IMPRESSIONS OF: The American Dance Guild Festival- Sept 6-9th 2012Return To Features
Honoring The Past and Celebrating The Future
Honoring the Past and Celebrating the Future of DanceThe American Dance Guild at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, Joan Weill Center for Dance
New York, New York
September 17th, 2012
Veronica Hackethal for The Dance Enthusiast
(special thanks to Klaus Lucka ,Yi-Chun Wu and American Dance Guild for the beautiful images.)
On the weekend of September 6th through September 9th, 2012 the American Dance Guild , a veteran supporter of American dance since 1956, served up a feast of contemporary dance. Thirty-three dance companies lit up the stage at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, Joan Weill Center for Dance. The highlight of the festival included revivals of signature works by honoree choreographers Dianne McIntyre and Elaine Summers.
Every year at its annual performance festival, the American Dance Guild honors two choreographers for their lifetime achievements in dance. Usually the honorees include one living, one dead, but this year American Dance Guild broke with tradition and honored two living choreographers.
Summers, aged 88 and still vital in the New York dance scene, is known for her pioneering work in post-modern dance, as well as innovations combining dance, film, and intermedia. An original member of the avant-garde dance group Judson Dance Theater, Summers’ work has influenced a generation of dancers. She is also recognized for creating the movement technique Kinetic Awareness (“ball technique”).
McIntyre graced New York with a visit from Cleveland, where she now resides. Active in the Harlem dance scene in the 1970s and 1980s, McIntyre is known for integrating live jazz performance with African American-inspired choreography. The recipient of multiple awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from SUNY Purchase, 3 Bessie awards, 2 AUDELCOS (New York Black Theatre), a Helen Hayes Award (DC Theatre), and an Emmy nomination for her choreography in HBO’s Miss Evers’ Boys, McIntyre’s work has been performed on stage, film, and TV. She has created pieces for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Cleo Parker Robbins Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, GroundWorks, and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
On opening night, the audience was treated to works by both women. The program’s first half ended with a re-working of Summers’ Windows in The Kitchen, a film shot in 1981 portraying Matt Turney dancing with light in the kitchen's over-sized windows. The film projected onscreen in the middle of the stage, while Douglas Dunn performed to Jon Gibson’s improvisations on solo flute. Dunn was dressed in bright red pants and a printed yellow shirt, an outfit that matched his playful improvisations. He shrugged his shoulders, spun, and twirled to Gibson’s ethereal notes. But the centerpiece remained the film: the beauty of Turney’s extensions, the seeming eternity of a slow motion jump, Turney’s transfixion with light pouring through the windows -- the seductive power of simplicity.
Opening night concluded with McIntyre’s Life’s Force. Once a signature work of her company, Sounds in Motion, Life’s Force has not been performed since the 1980s. For the American Dance Guild Festival, McIntyre planned a type of reunion, expanding the original number of dancers from five to twenty-one and bringing back dancers and musicians from the decades 1972 through 2012. The performance began when a four piece jazz band burst out with Ahmed Abdullah’s music. It was followed by dancers exploding equally joyously onto the stage. The crowd could not help but clap along as the performers filled the stage with the power and energy of dance. And when McIntyre came onstage, her still lithe, long-limbed body playing sinuously with the rhythms, the crowd cheered even more. There was an extended interlude during which McIntyre improvised with members of the company, followed by an exuberant finale. With all twenty-one dancers filling the stage, I thought, “So what if some of them overflow their costumes these days, they still can move. And they make me want to move.” And then I wondered, “What must Life’s Force have been like back in the day?” That surely would have been a performance to remember.
A repeat performance of Life’s Force was given on Saturday night. Windows in the Kitchen was repeated on Friday along with a reprisal of Summers’ Invitation to Secret Dancers (1973), which is based on the premise that “everybody is a dancer.” At the end of Friday’s performance the audience was invited onstage for free and open improvisation to music by the Sky Movement Ensemble. Archival images of Invitation to Secret Dancers, filmed on the East River, were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. At first hesitant, audience members gradually loosened up and joined Summers onstage. People twirled, twisted, cartwheeled, skipped, jumped, and generally enjoyed letting their inner child run loose.
Other highlights of the festival included Hee Ra Yoo’s 160 Miles. Yoo is originally from South Korea and 160 Miles presumably refers to the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. Centered on the theme of constriction, the dancers, in cream-colored body suits crisscrossed with rope-like designs, peeled lines of tape from the floor, and then rolled across the stage, binding themselves up in the stuff. At the finale, one dancer balanced precipitously on a line of tape. She balanced for so long on a single foot that I wondered, “When will she ever find a safe place to put the other one?”
Sue Bernhard’s Breathing the Water was a trip to the seashore. Four dancers, in silky blue undulated wave-like, moving fluidly to contemplative music. In the final gesture, lying on their backs, they synchronously lowered their arms, laying their palms upon the stage in a gentle exhale.
Dawn Robinson’s Tribute, set to text by Maya Angelou, was as sultry and powerful as Angelou’s words. When Robinson strutted her stuff to the line, “Phenomenally woman. I am a phenomenal woman,” the crowd rippled with agreement. And they were with her to the end as she clasped her hands to her chest and gazed up to the heavens. Though the narrator read, “I shall not be moved,” Robinson’s dance was anything but dispassionate.
To Read an earlier interview with Dianne McIntyre on The Dance Enthusiast click here
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