The American Dance Festival and the North Carolina Dance Festival once again teamed up to present a selection of works by North Carolina choreographers. The participants in Here and Now: NC Dances were selected by an outside panel of dancemakers; the show took place in Reynolds Theater, with an immediate repeat that evening.
A lot of work has been going on around the state to nurture local dance, nudging the artists toward greater maturity, and promoting awareness of their work. From Asheville and Charlotte, to Winston-Salem, the Triangle and east to Wilmington, the artists and dance lovers are steadily building a "scene." Prime among the persons and organizations supporting North Carolina dancers have been Jan Van Dyke and the Dance Project/NC Dance Festival, which has, for 24 years, organized touring presentations of selected dance groups. The 25th season, which will begin Sept. 19 in Raleigh, will include two of the choreographers included in this year’s Here and Now: NC Dances program.
The first of these, Anna Barker, artistic director of real.live.people.durham, presented excerpts from her 2014 work, It’s Not Me It's You, as the opening act of Here and Now (the full work opened the Durham Independent Dance Artists season last November). Danced by Barker and Leah Wilks, the excerpts "word vomit," "arrested development," and "oh, right" followed the arc of fresh infatuation/lust/love through ugly spats to a resigned acceptance of need. Set to recorded voices and music by MC Honky and Elvis Presley (a stuttered, truncated mauling of "Only Fools Rush In"), the piece set the dark tone that persisted and deepened throughout the concert. Much of the sound was over-loud, which increased the beleaguered feeling produced by the repeated changes of emotional direction. I found the work depressing – certainly, it is not romantic, or hopeful, and its particularity seemed more inward-looking than outward-looking to the universal – but clearly it resonated with the younger portion of the audience. Barker's choreography had some strong sequences, particularly in the floor work, and a few surprising moments, notably in the duets. Her own dancing flared at times with experienced truth, but Wilks gave a more powerful performance. She is a vibrant dancer, crisp and forceful in motion, with a powerful stage presence and very good form, and she imbued the dance with the considerable strength of her personality.
Although Kristen Jeppsen Groves' [Me]thod (2011) is about policy-making rather than love or its facsimiles, it is another me, me, me work. Conceptually and technically more complex than Barker's piece, it is even more discouraging about the state of our civic lives than It's Not Me It's You is about our love lives. (See video—different cast—here.) A disembodied voice announces the arrival of a pair of "the workers," that is, staffers and lobbyists. They are joined by two elected representatives, who appear as figureheads, or puppets. Late to the dance come two citizens, scurrying in circles, playing catch-up. Once they all get onstage, there’s a good deal of interesting conflict and schmoozing (described in the program as "problem solving and negotiations"), but then comes an overly long section on identity and identifying, which degenerates into a competing chorus of "me" as each dancer shoves ahead of the others. However, the final section is a whirlwind of actual dance with some fine dancing, set to Evelyn Glennie and David Motion's propulsive Battle Cry.
Next up was Karola Lüttringhaus, dancing with Rachael Crawford Goolsby in a section of Lüttringhaus' INERTIA — Remembering the Holocaust (2008). Lüttringhaus is a native Berliner, but she received a BFA in dance and choreography from the NC School of the Arts. Although maintaining her German and European ties, she lives in North Carolina, teaches at Salem College and organizes multi-arts festivals in Wilmington. Her work, even when its meaning or content is unclear, always passionately declares the artist's truth, and this segment, "…Dann Von Deiner Hand," is no exception. Set to the exquisite music of Vivaldi's "Vedro con Mio Diletto," (from Giustino, RV 717) sung by Phillippe Jaroussky, and danced in variously-sized round "rooms" of light here and there on the stage, this piece read clearly of love, constriction, loss, death and survival. Using her well-refined vocabulary of reaching, enfolding, lifting and turning, Lüttringhaus succeeds in making the personal experience universal. Again and again she lifted Goolsby, first in ecstasy, later in terror, spinning with her, serrating the edges of the downlight circles, making the light itself into ripping sawblades that hacked all the safety from the "rooms." The lights come down on a final pietà, as Goolsby's character dies, but not alone, not forgotten.
The evening's final work was a marvelous surprise, and although it utilized spoken texts and songs, it is resistant to wordy explanation. By Shaleigh Comerford and the dancers of her company, with textual assistance from playwright Richard Kirkwood and music written and performed on stage by cellist Isabel Castellvi and pianist Randall Love, Dedicated to [ ] Because of [ ] (and Vice Versa), improbably combines six female dancers in short pale satin gowns with metal folding chairs and – actor Derrick Ivey.
Comerford's dance language, with its mix of Gaga-style freedom of movement and balletic elegance, is well suited to the complex balance of dance theatre. The ensemble's rather gorgeous fluidity and sharp repetitions – and their strange actions, both seductive and evasive – encounter Ivey's massive physicality like ocean waves meeting offshore rock. Ivey provides an explosive counter-force to their lovely powers, a malign dark otherness (the lighting, uncredited, enhances this, glowing on Amelia V.B. Shull's satins; glowering on Ivey) that ranges from creepy to threatening to maudlin to downright frightening. Among other things, he prances through a nasty version of "Sympathy for the Devil." Among the memorable images created by the women, those involving the unforgiving anatomy of metal folding chairs stood out. They sit upon them as if captive, only their limbs free to dance. They stand on them to jump away, but also they lay them sideways on the floor and use them like carapaces, within which they scoot towards safer ground. The program notes talk of exploring the "personal and cultural landscape of gender and violence," and certainly one could read that in the work. But like any significant artwork, Dedicated's symbols and metaphors layer on themselves too thickly for such a simplistic description to do justice to the experience of its larger mystery. One hopes that Comerford will be able to stage this work again in the near future – perhaps in the next DIDA season. And perhaps next year, Here and Now could extend to a two-night run.