American Dance Festival 2016

By Dilip Barman

The 83rd annual American Dance Festival (ADF), the oldest and largest festival dedicated to modern dance in the country, began shortly before press time. It runs June 16-July 30, 2016, in Durham, NC. There will be 61 performances by 26 companies and choreographers from around the world. In addition to Duke University and Durham Performing Arts Center, shows will take place in eleven additional venues.

ADF is a community gem which, admirably, makes significant effort to be affordable to all audiences. There are, for example, a number of free programs, and the ADF Go Program gives steeply discounted $10 tickets for ages 18-30. A limited number of “Kids Night Out" tickets for those ages 6-17 are available for free with the purchase of a ticket to the same performance. Students and senior citizens also can get discounted tickets.

ADF brings with it not just cutting edge dance, but also top caliber dance instruction and camps. Each year, over 500 students and teachers from many countries come for programs like the Six Week School, Three Week School for Pre-Professional Dancers, and Dance Professionals Workshop.

One of my favorite troupes, Pilobolus, started the season with performances June 16-18. I saw their June 18th children´s matinee and the evening full-length shows immediately before Saathee´s press deadline, so my column includes a short review of their shows and a preview of the rest of the season.

Pilobolus, playfully named for a fungus that masterfully flings itself up to amazing heights, returned this year to present their work Shadowland. Dance enthusiasts may very well have seen an earlier incarnation of this dance. In 2006, the group created an advertisement for car manufacturer Hyundai, transforming one light source, a screen, and dancers into an automobile. A few months later, the Academy of Motion Pictures commissioned a performance at the Academy Awards. Pilobolus presented silhouetted dancers who formed logos or scenes from several films, as well as the Oscar statue. They created the first version of Shadowland in 2009, which has now grown to be an 80-minute performance.

I saw Shadowland with my seven-year-old daughter at both the children´s matinee and evening performance on June 18. Though parts were scary, we both enjoyed the matinee. I had initially thought that the piece was much too long, but we both appreciated it even more in the evening (the piece was the same, except for some brief artful, but, I thought, unnecessary, nudity in the second show).

The story is of a girl´s dreams. Bizarre and scary things happen to her, including being turned into a human form with a dog´s head and being pursued by people brandishing weapons. Pilobolus dancers are masters of silhouette dancing and the question and answer session afterwards helped inform the audience about some of the technical challenges.

One of the highlights was the ending. Pilobolus localizes each performance to include silhouette stories of the town of the performance. The city of Durham was portrayed, including some city symbols. North Carolina´s controversial “bathroom bill" HB2 was mocked.
Shadowland is not without its flaws. I thought that it could be a little shorter. Pilobolus performers' technical and athletic prowess are indisputable, but the narrative, albeit dream-like, could have been a bit more tightly woven; there were a number of strands that, for me, led nowhere.

Shadowland is slated to be performed soon in Australia and Germany, as well as other American cities.

Readers can look forward to Savion Glover and Jack DeJohnette. They present a jazz and tap dancing show on June 20 and 21. Kate Weare presents an ADF commissioned dance, Marksman, on the nights of June 21-23.

Sara Juli presents an hour-long show about motherhood on June 22-24 at Motorco music club in Durham, NC. It uses humor and adult references to portray “all that is awesome and all that" is not about being a mother.

Stephen Petronio Company, on Friday and Saturday June 24 and 25, will be treating audiences to three dances, including contemporary dance pioneer Merce Cunningham´s RainForest (1968), inspired by Cunningham´s childhood memories of the Pacific Northwest. “A spare and bracing foray into animal abstract motion and sound", it includes an Andy Warhol installation Silver Clouds. The Company will also have a Saturday matinee show especially for children.

June 28th-30th has 5 by 5, with five choreographers, including Mark Dendy performing a farcical overtly political piece Dystopian Distractions! (2014) that he brought in I believe a different version to ADF a few years ago. Rosie Herrera, Dafi Altabeb, Gabrielle Revlock, and Brian Brooks present dances on themes ranging from the energy of a dancer vis-à-vis a hula hoop prop, to magic and spirituality, and a consideration of our daily routines.

By the time this issue becomes available, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company will be presenting on July 1 and 2 an ADF commissioned world premiere of the second dance in Analogy: A Trilogy. Most of their dances take on an unashamedly direct critique on issues in modern society, such as the Holocaust, racism, war, and poverty. I again expect this year´s performance to be powerfully resonant and, perhaps, best enjoyed without children.

John Jasperse Projects presents from July 5-7 a piece that echoes an Eastern spirituality, exploring the illusory notion of self. Is there a firm boundary between ourselves and the world around us or is there some mutually influencing karmic interaction?

I have always loved the energy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which returns on Friday and Saturday July 8 and 9, including a Saturday children´s matinee. The program includes One Flat Thing, reproduced that I´m looking forward to. Echoing a dynamic score, dancers range from quiet to “razor-like in perilous waves".

Perhaps not for everybody, Eiko & Koma have a long history of presenting evocative slow dances. My wife and I are fans and enjoy the contemplative artistry of this couple and how their deliberative dance causes one to slow down and just feel. Separately this time, they are presenting. Eiko gave some free performances before ADF began and Koma comes to the beautiful 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, NC on July 12 through 14. In his first multi-disciplinary solo project, Koma Otake presents The Ghost Festival. It is sure to be a remarkable experience.

The Festival continues with several other troupes through late July, ending with one of my favorites, Paul Taylor Dance Company. I am excited that they are performing their rich Bach-orchestrated Promethean Fire (2002) that I have enjoyed seeing performed at least twice in the past. Claude Debussy´s music sets the choreography for Images (1977). As if that is not enough, two other dances are also planned, Profiles (1979) and a unique version of the classic Snow White (1983).

ADF tickets are on sale. Full details on tickets, as well as all things ADF, are available at

Note: Photographs and American Dance Festival logo and schedule courtesy of American Dance Festival and used with permission.