Even though ShaLeigh Dance Works’ world premiere of “Bamboo Wind” lasted 55 minutes without intermission, what happened onstage made time stand still on Thursday, Jan. 17 at The Fruit in downtown Durham. The run continued through Sunday, Jan. 20.

It was clear that this cast was completely immersed in this world of bamboo as they cast a spell that drew the audience in.

For this performance, artistic director/choreographer ShaLeigh Comerford assembled artists from the fields of photography, poetry, acting, lighting design  and music as well as dance and all contributed to this atmospheric work that conjured a place where lovers met in bamboo groves and samurai warriors may have collected long, bamboo poles they dried and used as weapons.

At one point in this work, guest performer Majid Bastani picked up such a pole and, with lightning speed, twirled, jabbed and executed other tricky moves but kept enough distance so that the nearby, unarmed dancer Steven James Rodriguez Velez remained unharmed.

(Before he became interested in dance, Bastani was an award-winning Wushu martial artist who wielded sword, spear and shaft.)

Coke Ariail’s poem, “Bamboo Wind,” also provided a springboard for this world premiere. In a program note, he said that rather than replicate his poem, he wanted performers to explore the themes. “Think of the passions within that we come face-to-face with when we allow ourselves to enter the wildness of the heart,” he wrote.

Ariail also created the 14 bamboo sculptures displayed in the bamboo labyrinth off-stage area where photographs by Catharine Carter, Lynne Feiss Necrason and Wojtek Wojonski. Inspired by Ariail’s poem, were projected on screens.

Meanwhile, on stage, actors Dorothy Brown and Michael Foley, appearing together sporadically, spoke poetically of “the bamboo wind’s susurrus rustle” and of “a woman, in a bamboo grove, who waited at night for her lover’s arrival.” The couple Brown and Foley portrayed were drawn to each other but she could never fully commit to a rendezvous in a bamboo grove where Foley said “the sound of maidens whispering desires” could be heard.

Sexual imagery was also used to describe bamboo: “stalks swell with desire” and a bamboo grove referred to as a “grove of savage lust.”

Company apprentice Joyce Emile Raleigh’s costume design that featured long, generously flared turquoise pants for male and female dancers, seemed to catch the wind and send dancers whirling through space.

Dancers’ loud exhalations added to the Bamboo Wind atmosphere.

Spoken word also referred to the warrior’s bamboo inspiration: “Bamboo patterns mark the warrior’s face. She paints his lips black.”

The rare treat of live music composed and performed by accomplished musician Robbie Link, added considerably to this powerful work. His beautiful, expressive cello playing as well as his taped recordings of him playing the accordion, bazuki (the long-necked, plucked lute of Greece) and Steinway Grand Piano, enriched this offering as did his recordings of twittering birds and a rushing New Hope Creek on his property.

Other highlights included the way the woman in red (portrayed by Megan Rindoks) had her flings but ultimately abandoned her last partner, when both were on the floor, by crawling over him and leaving the stage.

Another section earned highlight status because, in decades of covering dance, I’ve seen very few dancers perform in almost complete darkness. In “Bamboo Wind,” the brief, darkened section in which dancers ran this way and that, heightened the drama of a bamboo grove at night.

The most intriguing, unusual movement segment came courtesy of what ShaLeigh Comerford calls “Shaga” – inspired both by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s movement language called Gaga and Comerford’s training method that she said “demands a versatile and open body and mind.”

So, when I saw many performers on their backs lined up close to each other start to vibrate like revved-up, race car engines, I knew Gaga had something to do with it. Part of Gaga training is having dancers make visible in movement a suggested image such as spaghetti in boiling water.

Still, it was amazing to see these dancers intensely vibrating and at the same time, managing to stay together as they moved towards offstage, taking the male dancer on top of them, closer and closer to the end of their line.

This evening ended with two performers doing something that never happened before in this work, which is commit to an intimate relationship. As characters portrayed by Steven James Rodriguez Velez and Anthony Nelson Jr. drew close together on the floor, the rest of the cast, holding what resembled sprays of dried grasses (this could have been bamboo) covered them from view in their own bamboo grove.






RAW Well Done

A Review




The title of this evening of five dance solos may be RAW but what happened turned out to be well-done new ventures by established artists Murielle Elizeon, Tommy Noonan, Matthew Young, Renay Aumiller and Megan Mazarick into new territories without the pressure of creating an entire work.

And, they took the audience right along with them on this adventure in which audiences traveled to performance spaces on the first and second floors as well as the basement of The Fruit, a renovated historic warehouse in downtown Durham, NC.

The 90-minute, 6 p.m. program on Friday, Jan. 11 – the first of a five performance run that concluded on Sunday, Jan. 14 – passed quickly and left me feeling energized by the experience.

Murielle Elizeon kicked off the evening on The Fruit’s first floor with her solo “Cru, Fragments” to “Kap Kap” a track from French singer Ann O’aro’s self-titled 2018 album. This tract, an angry song in Creole about an incestuous father, includes the spoken poetry of Le corps conquis and originated in the Maloya music of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

This solo intensified as Elizeon entered a small garage-like space with metal door rolled up. There, on hands and knees, her hip-driven thrusts got faster, more powerful and animalistic, her face covered by a horse mask, as though she were responding in a visceral way – with her body – instead of intellect.

