DANCE REVIEW: American Dance Festival 2010, Part Three: "Past/Forward"

(Author’s note: For Part One of this series, click here.   For Part Two, click here.)

Past/Forward-“Sepia” by Tatiana Baganova, “Inlets 2” by Merce Cunningham (reconstructed by Jean Freebury), and “West Side Story Suite” by Jerome Robbins (reconstructed by Ryan Ghysels)

Past/Forward is a unique part of the ADF that allows the most talented students of the school to perform. It combines one work from the past (in this case the West Side Story Suite), one work from the present (Inlets 2) and a work that looks to the future (Sepia). Despite being performed not exculsively by professional dancers, but by actual students of the Six Week School, it is still considered a part of the festival and was performed at the Duke University theatre.

“Sepia”, which had its world premiere at the ADF this summer, was choreographed by the acclaimed choreographer Tatiana Baganova, who also offered a technique class at the summer program. Having only sampled her class and seen one of her works in progress, I was completely and utterly blown away by this piece. Baganova’s movement is fluid yet staccato, technical yet wild. This piece involved the use of bottles of sand that hung above the dancers, and occasionally the dancers would allow the sand to pour onto them as they moved. There was no coherent storyline, but a motif in the dance seemed to be men and women controlling and manipulating each other through their movements. Baganova’s movement is largely floor-based, and the phrases of movement were enthralling to watch. The dancers rolled, twisted, writhed, connected, fell apart, and bathed in the raining sand. I would have watched the performance had it continued for another hour, and it felt much too short. The music was eerie and haunting and sent shivers down my spine. I didn’t much care for Baganova’s sample class as the movement was extremely difficult for me, but I would love to watch more works by her in the future.

“Inlets 2” was choreographed in 1983 by the late Merce Cunningham and was reconstructed by Jean Freebury. This piece was the first live performance of Cunningham choreography I had ever seen, and while I appreciated the clarity and strength of movement, it was not really engaging or interesting to me. The dancers all were excellent, technically, well trained, but the movement never truly caught my interest. The score was actually quite interesting, consisting of the tranquil sound of water being moved around inside a large conch shell. There was no traditional accompaniment to the dancing. Merce Cunningham is considered of the founders of modern dance, and in this piece it was evident that his movement was a deptarture from classical ballet even as it borrowed its vocabulary, but in contrast to the monumental piece that preceded it, it was underwhelming. The movement was varied, consisting of jumps and large amounts of arm movement, but the piece was pretty, yet seemed cold and emotionless (though that may be due to the dancers, not the choreography itself). I will seize the opportunity to see another Cunningham piece if given the opportunity so that I can form a more educated opinion of his work.

The final piece of the night, Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story Suite”, reconstructed by Ryan Ghysels, was a piece for which I auditioned. I made the first round of callbacks but was sadly dismissed on the second day of auditions. The work consisted of five song-and-dance numbers: the energetic, well-staged Prologue which exhibited the conflict between the Jets and Sharks, the Dance at the Gym where Tony and Maria meet for the first time and which displayed the partner dancing skills of the performers, “Cool”, which was performed with intensity and desperation by the Jet boys, the well-known and beloved “America”, in which the incredible singing of the performer who played Rosalia was apparent, the tense, dramatic, tragic “Rumble”, and the simple, beautiful “Somewhere.” Overall, it was a very well-crafted performance of the more famous numbers of one of the most celebrated musicals of all time. However, I was hoping to see some acting and more singing to complement the dancing, and I was surprised that the number “Cool” was included in the suite while the “Jet Song” wasn’t. The final word on the West Side Story Suite: Entertaining and well danced, but lacking a few key elements that may have changed it for the better.

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