As the Reynolds Industries Theatre filled for this year’s ADF Faculty Concert, the support and love from student to teacher and student to student was palpable and contagious with boisterous anticipation. While I felt very welcomed by the joyous staff and the excitement in the air, I wondered how I would be qualified to participate and speak to this intimate family who have spent the last few months together. As I waited, parents, siblings, friends, and the general public showed up to support as well, and quickly fed off the excitement of the other dancers and creators.

As the curtain rose for the first performance, we enjoyed Juilliard-trained Gerri Houlihan‘s “Dance For the Time Being (excerpts)” with a group of eight dancers moving in unison to Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, (2nd and 3rd movements). The ensemble progressed throughout the stage in diagonal lines, and when two dancers were featured together, their movement was warm and cooperative with a sense of peace and belonging. Houlihan is revered and beloved as an ADF instructor, and this was especially evident with the crowd’s raucous applause and cheering at the end of her work.

“Speak Memory” choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi and performed by the powerful Blakeley White-McGuire featured a visually stunning semblance of a woman floating in mid-air but bound to the area as she tried to stretch away from it, always returning again. This piece is a reflection on our relationship to our own memories. As curtain closed, White-McGuire stood top of the black bench as if once again floating freely above the stage, but this time standing upright. For me, Buglisi’s feet are spectacular, reaching and grasping as a sign of the work throughout her entire body as she wrestled with a poem until it emerged.

“1,3,5” left me mesmerized by the live music by John Osburn played live and onstage right behind the dancers. The sounds at the start reminded me on an early morning or late evening on a foggy dock in a seaside town of New England. Robbie Cook and Ellie Goudie-Averill‘s stoic and beautifully calculated movement seemed like a mixture of contact improv and planned yoga poses, consistently keeping me guessing as to where they would take us next/

Stafford C. Berry, Jr, and Kenneth D. Eaddy held the audience in the palms of their hands with “hOw to bUILD a hOuse” (2017). The two made their way methodically across the stage for a soul awakening journey. Berry added a percussive a cappella beatbox that merged into driving house music. At one point when the track went out, Berry yelled up to the sound booth, “Turn the music back up, Hunny!” Adding a sassy spoken word, the house building theme continued with a piece-by-piece armoring of protective clothing: gloves, a vest, a hard hat. A playful and slight dance battle arose and finished out this work, created by Berry to highlight a familial dwelling and queer safe space. This crowd pleaser left me with a longing to see it immediately again.

Anthropocene explored the introduction of humans to earth and the consequences thereafter. Without knowing the definition of Anthropocene, one could certainly feel the both a connection to the earth and a threatening disturbance. Janice Lancaster covered the entire space of the stage with fascinating movements that left me emotional and uneasy. The gorgeous interactions of Cinthia Pérez Navarro and Ray Eliot Schwartz seemed dependent upon each other and often times in great conflict. When Lancaster ran the entire length of the stage to catch Pérez Navarro in her arms, the two became one, and audible gasps arose from the crowd.

Rosanna Tavarez begins “Her Name Was Miriam” by gorgeously grooving to Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” wearing all-white clothing and long golden necklaces. As I turned to my friend and silently mouthed the words of the chorus, the music merged into an audio conversation between Rosanna and her mother. Rosanna’s mother recounts emigrating from the Dominican Republic to New York City in 1972 and working in a jewelry factory while undocumented. The piece quickly turns to heartbreak as she describes the day immigration officers raid the factory and the tragedy that ensues. Everyone should know Miriam’s name and her story. Reflecting on the lyrics of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” tore me apart as mother and daughter describe the loss of someone else’s daughter. As emotional as it was, the beauty, power, tribute, and humanity makes this work one that should be witnessed by as many people as possible.

Liane Burns and Charles Slender-White brought us an exciting sensory experience featuring islated light forms and techno themes. “Platform” is set to Holly Herdon’s 2015 album by the same name, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the music as it’s something I don’t often connect to. The pairing of the lighting, music, and the synchronization of the dancer’s movement echoed the order and uniformity found in a computer system or program and reminded me of humans set on a rigid, daily grind. I think this would be the perfect piece to pair with the art exhibit “You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences” that recently visited the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Quilian “Cue” Arnold‘s “Gospel Gangsta” solidified my suspicions that I have fallen in love with the pairing of spoken word and dance. As Arnold joyfully explores a section of light on an otherwise dark stage, he’s quickly met with the sound of a slap and a voice that says, “Boy, you betta be dancing for Jesus!” This abuse and demand continue more and more frequently until it must be confronted. Church is compared to a hospital; a place where people should be able to heal. I love how this piece explores the contrast of religion and spirituality, and the societal stereotypes that come along with it. Arnold invited the audience to a call and response with one side calling back “GOSPEL!” and the other calling back “GANGSTA!” The eager crowd stayed right with Arnold as he continued dancing and leading the call.

I can add Paul Matteson‘s “How Many Times (excerpt)” to my list of favorites. Matteson is an inspiring creator. I felt this piece way down to the depths of my soul. Performed in spoken word and movement at the very front of the stage, Matteson gave the most animated and passionate delivery I’ve ever seen. Excerpts from “The Garden,” “Frog and Toad Together,” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” as well as work from the artist Moby are featured and intertwined in the children’s story of Frog teaching Toad patience through gardening. Matteson took on every character, including the seedlings, and blended them into seamless and even jolting transitions. The audience was both clearly touched and humored by Matteson’s physically exhausting performance as they erupted in roaring standing ovation. I was left feeling deep empathy for well, everything. Awards should be on the way, and I truly hope I can witness this work again.

Abigail Zbikowski performed choreography by Momar Ndiaye in “Sous la peau d’un autre.” The beautiful sound score and spoken word featured voices of men, women, and a child, which contrasted Zbikowski’s stressful movements. I was anxious as I watched her writhe in a small rectangle of light at the back of the stage. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I just knew I wanted it to resolve and it never did. She eventually became unstuck from her space, only to agonizingly journey to a new spot and carrying her strife with her. A friend well versed in the French language translated the title for me to “Under the skin of another.” It left me craving resolution, which may have been its purpose. I have to applaud Zbikowski for her absolutely convincing and incredibly athletic performance.

The ADF production crew closed the night with “Sergeant Ferri’s Crewland,” the traditional and ever-popular nod to life on the ADF tech crew. Inside jokes and comedic antics moved the crowd to join the festivities with laughter, affirmation and cheers.

In addition to discussing every performance with the friend who joined me, we also connected with group after the show who’d found out about the concert from a local ad. I was honestly a bit surprised to hear they are not ADF students and thoroughly enjoyed discussing each work with them. Thank you to the ADF faculty, staff, students, parents, family, and friends for inviting us in to your glorious summer of creativity, and for a seat at the table of such a special feast.

Don’t miss out! There are still five ADF shows to see this season. To see them, search our calendar.