Tommy Noonan announced his entrance in the large area of the same first floor space by turning on a ceiling light. (He and Elizeon are partners in life as well as in dance ventures.) In a program note, he proclaimed that his solo “Knowing/Half Knowing/Not Knowing” “… is neither a work, nor is it a showing of a work-in-progress. It is the real-time development of raw material … its development requires you as a witness and therefore as a co-creator.”

And, witness they did. And, in turn, Noonan paid attention to the audience – especially a little girl seated on the “front row” on the floor with her mother, when the child made percussive sounds with her feet on the concrete floor.

Fearless summed up the overall effect of Noonan’s movements as he calmly executed what might put a less confident and less in shape person in the hospital.

In one smooth seemingly effortless move, he leaned backwards until he wound up on the floor. Another time, he twisted one leg in such an over-extended way, it’s a wonder the leg didn’t break.

Finally, Noonan spoke of his “score, which could not be developed in a studio but required audience members as witnesses/co-creators.

“It’s a score which allows a dancer to know how to approach the unknown,” he said.

In “Gut Reaction,” Matthew Young literally and figuratively ventured into new territory as he performed a solo for the first time in his 17-year improvisation work with others. And, he was just as present, moment-to-moment, as he is in group work.

This time, his “partners” were the props he furnished his stage space with such as a toilet seat, white curtain split in the middle and a black, floor-to-ceiling, pole.

He dipped a toothbrush into the toilet tank’s water and used it to wash his face. He also pulled a glass full of a lemon-colored liquid out of the tank and took a drink.

Another time, as though the pole was a magnet and he was metal, he seemed to suddenly find himself adhered to the pole. He also resembled a chimpanzee as he jumped and wrapped his legs around the pole.

He also had some magic up his sleeve – or rather – in his pants – maybe in pockets he could somehow open in order to create a trickling sound as a few shinny pennies “dribbled” to the floor followed by a deluge of these coins as he sat on the toilet seat.

Live horn playing by the unseen Danny Grewen punctuated Young’s performance. In the past, Grewen has played three different horns at dance performances at The Fruit: a trumpet, trombone and a brass euphonium horn.

Renay Aumiller and Megan Mazarick wound up the evening in separate performance spaces upstairs in The Fruit.

The title of Aumiller’s solo: “Out of the Blue” could be referring to how it occurred to her to encourage the audience to participate in a computer program that would dictate different scenarios for her to spontaneously create through movements and facial expressions. First, the audience was asked to call out body parts and movement qualities from which Dave Yarwood’s computer program picked one body part and one movement quality for each of the eight sections.

In Section 7, a computer-generated woman’s voice asked Aumiller how she planned to deal with the prompts “flowing” and “eyebrows.”
“I’m trying to figure out how to flow my eyebrows,’ Aumiller responded.

Aumiller’s sense of humor and her inventive movements made her solo great fun to watch.

Megan Mazarick ended the evening with her performance of “Boundaries” in another performance space upstairs. (She returned to this area last year after living in Philadelphia and abroad for over a decade. This is her first appearance in a Durham Independent Dance Artists season.)

In the program note, she explained that for the RAW program, she was “working with more overtly political subject matter.” She first appeared in a red pants suit, blond wig and black heels but not too high. But she didn’t identify her character until she blurted out: “I’m Hillary Clinton.” She proceeded to show how Clinton had really felt about running twice for President and coming up short.  As Hillary,  Mazarick brought up Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and also said she was considering running again in 2020. “I’m about to break the glass.”

After shedding her Hilary clothes, wig, heels and pearls and wearing tights and a sleeveless top, Mazarick alluded to the anxiety of current times but didn’t spell out the source – which I would describe as the worldwide effect of Trump’s reckless, dysfunctional presidency.

She did mention the dictatorship in Hungary as she placed tiny flaps in white putty on the floor as the Hungarian national anthem played.

When a phone rang offstage, she retrieved the red phone with a very long chord. And, it’s Dimitri who “is concerned about something going wrong with a hydrogen bomb,” she said.

At the end, when asked by the man: “How are you?”, she saluted and said: “It’s been a pleasant week so far.” But her facial expression spoke the truth as one side of her mouth grotesquely froze open to one side.



RAW Approach



Dancer/choreographer/founder and artistic director of RAD|Renay Aumiller Dances, Renay Aumiller, with help from four dance artists she admires, came up with a bold approach for an evening of dance. Under the umbrella of Durham Independent Dance Artists’ fifth season, Aumiller and the other artists: Murielle Elizeon, Megan Mazarick, Tommy Noonan and Matthew Young will perform process-based solo work today (Jan. 11), Saturday (Jan. 12) at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday (Jan. 13) at 6 p.m. at The Fruit, 305 S. Dillard St, Durham, NC.

To purchase tickets, go to and click on Season 5.

Audience size is limited to 50 people for each performance.

While all of the performers are taking risks in these solos, each took a unique approach, Aumiller indicated in an email interview.

“What we do have in common is that we are inviting audiences into our process of making dances,” Aumiller said. “These aren’t finished pieces of choreography but they aren’t works-in-progress.”

And, the audience is invited to join in this process, Aumiller added.

