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When one gets to see a polished Tatiana Baganova dance, and a brand-new, unpolished one, just three weeks apart, it is a very good year at the ADF. And judging by the audience response on the opening night of the International Choreographers Commissioning Program concert, I am not alone in feeling that Baganova was the idol of this American Dance Festival. Her newly commissioned work, Post Engagement, closed the three-work ICCP program in Reynolds Theater on July 17.
Although their choreographers were Russian, Japanese and Colombian/Argentinian, there were strong commonalities among the three dances. All the choreographers achieved powerful visual effects with minimal props and scenery. In this they were aided by the excellent work of lighting designer David Ferri, and by costume designer Melody Eggen. Eggen made some wonderful things for the ICCP dances last year, and this year's are more inventive, especially the clothes for Takuya Muramatsu's Mark of the Sun. Eggen worked with Svetlana Basharina on Post Engagement, keeping to the red, black and white theme of Baganova's overall production design, which featured a platformed post and a long red wall.
The dances had one other thing in common: the dancers made noises--over, around and between the music. Some of these were intriguing and alluring; others, quite the opposite. The sounds in Post Engagement fell into the first category — mostly. There was a bad moment with three vacuum cleaner/air pumps. But the bellowing and strange ululations that began the piece (and brought immediate response from the babies in the audience) and the clinkings and whisperings and whistlings that went on throughout did draw you into Baganova's strange world and augmented the music, supporting the dance in a surprising way.
What a ride Baganova takes us on, every time! She conjures astonishing images, often eerie or surreal, frequently a little frightening, with an edge of violence, but sometimes just very funny. She does this without sacrificing the pleasures and powers of actual dancing, performed here by six couples who carried out her demanding movements with skilled assurance, if not quite the same level of control as those in the Provincial Dances Theatre. The pairings in this piece were quite beautiful, and there were some great lifts and really wonderful gestures, and a truly phenomenal "see-saw" manifested by two powerful bodies. The inspired lunacy also included balloons and flour sifters, and giant paper helmets that made the dancers look like Russian artist Leonid Tishkov's "Dabloids." As I overheard a slightly stunned ADFer say when the lights went up: "Wow. There were enough ideas in there for at least five pieces."
Baganova's piece was preceded by Takuya Muramatsu's thrilling Mark of the Sun. Muramatsu is a long-time member of the fabled Japanese butoh dance company Dairakudakan. (His Treasure Island premiered at ADF when Dairakudakan performed here in 2003.) This work is even more evasive of description than Baganova's. A hapless fisherman, in white body make-up and wearing a black rubber boot as a loincloth, becomes tangled in his net. A tusked woman whacks on the floor with a gleaming ring. There is some screaming, but it is mercifully brief, and does not overwhelm the dreamlike delicacy of the music by Shuichi Chino. A flock of little colorful birds (or maybe they are a school of small fish) flits about. (In Melody Eggen's costumes, they look like they could have been hatched by the exuberantly patchwork-painted ADF buses.) Six pale, otherworldly women in pale gowns appear in their place. A flock of red-legged stork-men come down the aisle and onto the stage, where they lounge and wait. The pale women, emitting bird calls, flap gracefully, like white herons. The little birds twitter back. The fisherman returns. We are all riveted by the gleaming black-rimmed eyes of the stork-men.
None of this really gives any idea of the magical nature of the piece. As with much of Dairakudakan's work, you sense that you've been given a look into something primal, or perhaps from a spirit world. But because this work was so new, and the dancers trained in traditions other than Butoh, Mark of the Sun had a freshness and immediacy that Butoh doesn't often exhibit. Maybe another year we will have the opportunity to see this work performed by Dairakudakan, and be able to compare their execution of it with that of these talented ADF students, to whom it was all novel.
The world is already riddled with loud, obnoxious, intermittent, uncontrollable noises — must we also be tortured by noise in art? Maybe there was some political commentary about torture in the program opener, Luis Garay's 12, that went right over my head, but if there was, it was pretty obscure. There was certainly some interesting movement, especially the floor work, and some very cool, trancy guitar music, and several arresting images — but what I mainly remember about 12 is that I was longing for it to end when it had hardly begun, because of the shouting and screaming. When the commanding Yi-Chun Chen shot herself in the head with her microphone, all I thought was — at last that’s over!
My next thought was, thank god there is this special place where room has been made for these artists to experiment, adventure, take ridiculous risks and see what happens if they do this or that. There are so few sufficiently supported opportunities for growth and play for artists in any field. And not only do these choreographers from around the world get time and space and pliant bodies and lighting designers and costumers, the students at ADF on whom these works are set get the same rich experience from another angle. And we the audience get really fresh art. A night at the ICCP is somewhat like catching the Krispy Kreme when the sign is on. They might not have your favorite filling, but hey, how bad can it be? It is still HOT NOW.