In their first performance since the beginning of the pandemic, BODYTRAFFIC brought with them, all the way from L.A., entertaining and edgy contemporary dance for this penultimate performance at  American Dance Festival 2021’s “Together We Dance.”

Jodee Nimerichter, Executive Director for ADF, thanked the “small but mighty staff” and the generous support of the North Carolina Museum of Art, where for the first time in ADF history, all of the festival performances took place at the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr. Theater at the Museum Park. Speaking on behalf of NCMA, the director of performing arts and film, Moses T Alexander Greene, reiterated that these outdoor performances were “making history” in that there was yet another premiere on tonight’s menu as well as the fact that this season’s festival is the first time contemporary dance has been performed at the venue.

Per the structure of the entire ADF festival, BODYTRAFFIC offered the audience three pieces without intermission. The dancers’ biographies may be read here.

Choreographer Matthew Neenan set A Million Voices to the distinctive voice of Peggy Lee. Program notes enlightened Neenan’s choice, mentioning that “Lee’s music, in response to the political climate of her time, reminds us that even during dark times, life is worth enjoying.”

For this viewer, the entire piece had an aura of old Hollywood with contemporary sharpness. “I See a Million People (But All I Can See Is You)” was all-out fun with overtones of musical theater. “Blues in the Night” featured a sultry duet while the rest of the company pantomimed the band. The dancers’ interpretation of Lee’s vocal mimicking of the trumpet solo was especially smart. “Let’s Say a Prayer” mimed inebriation while “The Freedom Train” took the audience on a nostalgic trip to when patriotism was all the rage. The group performed as a super tight ensemble and they “swung hard” to this Big Band rendition.

An ingenious segue into the silent, slow-motion action of a shirtless Ty Morrison, marching – no, running – was accompanied by only the cicadas, crickets and distant traffic. This was a powerful nod to the truth about freedom and trains (perhaps the Underground Railroad?). They don’t necessarily move or sound like a happy Big Band swing tune in this country.

The set ended with the wry “Is That All There Is?” where the dancers acted out the idea of making the best of disillusionment. Props were martini glasses, bottles of alcohol, and an occasional umbrella and white plastic bucket to protect and offer comfort. Shocking and sudden splashes of water into the faces of the performers at random times woke them up to reality.

The crowd went wild for Neenan’s opening piece and also gave the floor mopping team a round of applause that was well deserved!

The world premiere of Notes on Fall by choreographer Brian Brooks is set as a pas de deux to a recording of Leoš Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path with pianist Thomas Adés. Brooks, who was an ADF student back in 1992, uses three solo works from the Janáček cycle. Dancers Joseph Davis and Tiare Keeno collaborated with beautiful control and emotional understanding in this really lovely work.

The final piece on the program, SNAP by choreographer Micaela Taylor, “is inspired by the ethnically diverse, yet isolating crowds of Los Angeles. It urges audiences to ‘snap out of’ social pressures to conform, and to connect with their individuality as well as with people around them.”

With the music of James Brown (and some original music by SHOCKEY), the company dancers, which included Raleigh’s very own Lindsey Matheis, performed with militaristic precision. Modulating into the incredible 2007 interview with Brown on Sonya Live!, the dancers were smart, funny, and sophisticated in their pantomime of Brown’s moves, shouts and soulful funkiness. Taylor included slo-mo Matrix-like fights, video game sounds, motor cycles and gang fights that thrilled the viewer.

BODYTRAFFIC brought levity to what has been an intense week of amazing groups at ADF. Nimerichter has really outdone herself this year in the bringing the best contemporary dance to the Triangle. We are all grateful to be able to witness live performances again on such a high level.