“For example, Tommy [Noonan] is performing a solo based on how the audience is witnessing his raw material in real time. Matthew [Young] is inviting the audience to sit in the same space in which he is dancing. And, I am inviting the audience to contribute words or phrases to a computer program that will randomly generate a dance score for me to perform instantaneously,” Aumiller explained.

“The key is the audience is ‘invited’ to participate. Everyone will have the option to simply enjoy what they are watching,” Aumiller added.

But instead of sitting and watching these solos unfold, all audience members will travel to performance spaces in the basement as well as first and second floors of The Fruit, a renovated, historic warehouse in downtown Durham.

Locally based Aumiller, Noonan, Elizeon and Young are no strangers to appearances in past DIDA seasons.

Megan Mazarick will make her DIDA debut in this program.

“She moved back to the area last year after living in Philadelphia and abroad for over a decade,” Aumiller said.

“Megan Mazarick is a choreographer who makes work that is humorous, serious, theatrical and personal, often including a stop-action physicality and love of fantasy,” Aumiller has noted.


Packed Gala


WHAT: ShaLeigh Dance Works’ 2nd Annual “Revolutionaries in the Dark” Gala.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (Dec. 7).

WHERE: Reality Ballroom, 916 Lamond Ave., Durham, NC.

FEATURES: Guest speakers, performers, raffle, wine tastings, hors d’oeuvres and artist after-party.






ShaLeigh Dance Works’ artistic director ShaLeigh Comerford recently offered a glimpse of what’s in store for Gala-goers.

“Internationally acclaimed pianist Alejandro Santoyo is one of the performers,” Comerford said in an email interview.

“His unique approach to music is intended to bring serenity and harmony to his listeners …and [he] rather intentionally designs experiences to soothe souls,” the artistic director added.

Comerford also named Nina Be as the Gala’s honorary guest speaker.

“Nina has been teaching, choreographing and designing wellness programs internationally for over 40 years,” Comerford said. “She is the founder of Live Globally, a non-profit that focuses on education, sustainability and art.”

Working with other like-minded organizations, “Live Globally,” currently supports communities in Nairobi, Kenya and Costa Rica as well as in North Carolina. In Durham, they have developed a mindfulness yoga program to empower individuals and children through movement, fitness, self-expression and creative writing, Comerford added.

When asked about the title of this year’s gala fundraiser, Comerford replied: “We want to celebrate artists that are literally shining a light in dark places by challenging many of society’s deepest assumptions. We are deeply inspired by those providing a voice for others who may not have another way to be heard.”

Her company’s mission includes creating socially conscious work and Comerford employs a unique way to help performers do just that. “We do something called “Shaga,” which is a blend of [Israeli choreographer] Ohad Naharin’s movement language called Gaga and my Empowerment of Identity research,” she said. This training enables dancers to expand their movement potential in order to perform Comerford’s work that demands a versatile and open body and mind, she added.

This is the second year that Comerford’s company has featured consistent membership – as opposed to a pick-cup company in which performers are not always the same.

Company members do not currently receive a salary but are paid performance honorariums, Comerford said.

“They are also donating 11 hours a week to train and rehearse,” she added. “This is such an incredible testament to their commitment … but is not one bit a reflection of their value. This why our Gala and campaign efforts are so deeply important to me. Culturally, we have somehow settled on a gig-economy. This is such a sad social construction for undervaluing artists and just another reason why becoming a pick-up company would essentially give in to supporting this entertainment-only ideology. We do our deepest work off the stage and this is what I want to support.”











Gaspard&Dancers Deliver





On Friday night (Oct. 5, 2018), Gaspard & Dancers delivered an impressive, packed program at Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater that showcased Gaspard Louis’ work and an amazing group of dancers: eight company members as well as 15 Durham students, from high school to elementary.

Bravo to those young people who began the evening on a high note with their performance of “Entropy” by Gaspard Louis. To Michael Wall’s mercurial music, this cast demonstrated a professionalism way beyond their years as well as split-second timing in order to execute fluid movements that shifted constantly into patterns that “painted” the entire stage “canvas”. Louis’ innovative choreography created some surprises such as when two sculptural trios featured a younger dancer in the middle. One trio featured a young dancer sandwiched between the other two. In the other trio, a young dancer, held in a horizontal position, resembled a plane ready for take-off.

In the N.C. premiere of Gaspard Louis’ “No Entry,” eight dancers embodied struggle such as when two women crawled on their stomachs. Mostly, they showed support for each other. Five dancers held hands and turned in a line. Two women hugged. They carried each other.

In a recording, a man’s voice provided a running commentary that seemed especially relevant today when our democracy is threatened.

“… You people have the power to make this life free and beautiful. Fight for a beautiful world. Dictators free themselves but enslave the people. Soldier in the name of democracy. Let us all unite.”

The world premiere of Gaspard Louis’ “Around Within” featured three women: Selina Shida Hack, Gabrielle Loren and Baily Reese who performed mostly in, around and on three chairs. They sat on the chairs. One slid, with the fluidity of Salvador Dali’s clock, to the stage floor. Another time, a chair became a dancer’s platform to demonstrate gymnastic skill in the form of a handstand.

They took turns performing off their chairs.

And, they eamed up for an unusual partnering as a dancer in the center looped one arm around the waists of dancers on either side of her and firmly, with her hands, gripped the dancers’ waists. Then, as though they were light as feathers, she lifted both at the same time. (This reminded me of a past interview with some Pilobolus dancers. When I asked them if they worked out at a gym, one replied: “Pilobolus IS our gym.”)

