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alban elved, one of North Carolina's more accomplished modern dance troupes, made two appearances at Duke on the weekend of July 15-16 in connection with ADF. On Friday night, two performances of company artistic director and choreographer Karola Luttringhaus' 15 minute outdoor work Anders Al Du, sponsored by Duke Performances, were presented outside the Bryan Center before and after the ADF show.
Anders Al Du is not one of alban elved's best works – and it certainly suffered from its circumstances. The piece is performed on a 15' tall steel structure put together on site – sort of a jungle gym, in the shape of a tall house, with a peaked top and many triangles formed by the architecture of the pipe structure. Sitting a little forlornly at the entrance to the Bryan Center, unlit, with busses pulling up and honking through the boombox music, it symbolized more than anything else the ambition and determination of the dancers working on and through it that sultry evening. There is no better place in North Carolina for dancers to be seen than at ADF, and if this exciting company is to go to the next level, they need to be noticed, encouraged, and maybe even invited to perform on a stage at the festival proper.
The space inside the performance structure is not very big for three dynamic women; consequently the work feels cramped, the dancers' movements overly careful. Careful is not an adjective one usually thinks of for alban elved. Daring, yes; defiant, sometimes; bold, definitely; strong, always. Those qualities were there in the performance – after all, they were hanging with sweaty palms upside down over unpadded concrete – but the scope for their endeavors was too small.
The real crux of the problem, though, is the lack of narrative. Anders Al Du seems designed rather than created. That is, it appears to have been made to meet a set of criteria: must be performed outdoors on a hard surface, must last so long, must have no tech requirements other than those the dancers can provide. As such, it was clever enough. The three women (Luttringhaus, Lena Rose Polzonetti, and Dawn Webster) made interesting triangular shapes with their bodies, singly and as a group, and Luttringhaus had imagined a surprising number of variations for their movements in, through and over the structure. It was a competent, well-thought-out exercise in physics and physicality, but it was not thrilling, despite the prowess of the bodies in motion.
Narrative seems to be what illuminates Luttringhaus' imagination, whether it is an actual story or an emotional progress through time. These stories, whatever they may be, go through some kind of alchemy in her mind that converts them from verbal sources to bodily actions, and they come out as dances punctuated with startling images and insights. Those who attended the final installment of the ADF's North Carolina Dance Showcase, "Acts to Follow," in Baldwin Auditorium on July 16, saw one of these powerful works.
At Arm's Length is a duet, performed here by Karola Luttringhaus and Lena Rose Polzonetti. The piece explores the relations between two people – how close is close enough, how close is not close enough, how close is a trap, how far is too far away. Intimacy is an oft-turned field for artists, and in many artworks, its struggles and pleasures can begin to seem a little banal, but Luttringhaus's approach is fresh and direct. Because her style involves many lifts and carries – all the women in the company are more than capable of lifting and carrying each other – as well as highly athletic and acrobatic moves, she's got a great vocabulary for this kind of subject. She also has an instinct for the dramatic arc, and she bolsters that major line with dozens of smaller arcs. At Arm's Length curves and curves back, winding to the high point and the wide view, and ends with a lovely image of momentary resolution. Luttringhaus and Polzonetti were very strong together Saturday night. I had seen a section of this piece danced by Luttringhaus and her long-time collaborator Andrea Lieske, and the emotional tenor had been so different that at first I wasn't sure it was the same dance. This says something, I think, about the honesty with which alban elved goes about its work.
"Acts to Follow" on the 16th also included works by three other choreographers. "Acts to Follow" is, surprisingly, not curated or juried – the first companies to sign up before the maximum is reached are the ones to perform. This practice leads inevitably to the inclusion of works not ready for prime time by any stretch of the charitable imagination. One such was the regrettable Tether, by Laura Thomasson. To say the least, it was immature.
Nicole Laliberté showed two ballet-influenced pieces, Little Skirmishes, and Fleeting Glimpes. The first, performed by two dancers to guitar music by Vivaldi, was amusing, and the dance fitted well with the music. The second had some very pretty moments but also far too many moments just like those we had seen earlier – and which didn't fit as well with Schubert's music as they had with the Vivaldi.
The program also included an impressive solo by Cornelia Kip Lee, who admirably exploits her weaknesses as well as her strengths for their aesthetic potential. Her piece Rend was very moving. It would have followed well directly after or before the alban elved work, as part of a program designed for cohesion. Perhaps next year the ADF will apply a little more energy to the presentation of North Carolina dancers. That would benefit them as well as us.