For its annual program, “Footprints,” the American Dance Festival commissions emerging choreographers to create pieces using the festival’s best summer students. Always a popular presentation, the 2013 edition is exceptional in its range and invention.
Rosie Herrera opens the program with “Make Believe.” Her past works have linked arrestingly theatrical but often disjointed segments. This new, half-hour piece has a satisfying through-line.
Four men and three women in glittery costumes begin performing ceremonial movements but soon exhibit random spasms that lead to savage frenzies. A soulful hymn snaps them silent, hands raised toward an unseen power. An unknown female figure appears, frightening at first, but eventually coaxing them to a peaceful place. She suddenly breaks down in despair but is consoled by a cowboy-like figure that emerges from a side door.
Some dancers then begin slowly traversing the stage on their backs, propelled by their feet, with other dancers comforting them on their journey. Ultimately, they all arrive in another realm, pairing up as dance partners, then drifting slowly toward the back wall as the lights dim.
It’s not much of a leap to discern a spiritual context, whether religious or philosophical, but whatever the interpretation, it’s a welcome maturing of Herrera’s talents.
By contrast, Adele Myers’ “The Dancing Room” is just that – nine women projecting the pure joy of dance. The energetic quarter-hour has a competitive but friendly air, the dancers constantly challenging one another to greater feats of balance and undulation. The patterns change as the dancers combine into different groups, although Myers gives all of the women a chance to shine in short solos. The work’s uplifting exuberance lingers long after the curtain falls.
Vanessa Voskuil’s “Gates” has an air of spirituality, but it’s a dark, somber vision. Several dozen dancers begin a robotic descent down the auditorium aisles from the back, stepping slowly backward. Other dancers rise from the audience to join them as they pass by. They back their way onto the stage, apprehensively cowering together. Suddenly, uncontrollable shaking seizes them, forcing them to fall down, their violent flailing pushing them cataclysmically over the edge of the stage. One strangely tranquil soul is left, who leads survivors in calming, meditative exercises. “Gates” demonstrates the mesmerizing power of ritual and yet another aspect of modern dance’s variety.