The first half of the program ended with a welcomed opportunity to see once more Louis’ powerful, moving 2012 “Souke – Shake”, the first of a trilogy he created as tribute to those who died in the Jan. 12, 2010 massive earthquake that killed over 316,000 in Haiti, his homeland, as well as a tribute to the survivors.

On a dimly lit stage shrouded with dense “fog”, this work opened with eight hunched-over performers upstage. As they slid to the floor, they piled on top of each other. One dancer rose, lifted a woman up and others did the same for those still down. Once again, they to yielded to Earth’s tremors. And, once again, some dancers helped others rise and supported them as they walked at a halting gain.   Two male dancers lifted, above their heads, a board -stiff woman. A male dancer pulled a woman, on the floor, into the wings.

Then, we heard the thundering sound of the Earth quaking open. Still trying to survive, the injured ones on their knees, could only make awkward, hopping motions.

At the end, the few survivors picked up the lifeless ones and gently placed them together in a pile on the floor.

After intermission, audiences were treated to Louis’ trilogy on the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat starting with the NC premiere of “27” titled after the fact that Basquiat’s life was tragically cut short when he died at age 27 of a drug overdose on Aug. 12, 1988 in New York City.

The sound of a cow bell signaled this work’s beginning as Frankie Lee III, in the role of Basquiat, delivered a powerful performance. Sitting cross-legged on the stage, his movements signaled drug addiction. His body trembled. Violent shaking of his hands blurred his splayed fingers. On the floor, he curled into a fetal position.

He did not paint. Still, on the backdrop, a large artwork suggested what he had become acclaimed fo: his unique version of Neo-Expressionism that, in addition to thickly applied paint, rapidly rendered subjects and linear characters also included African-inspired elements such as skulls and bones. At first this backdrop image appeared faint but by the end, it became clear with one figure’s head rising above the rest and on his head a crown.

Louis’s 2016 “Portrait” captured a happier time in Basquiat’s life when an invitation to exhibit work at the 1980 NY New Wave Show sparked his meteoric rise; by age 21, he had been on his way to becoming a millionaire.

Between 1981 and 1982, Basquiat created 250 paintings and 500 drawings according to “Rage to Riches,” a biographical documentary that aired on WUNC-TV on Sept. DATE as part of the PBS “American Masters” series.

This documentary included initial responses to this artist’s work in a gallery setting. “Literally, my hair stood up on my neck,” an art dealer said upon seeing Basquiat’s work for the first time.

“Portrait” captured both the energy of Basquiat’s work as well as NYC where he had first attracted attention for his graffiti. He was born in Brooklyn to a Haitian immigrant father and second-generation Puerto Rican mother. She had encouraged Basquiat’s interest in art both in making it and seeing work by masters during many museum trips.

Andrew Hasenpflug’s evocative score added atmosphere; it included the sound of rain drops as well as the rumble of a subway train.

Steven Silverleaf’s colorful, abstract paintings on the backdrop contributed to the scene. And, costumes, splotched with multi-colored dabs, by Jessica Alexander and Kristine Liwag, enhanced the painterly expressions of dancers’ movements. At times, these movements evoked the linear, stick-like figures of Basquiat’s work such as when a male dancer, low to the floor, moved through an archway created by two standing dancers.

The mood turned dark in Louis’ 2017 “Pothos” (Greek word for longing for or in

search of).

Basquiat had longed for acceptance as an artist by both New York society and his father, an accountant, who did not consider art as a profession. He may have changed his mind, however, after his son’s death. In the preface of a 1999 catalogue for a show of Basquiat’s work at a museum in Trieste, Italy, publishers had expressed gratitude to Basquiat’s father for his permission to reproduce his son’s art in the catalogue. One of those images dated 1981 consisted of a real, vintage yellow refrigerator on which the artist had drawn and collaged. And, on the facing catalogue page, the artist’s quote: “Papa, I will be very very famous one day.”

“Pothos” began to achingly beautiful, cello music in a recorded score composed and performed by Andrew Hasenpflug on cello and percussionist Robert Cantrell as , alone upstage in black shirt and pants, Frankie Lee III, as Basquiat, made broad gestures with his hands as though he were painting.

Later, performances by that same dancer and a female dancer, on and around a cube, evoked the anguish of drug abuse manifested by uncontrollable shaking as well as slowed-down motions. Sometimes, these two provided comfort for each other such as when they held each other.

Other dancers also embodied struggle as Starmer’s cello produced frenzied, tortured sounds to Cantrell’s ominous percussion.

This work ended as it began as “Basquiat” (Frankie Lee 111) extended an arm as though he were about to start another painting – a poignant reminder of how much more the artist might have accomplished had he not died so young.







Students’ Footprints




The American Dance Festival’s “Footprints” program ended this 87th season on a high note in performances Friday, July 20 and Saturday, July 21, 2018 at Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater.

In it, a total of twenty-five ADF students showed what they could do in three ADF-commissioned world premieres by choreographers Jillian Pena, Dafi Altabeb and Abby Zbikowski, who worked with the students during the festival to create these works.

