As in past seasons of the American Dance Festival (ADF), this lively concert featured staff musicians, accompanists, and guest artists with connections to the festival in a special evening of eclectic programming spanning centuries of music history and providing a lively cross-section of dance-inspired music and music-inspired dance alike. Even before the first performers arrived onstage, the hall was abuzz with dancers, teachers, students, and friends of ADF, immediately establishing its intimate yet high-caliber tradition: a family of artists separated only by distance, with this their chance to reconnect.
Longtime ADF contributor, composer, and pianist Claudia Howard Queen introduced the first work, her "Meditation" in C minor, accompanied by ADF mainstay Robin Hasenpflug on the cello. Queen explained the idyllic meditation spot she works in back home, and how she was daydreaming about returning to ADF this year and attending Gerri Houlihan's popular class. "Meditation" is lyric and expressive, full of yearning minor chords offset by hopeful and exciting motion. Hasenpflug's contemplative cello melodies balanced against quicker, heavier chords on the acoustic, upright piano ended up a satisfying blend of delicate improvisation and lush movement and resolution, grounded in a classical style but obviously heavily influenced by the motion and natural beauty of dance.
In contrast came Matthew Dixon's "The Conjuring," an all-percussion jam fest backed by lightly melodic electronics. Dixon, on a modern drum set, was accompanied by djembe and dun dun players Khalid Saleem, Atiba Rorie, and John Osburn. These more traditional African instruments provided interesting layering with the more modern sounds and wordlessly described how dance probably evolved out of these traditional infectious rhythms. All four men seemed to be having a great time, Dixon's long hair flying and Rorie giggling and writhing with delight at what they were creating.
Leaping ahead into contemporary classical stylings was Andy Hasenpflug's "Autumn Circles," an acoustic-electronic mixture of guitar, vocals, and computer-generated and manipulated sounds, using an ancient Chinese text, as he explained, to make traditionally religious chant music "transcend religion" and be accessible to any faith or spirituality. While his setup seemed elaborate – an amplifier plugged from his guitar to his computer and back again with an unbelievable number of power cords – the performance was deceptively simple. He utilized a delicate yet evocative falsetto, coupled with delicious overtones and scraping string sounds to imitate a breeze kicking up, throwing things into chaos, and finally quieting down and carrying the words away.
Jefferson Dalby presented a delightful change of pace, offering two Goldberg Variations (J.S. Bach) in his own improvisational bluesy jazz style. He was accompanied by Saleem, again on the djembe, and floated in and out of recognizable Bach melodies and developments subtly enough always to retain the elegance and Bach and his own smooth style. Rorie and Africa Unplugged took the stage next, performing on a similar theme. They combined a standard blues bass line with percussion and rhythmic layers influenced by African roots, and on several djembes and other similar instruments.
After a brief intermission to unplug and re-plug some of the many cords on stage (and roll away a few djembes), Tom Kanthak entered to explain a little about the International Guild of Musicians in Dance (IGOMID), whose memebrs have been participating in a special summer retreat just for ADF. The collaborative work that he performed with several members of ADF who are affiliated with IGOMID was, appropriately, titled Retreat. It contains a little bit of everything. He and Natalie Gilbert, along with several other staff pianists, performed first a four-hand duet, then a six-hand trio, and eventually an eight-hand quartet that forced them to have to rotate positions and trade places on the piano bench. They were joined by Vladimir Espinosa, Douglass Corbin, and John Hanks, playing a myriad of percussion instruments or drumming on pieces of luggage while tearing up pieces of paper and doing all manner of noisy things. It was as much a skit, if not more so, than a musical piece, but still a lot of fun.
The next performance was Robin and Andy Hasenpflug's "Bach, Interrupted," featuring one of Bach's solo cello suites, with Andy on the cajon, a boxlike percussion instrument one sits on and strikes in different ways to create different sounds. Their performance was a great look at what a couple practicing at home, with children, might be like, as their phones rang and their children interrupted them several times in increasingly annoying – but endearing – ways. By itself, the musical aspect of the performance was engaging and unique, but the couple capitalized on having the whole family there for ADF, as they undoubtedly must when the couple is working every summer!
Eric Mullis, accompanied by clarinetist Brent Bagwell, guitarist Troy Conn, and bassist John Shaughnessy, performed "Land of Nod," a work featuring passages from Genesis 4:1-18, which contains the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Mullis, as in years past, performed recitation and seated dance choreography, this time accompanied by a sparse harmonic undercurrent. The piece is repetitive but strong, building in its rhythmic intensity and unraveling into frantic-sounding trills and tremolos. Mullis is an excellent performer and this piece was a crowd favorite due to its unique blend of text, music, and dance.
A short reappearance of Jefferson Dalby followed while the final act was assembling and setting up. He performed Ivory Joe Hunter's "Since I Met You Baby," another joyous, rollicking jazz tune, this time providing his own enthusiastic vocals to the performance.
The main event, it seemed, after its rousing success last year, was the performance by Saleem and CommUNITY, featuring professionals, teachers, students, and complete amateurs, all linked by percussion and energy. Their take on traditional-inspired rhythms was interspersed with solos by Rorie and others, all partying together and encouraging clapping, nodding, dancing, or whatever form of expression the audience wanted to take. Saleem explained that the piece was "participatory," in that "when you feel the beat – and you will feel the beat – clap!" Only seconds into the piece, audience members leapt into the aisles to begin dancing, and they wouldn't stop until after they received an encore. If ADF hadn't felt like a family gathering before, seeing over half of the audience dance in all kinds of different ways with no trace of judgement certainly made this clear.
All ADF musicians' bios can be read here. ADF continues through July 21 with dance performances, classes, and workshops with staff, students, and visiting artists and companies. You can read a review of last year's musicians concert here.