The American Dance Festival turns 80 this summer, and its 35th season in Durham offers some of the biggest names and hottest newcomers in modern dance. But Jodee Nimerichter, the festivals director, still runs into people at parties who seem hesitant and even afraid of the art form.
Modern dance might not be for everyone, she said during a recent break from last-minute season preparations, but I think, within its range, theres something for everybody. Its like Baskin-Robbins ice cream there are so many flavors. You might not like all of them, but there are few who cant find something they like.
Nimerichter is trying even harder this year to provide variety. To counter stereotypical objections that modern dance is weird and off-putting, she points to companies this season that use everyday situations and recognizable story lines, to those that take circus and acrobatic techniques as starting points, and to those that perform in nontraditional spaces with audience interaction.
The festivals website allows newcomers to learn what each company is like through short video clips, the effectiveness of which Nimerichter knows firsthand.
My sister claims not to like modern dance, even with my influence, Nimerichter said, but in looking over the website, she came across the clip of The 605 Collective, known for its playfully physical style. I was happily surprised when she told me she wanted tickets to see them.
For those still hesitating, heres a guide to selecting performances this season, from sticking a toe in to wading in deeper (see sidebar for locations, times and tickets):
For the first-timer
Pilobolus: Their funny, jaw-dropping combinations of bodies include a new collaboration with illusionists Penn & Teller and their 2011 hit that projects kaleidoscopic video being shot from underneath the dancers as they gyrate to music by OK Go.
Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company: Using lines attached to the dancers, Angiels choreography puts bodies in the air, twirling, bouncing and soaring to high-energy music and dramatic lighting.
For an informal introduction
Mark Haim: Staged in Duke Universitys Nasher Museum of Art with the audience casually arranged, Haims 50-minute piece has 14 contemporary characters performing evolving patterns with coffee cups and cellphones, commenting on consumerism and body image in humorous and poignant ways. (Contains nudity.)
ponydance: Staged in downtown Durhams Motorco Music Hall with the audience at tables (drinks are available), this Irish companys piece looks at the quirky characters in a pub with honest and funny insights. (Contains partial nudity.)
For the theatrically minded
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion: Pavement, inspired by the film Boyz in the Hood, follows the lives of friends in Pittsburgh, employing naturalistic movement, dialogue and film clips, along with music from blues to hip-hop.
Camille A. Brown & Dancers: Brown brings her musical theater background to MR. TOL E. RancE, celebrating the black performer throughout history and wittily examining pervasive stereotypes in pop culture.
For the art lover
Shen Wei Dance Arts: Visual richness fills Near the Terrace, Shen Weis mesmerizing, ritualistic piece that puts the audience into a calm, ethereal landscape.
Paul Taylor: The crystalline patterns of Arden Court and the idyllic, pastoral setting of Perpetual Dawn reflect two of Taylors most beautiful creations, works that seem like living paintings.