Pena’s “Empire” began while audience members were filing into the theater on Saturday, July 21. On a stage covered in white marked by a black grid, three floor-bound female performers went through a repeated sequence of poses that included sitting, braced by their arms, legs together and toes pointed. In another position, they held onto one raised one leg as, still on the floor, they turned in a circle.

In addition to gray shorts, they all wore sparkling silver or golden capes trimmed at the top with a crown-like ruff that was almost as tall as their heads.

I liked this “Empire” already, I told myself. There was something other-worldly about it that borrowed from history in a futuristic way. (It would be some time before I had a chance to give a thorough reading of program notes. And, when I did, I saw a Bibliography – something I have rarely if ever seen in an ADF program. The bibliography of 33 sources included Astral Projections, Tonya Harding, Difficult Moms, “Lord of the Flies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

M-m-m. Those capes had resonated with me but I couldn’t pinpoint it then. These performers also communicated the sense of being constricted, bound to someone else’s demands so their movements gave them something to do to pass the time. So, maybe Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaids Tale” could have been an influence for this section. Now that I think about it, those three silver chandeliers suspended above the stage could have been keeping a watchful eye.

As “Empire” officially began in earnest, those three women rose and hurled their capes into the wings and soon all of the cast members came onstage.And, they acted like they didn’t know where they were or what the native language was so they repeatedly used nonsensical sounds..

When they found their voices, individuals called out: “Is this a game?” “What are the rules?” “Do we follow the rules?” “Are we having fun?” in a child-like voice, another asked “Are we on vacation?”

Dancers stood on the balls of their feet and made the sound of escaping steam. They spoke of love and rejection. And, looking to the future they individually said:

“Do you think we can do it?”

“I think we can.”

“Is it even possible?”

“It won’t be easy.”

Then, all performers, except for one, chorused: “We have to win the game. We were chosen.”

And, that one person responded: “Not me.”

“Fight or Flight” seemed to take emotional cues of youthful exuberance and anguish from the music. To Dvorak’s beautiful “Romance for Piano and Violin Op. 11,” the 13-member cast ran this way and that and, in a group, jogged, arms bent and pumping. A dancer ran and jumped into the arms of another. A female performer in a red dress suddenly shimmied while on her knees and later while moving amongst other dancers, she shimmied again.

Still, there was foreshadowing of anguish. A female dancer positioned herself face-down on the floor where she was still. Another female dancer seemed on the verge of falling as she made slipping and sliding motions.

The most anguish, however, was communicated, albeit with some humor and perhaps some exaggeration, in Samuel Elizondo’s monologue that seemed to be autobiographical as he spoke of being in a cabin with friends and hearing what sounded like a growl. “I thought it was probably my stomach. Then, I heard it again. They left me to die,” he said of his friends. …”They came out of the bushes and latched onto my legs. Then, I realized it was a very horny rabbit humping my leg.”

He had also felt alone when he had taken a hot yoga class. As he talked, he demonstrated downward dog and warrior poses. “Besides almost passing out, I was farting all the time. I hate when other people laugh at me,” Elizondo said.

He had also felt crushed in ballet class at the beginning of his freshman year of college. “Someone came up to me and said they could see my stomach over my tights. I went a week only drinking water and [eating] a few crackers. “

He added that he had taken a knife and tried to cut “his body” off.

By this time, we’re hearing the 1979 “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure’, an English rock band. Elizondo dropped to the floor. Leaping dancers filled the stage while he remained still. Finally, cast members stood facing the audience except for Elizondo, who jogged in place.



Cheering fellow dancers on occurred before the curtain rose on Abby Zbikowkski’s “Tectonic”. And, they would need it in what would be an intensely physical workout in which contact with the floor was a goal. They were all wearing knee pads.

Some cast members continued to yell encouragement from the wings as a dancer slid on one knee and then the other knee and another took a staggering step and fell on first one side and then the other side of her body..

In a squatting position, a male dancer defined constant motion. A male dancer performed multiple handstands so fast his motions blurred. Another time, one of the guys, on his hands and knees, kept pounding one knee hard on the floor. “Good job!”, someone shouted from the wings.

A female dancer executed a handstand, legs spread and a male dancer catapulted himself through the opening.

Then, there was the section when together, multiple dancers resembled box shapes as they bumped, on their knee caps across the stage.

Briefly, we saw the opposite of fast and constant hard knocks. A female dancer walked slowly as though she meant it. A member of the cast said: “Breathe” and they did. The group moved slowly the sound of their breathing their only music.

A nanosecond later – or so it seemed – the cast, running fast, swarmed.

“Tectonic” was the second ADF-commissioned world premiere by Abby Zbikowski performed this season. The first, “Indestructible,” was part of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s program that opened the season. In it, company members showed powerful strength and endurance. And, so did those ADF students in “Tectonic.”







The American Dance Festival’s “Wondrous Women” program, on July 13 and July 14, 2018 at Durham, NC’s Carolina Theatre, gave five women dance makers a chance to go solo, each in her own inimitable way, in work that also drew from their various cultures: Chinese, Indian (India), African as well as American.

In Camille A. Brown’s “ink,” a solo excerpt from her trilogy about identity, three drummers (one was Atiba Morales, the other two unnamed in the program) performed live, two on traditional African Djembe drums.

