s Pavane (Variations on the theme of Othello), first performed during the 1949 American Dance Festival, has been performed twice recently in this area, but it is well worth seeing again. Jonathan Fredrickson is particularly fine as the Iago character. That the measured, graceful music of Henry Purcell (arranged by Simon Sadoff) and the symmetric circling and sectioning of the circle by the four dancers could harbor such betrayal and evil is almost incredible. As with the previous dance, the contrast between the serenity of the music and the violence of the emotion is fascinating and unsettling. And as with all of these remarkable dance works from the past three-quarters of a century, its truths remain even as its images evanesce. What a gift it is for the American Dance Festival to reconstitute them for us!
The program continues June 9 and 10. See our calendar for details.