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The International Choreographers Commissioning Program is always one of the concerts at ADF to which I most look forward. There is nothing like seeing brand-new work, made over the previous five weeks, and performed by the passionate, talented ADF students on whom it is set. Despite their newness, the pieces – always three, by choreographers from around the world – are remarkably polished and usually extremely different from one another. Last year's ICCP concert was fabulous, and while I wouldn't go that far on this year's, it is well worth the time. The program will be performed again tonight (7/20) in Reynolds Theater.
As seen on July 18, the program opened with Derivatives by Dutch choreographer Anouk van Dijk, with music by Robert van Heumen and Tuxedomoon. The music started off very interestingly but interrupted itself with the insertion of radio noise – loud enough to be irritating, but not loud enough to make out the words' meaning – and traffic sounds. It did this repeatedly, and the dance was similar – a beautiful thing, interrupted. It was sort of like a stuck record, starting over again and lulling you into thinking that this time... it wouldn't skip back to the beginning.
The piece was danced by a lot of people, coming and going over and over. After a while it generated the feeling you get when visiting a strange city and hanging out in the plaza day after day. You observe the same people crossing and recrossing the space daily. You begin to recognize individuals, but they remain strangers to you – and you see that, mostly, they remain unknown to each other.
The movement style in Derivatives, however, is wonderful. There are lots of whirling turns, arms extended and one leg raised in back in an improbable position. These are interspersed with a Gumby-ish flexing, as if the dancers' bones had suddenly vaporized. But the beautiful thing is the way the energy from one movement flows so easily into the next – or is transferred sideways through some previously unknown universal joint in the body's drive-train. After a while I gave up trying to care about the content and just let myself be ravished by the motion.
KRŠ, by Durham native Charlotte Griffin, had some surprisingly similar moves but an entirely different tone. Griffin, who now works internationally, was seen in Durham this spring as the dancer in Archipelago Theater's Woman in the Attic, and KRŠ has some things in common with that theater piece – a surreality, a dreamlike quality, and a purposeful emotional exposure, along with somewhat mysterious symbolism. Griffin has a very strong stage presence and moves beautifully, but the images that remain are of a pair of lovers moving slowly through sensuous encounters; a long couch strewn with languor-laden bodies rolling majestically across the stage; and the final scene in which a woman bounces off a white cloth held taut by the men behind it. They capture her and tie her up in a neat package. The lights go down, leaving only a spot on that white package on the black floor.
All this fine strangeness is made to work by the wonderful music of Griffin's collaborator, Milica Paranosic, who also performed it on stage. When the curtain first rises, you see what appears to be a body floating at an angle upstage in the dimness. It turns out to be Paranosic, reflected in the raised lid of a grand piano as she reaches into its innards and claws the strings into emitting otherworldly sounds. After a while she begins to play in a more conventional manner, and that music is augmented with electronic sounds. Sometimes she blows whistles and something that may have been a large shell. I loved this music, and at times her performance was more compelling than that of the dancers! Afterwards I thought how grand it would be for her to collaborate with Bill T. Jones' musician, Daniel Bernard Roumain, with his violin and mixed sound.
The evening ended with Mask, a pleasant work by Indonesian choreographer Martinus Miroto, set to music by Rene Lysloff and Ken Ray Wilemon that recalls the sounds of a gamelan. Danced by eleven young women and Miroto, the piece initially seemed somewhat sedate and pretty, but it soon took on an edge of exotic humor. The women, dressed in slim pants and matching long tunics, moved as an ensemble, elegantly vertical, with lovely hand motions a major part of the choreography. (Brian Brooks' dancers could take some lessons here, for the improvement of their hand jive set to Bolero.) Just when I was thinking there would be no rolling on the floor, the dance segued into something strange, with plenty of horizontal action. Masks came out of nowhere, and soon the whole troupe was wearing them. And then puppets appeared, attached not only to hands but also to feet, so that each dancer supported four, and the stage was filled with a multitude, the humans prostrate in their service.
At the end all the masks come off, the dancers seeming a little taken aback by how easily they had taken over and created an alternate reality. It was funny and weird but absent sufficient underlying darkness to have made it powerful.
Costume designers play key – if often unsung – roles in the visual impact of any stage production. Here the costumer was even more important than usual. Chapel Hillian Melody Eggen designed the costumes for this dance and the rest of the ICCP program, and she and her intern, along with the choreographer and the dancers, made and painted the masks for Miroto's work. Each mask was highly individualized, which made the dance stronger than it would have been with identical masks – we did get the sense of a new crowd of characters overwhelming the original human faces. Eggen's work on the clothing in this and the other dances was also very good, fluid, clean-lined and uncluttered, yet with bold details. This was her first season with ADF; we may expect even stronger work another season, when the ADF magic returns.
Note: This year's ADF concludes with performances by the Paul Taylor Dance Company on 7/21-23. See our calendar for details.