Brown, who sat on a box, made a big, sweeping gesture with her right hand, fingers splayed, and then shook her hands so hard they blurred as though the rhythms were shooting out through her finger tips.

When she slumped over, a drummer, as though trying to coax her back, played light rhythms.

It must have worked because eventually she crouched and erupted into a flurry of movements then placed a white handkerchief onstage. In response, a percussionist answered with his drumming. And, then, Brown picked up the handkerchief and waved it as though to signal her intent in her trilogy to celebrate … “traditions of the African diaspora” [in order] “to reclaim African American narratives.”

“ink” completes Brown’s trilogy about identity that began with her 2013

“Mr. TOL E. RAnce,” which ADF audiences saw in July, 2013 and Duke University brings back in March, 2019, In it, Brown celebrates the humor and perseverance of black performers and also examines the stereotypical roles dominating current Black culture.

In her world premiere, “Ishvara,” Aparna Ramaswamy, created a new work from both her perspective as a first generation Indian American as well as influences of her home country of India where she was immersed in centuries-old traditions of dance, music and poetry in which nature and the Divine are intertwined.

And, because there is no dance without music in India’s culture, this work featured a new musical composition by Smt. Prema Ramamurthy and musical arrangement by Ramaswamy and her mother Ranee Ramaswany, who founded the Minneapolis-based company, Ragamala, in 1992.

The recording featured a four-member ensemble whose instruments included the violin as well as percussive instruments that included the use of voice and cymbals as well as the ancient Indian mridangam, a double-headed wooden drum, which according to Hindiumythology, was preferred by a number of deities including Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.

There were no obstacles to the poetry in motion that Aparna Ramaswamy embodied in her intensely present, joyful performance.

Early on, even her traditional apparel – red and orange top, bulbous pants gathered at the ankles and an accordion-pleated attachment at her waist, created a wow factor when she assumed a wide stance and and the accordion pleats dramatically fanned out.

Her hands also “spoke” with intricate articulations. Her arms undulated as her hands turned and swooped like birds. At one point, she drew attention to her extremely wide open, expressive eyes framed by splayed fingers over her face.

The bare-footed stamp of her feet added to the percussive sounds of the recorded music. And, her feet blurred as she took small, quick steps as the music sped, at breakneck pace, to the end of her performance.

In the world premiere of her solo, “The Invisible Entanglement,” Beijing’s Yabin Wang drew from her culture as well as from her experience as an American Dance Festival student in 2010 when, in the International Choreographers in Residence program, she performed in the premiere of “Sepia” by Russian choreographer Tatiana Baganova.

“It opened up a whole new world to me. My background was in Chinese classical dance,” she said, of that experience, at the post-performance talk.

Recorded music for her solo featured both Song Zhao on cello and Du Dapeng on Guqin, an ancient Chinese seven-stringed instrument that the musician plucks.

Her new solo opened with a modern look as, wearing a knee-length, black dress and knee guards, her hair long and dark, she stood, back to the audience, on a smoke-filled stage lit by rays of light. She swayed, head down, hair covering her face. To the cataclysmic whine of Song Zhao’s cello and wordless, ethereal-sounding voices, she calmly sat and pulled her long hair into a ponytail.

In other moves, she slowly revolved in a spotlight, crouched close to the stage floor then softly collapsed.  At one point, arms crossed and held close to her chest, she seemed to be struggling against herself.

In partial darkness on the stage floor, her movements were somewhat obscured on purpose it turned out so that she could work some transformative magic by donning a jacket with extremely long sleeves that cascaded to the floor when she stood up. She then proceeded, with vigorous arm movements, to whip and undulate the long sleeves to create patterns that were mesmerizing. In doing so, she emulated a dramatic, ancient form of Chinese dance that incorporates long, colorful ribbons or sleeves. It proved a great way to end her solo.

For her world premiere of “Phase 4: In God’s Design We Trust,” Brooklyn-born Rhapsody James took a multi-media approach for the four phases of her creative life told through spoken word, large, colorful backdrops and video footage as well as some of her signature, fusion-style Street Jazz moves.

For “Phase 1: Creative Birth,” an explosive sun burst appeared on the backdrop and also the reminder that “The Gift Is Nothing Without Work.”

For Phase Two: “The Confident Gift,” bright, many-colored swirls filled the screen. For “The Wrong Turn” section of this phase, the scowling faces of black men appeared on the backdrop. James, bent-over, eyes rolled back, acted as though she was looking for a way out. Then she violently shook her body.

“Phase Three: “The Temptation,” began with James making weeping motions as she stood with a microphone and then offered a comforting thought: “When you are lost, you can be found.”

Then, for “Phase 4: “In God We Trust,” James, sitting in a chair, offered an affirmation of “trusting in God’s design – that you are where you are meant to be.”

As if in answer to God’s design, manifested in nature, we saw, on the backdrop, a breathtaking beautiful filmed scene of rays of light on ocean water and then a shore line and water swirling back out to sea.

In the post-performance talk, James said: “This is the first time I have ever done a solo in my entire career” and that she had found the process interesting. She initially earned a reputation choreographing work in the commercial dance industry in which she began as lead choreographer for the NBA New Jersey Nets Dance Team and also appeared as a principal dancer in Busta Rhymes’ music video “Put Your Hands Where Your Eyes Can See.”  James has also earned a reputation as a teacher of hip hop and is also known as the “Queen of Street Jazz.”

Michelle Dorrance rounded out the evening, which also marked her American Dance Festival debut, with the world premiere of “thenow” to music by Colin Stetson and Sarah Newfield. That Dorrance received cheers from the audience before she started dancing came as no surprise because the Chapel Hill native has performed here many times both as a member of Gene Medler’s North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble and numerous guest appearances as a professional hoofer. The hometown crowd has also followed her meteoric rise as a star in the professional tap world with a host of honors that include Bessie Awards and selection as a 2015 MacArthur Fellow. She’s even appeared on The Late Show to teach host Stephen Colbert some tap steps.

Dorrance has earned a reputation for her innovations that have expanded what tap can be. And, the “Wondrous Women’ program was no exception.

She began “thenow” in the dark, perhaps her way of encouraging the audience to listen to the percussive sounds she made with her white, laced up, tap shoes. Microphones set up in a circle close to the stage floor even picked up the initial sound of her walking as well as how the tap sounds slurred as she picked up speed. Then, she sped up so much her legs were a blur. Even when she hit the fourth gear of breakneck speed, each tap, crisply articulated, could still be heard.

At one point – and this is where I remember it happening – stage lights came on as center stage, profile to the audience, Dorrance wind-milled her arms as she leaned forward. In her next dramatic move, she resembled an exclamation mark as she balanced on the toes of her tap shoes. Once again, she accelerated to the point that the rhythms of her feet rippled through her body.

Finally, a flurry of motion – I was going to say like a fast-moving train – only she was barreling backwards.

Little did we know while watching her performance that Dorrance had found it quite a challenge to choreograph a completely set work. “It’s very rare I’ll choreograph a solo,” she said in the post-performance talk. “Tap, at the root, is an improvisational form. Gene Medler – he had us improvise,” she added.

So, Dorrance said that her biggest challenge in the performance of her solo was to stick to the structure she had created.






A.I.M. Moves





An American Dance Festival audience had a decision to make before the 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, (2018) performance of “Dearest Home” by Kyle Abraham’s Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M.).

Seated in the Rubenstein Arts Center’s intimate theater, we had two choices: to watch and listen to music delivered through a head set or watch in silence. ADF director Jodee Nimerichter cautioned those who opted for the music to make sure no sounds leaked out. That’s because dancers had learned Abraham’s 2017 60-minute work in silence and have continued to perform it that way.

I chose silence because of the new experience it offered and also because I felt stressed due to having to hunt for a parking place and then scrambling to get to the performance in time.

Turns out that the silence helped me feel calmer and, at the same time, my senses were heightened. In that state, the rhythms of dancers’ movements created a music all their own as they expressed love, loss and longing – themes Kyle Abraham said, in a program note, that he had chosen for “Dearest Home” because “these themes have the capacity to heal and bring people together.”

Abraham added, in his program note, that he had not known that, after announcing the world premier date of “Dearest Home,” that during the ensuing year , …“ I would lose my mother … or end a relationship with the man I thought I would marry.”

Having arrived to this performance in the nick of time, I had no time to read that program note then. I did, after seeing the performance, start to think of what the title “Dearest Home” evoked for me – that in a loving relationship, there’s a feeling of being in a safe harbor, of being home.

The cast that included Raleigh native Kayla Farrish as well as Tamisha Guy, Catherine Ellis Kirk, Marcella Lewis, Matthew Baker and Jeremy “Jae” Neal, communicated their roles not only with movement but also through facial expressions and gestures.

Those roles revolved around looking for love whether it be between two men, two women and a woman and a man. Interactions were sometimes playful or intense or erotic.

At one point, as the two men vied for one of the women, all three became tangled in a knot of struggle that resulted in Neal’s character winning while Baker’s character, alone, danced out his frustration.

When Baker’s character reappeared near the end of “Dearest Home,” it was clear that he still felt heart-broken as, overcome by sobs, he doubled over. We could still hear his crying after he had left the performance area.

This work ended as Neal, now alone, moved into a very dim spotlight on a dark stage. There, most of his brief movements were obscured by the absence of enough illumination but I did see him get down on one knee and make his exit.


Museum Romp





RALEIGH – On Monday, July 16, 2018, the NC Museum of Art was closed to regular visitors but not to people who purchased tickets to see the American Dance Festival debut of Israel’s Dana Ruttenberg Dance Group performing “Naba 2.0” in the museum’s West Building.

The troupe, based in Tel Aviv, gave a total of eight performances from Saturday, July 14, through Tuesday, July 17.

The 2 p.m. Tuesday performance offered an experience that was interactive, innovative and immensely funny with some impressive dancing by Tal Adler Arieli, Carmel Ben-Asher, Gilad Jerusalmy and Noa Shiloh in the roles of museum guides.

The interactive factor turned out to be pre-programed audio guides (like those actually used by museums). Dance attendees were instructed how to first choose between hearing music or narration then punch the corresponding number, then the green button – and, voila! – we had our soundtrack for individual sections. The choice options were identified on large, white signs dancers held up.

For instance, when I chose “Carmel”, I heard what sounded like biographical information about one of the dancers: Carmel Ben-Asher, born in 1994. She had had problems with her left leg but still joined the Israeli swimming team and then took up horse-back riding until she fell off a horse, according to the narrator. “Her last resort was dance,” he added.

When he said the part about her fall from a horse, all four dancers fell on their butts. Yes, there was plenty of dancing to see as we listened to the soundtracks.

As I listened to “Peru’s” romantic guitar music and woman’s singing in Spanish, I saw a male tour guide scoot under the “bridge” made by a female tour guide’s bowed back supported by her arms and legs. When she faced him, she put one foot on his chest and left to dance happily by herself albeit in a somewhat flirty way.

Sometimes the dancing suggested a landscape, a tableau or the sheer energy that radiated from some of the art work. Dancing also took on a sculptural look most evident when the two male dancers Tal Adler Arieli and Gilad Jerusalmy performed in an outside courtyard where a number of black, metal sculptures stood.

Since the women in the audience were instructed to choose one listening option, I was treated to the theme from the film “2001 A Space Odyssey,” as outside in sweltering heat, dancers performed a series of shifting, weigh-bearing maneuvers as they lifted, held each other upside down and even in airplane position (horizontal and to the side of the supporting partner). Separately, they soared like rocket ships.

When these dancers finished and re-entered the museum, they were breathing heavily and drenched with sweat. Good thing the program did not call for anymore dancing. Instead, both the Israeli performers and audience were instructed to relax on their backs and listen to a female artist talk about her all-white painting, “The White Lie.” She said, among other things, “In this work, I was in alignment with God” and “The motto that led me was less is more.”

She also noted that her painting evoked more than just the color white such as “milk without a glass” and “an Eskimo landscape.”

The audio recording ended as the narrator said that listeners should also consider “the work you yourself have created in your minds during the past eight minutes.”

I know I’ll never look at a white painting as just a color again.

Rosie Returns







The Miami-based Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre has delighted American Dance Festival audiences in four previous ADF performances here that were informed by Rosie Herrera’s keen sense of humor, vivid imagination, eclectic music and inclusive cast. And, performances this summer of 2018 proved to be no exception.

Who else would have thought of using slices of what resembled processed luncheon meat as both prop and food in “Carne Viva,” the first number in the program on Friday, July 6 at Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater. And, then there was the world premiere of “Make Believe” in which a jumbo, inflated castle-shaped structure took on human qualities.

Also, this company embodies a Latin American vibe: current company members hail from Cuba while artistic director Herrera is Cuban-American. Her company has always welcomed diversity and performances often have a show-style flair.

The program opened with “Carne Viva” (literal translation: “long live meat” although there may be a colloquial meaning associated with “carne”, a Spanish feminine noun).

It opened with the tall, muscular Simon Thomas-Train taking on an endurance challenge as he repeatedly hoisted a female dancer above his head and held her there, his hands under her arm pits, until his body started to shake from the effort. Then, he lowered her and repeated this process longer than seemed humanly possible.

Enter three female performers who placed meat on his thighs as he sat cross-legged, perhaps to re-energize him after his heroic efforts. But he didn’t eat the meat. Instead, the women ravenously consumed the protein. And, at least one of them needed it as she inserted her head in his arm pit as he was prone (face down), his body in a “star” position, arms and legs spread wide, and pushed him around on the floor.

And, two of the women needed the meat for the fight between them. And, I mean a hard-scrabble, strange form of wrestling that was over-the-top. They crawled over each other. One rolled the other like a log into her lap. They scrambled and scraped, separated and went at it over and over until all they could do was hold onto each other, their breathing labored.

The world premiere of the American Dance Festival co-commissioned “Make Believe” provided a number of imaginative experiences.

It began with the full cast: Ivonne Batanero, Abel Berenguer, Loren Davidson, Rayne J. Raney, Katie Stirman, Simon Thomas-Train and Elaine Wright, dressed in sparkly red and white costumes. They clasped hands and shimmied as though to say “It’s show time.” To club music, five dancers slapped their bodies, clapped their hands, punched fists into the air and jumped, arms thrown up.

When music stopped suddenly, the scene shifted to some women cast members using healing touch on a woman, who appeared to be older than cast members. When they left her alone, she stood still, reached out with her hands, her mouth open in a silent scream. She covered her mouth and made an eerie sound.

To Astrud Gilberto’s bossa nova hit “The Look of Love,” cast members joined her and danced while she stood still.

To say there was a lot more going on in “Make Believe” would be an understatement and there’s no way to recount it all here so I’m fast-forwarding to the mega imaginative last section that began as a performer struggled to pull an elephantine object upstage and there it “slept”  until finally “it” began to “grow” almost crushing a male dancer who had collapsed on this form. Soon, it mushroomed, thanks to air that “magically” filled it. And, what to my eyes should appear but a ginormous, four-turreted castle with an area in the center for bounding. None of the cast bounced there. But the man who had the close call and the female dancer he met on the castle’s front step, proceeded to explore underneath the object. First, he held up a corner of the castle and she ventured under it and performed a head roll. Still underneath, the couple, on their backs, supported their end of the castle by bracing their feet on the bottom. Then, they stood and he supported that corner until, in a split second, he grabbed her and together they shot out from under the castle just in time before it lumbered down.

The last image proved a delightful surprise as all humans gone, the four turrets, two on each side, suddenly started moving their “heads” and bodies as though, as though – they were dancing.