The American Dance Festival’s annual “Footprints” program offers some of the best dancers from each summer’s intensive classes, performing commissions from prominent choreographers. The program’s energy and creativity never fail to impress.
In this year’s edition, the most stunning piece comes first. Wynn Fricke’s “Slow Thaw” immediately establishes an exotic, mysterious world. From veiled shadows 14 dancers emerge in loose, luminous pants, men bare-chested, women in flesh-colored tops. Groups form to watch individuals yearn and reach out, alternating between worried, disoriented gestures and meditative, slow-motion poses. Sometimes dancers seem to comfort each other and other times attempt to pull in outliers.
The ritualistic movements evoke temples and ancient cultures. A distinctly Asian atmosphere is enhanced by Peter O’Gorman’s mesmerizing score, which he plays on resonating metal rods, aluminum bells and other percussion. The dancers’ intensity, skill and precision make them seem a long-existing company rather than a one-time gathering.
The program ends with “Dry Well,” described as a nomadic tribe searching for water. South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma employs 10 dancers, with musical accompaniment by Khalid Saleem and Amadou Kouyate on a variety of instruments.
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In red, robe-like costumes, bathed in warm yellow lighting, the dancers form various ceremonial groupings around individuals working themselves into frenzies. After observing lightning, they pull off their robes, revealing skin-colored bodywear, for a rite involving a large woven basket representing an empty well. After a final group stomp, rain comes in a marvelous special effect, finishing up a vigorous, demanding work.
In between, with appropriate contrast, Anna Sperber’s “Shutters Shut and Open So Do Queens” (a Gertrude Stein quote) places eight women on a bright white stage executing casual spins, swoops and bends. Accompanied by Chris Yon’s piano-and-noise score, the women group and regroup in repetitive formations. There are some arresting moments (a calm exploration of the proscenium wall; a fashion runway sweep), but the piece seems mostly a collection of disparate thoughts and classroom-style exercises.
But all these dancers are just beginning their careers, making it all the more astonishing that they display such professional polish. Highly recommended.
What: “Footprints,” presented by the American Dance Festival
Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University, 125 Science Drive, Durham
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday
Info: 919-684-4444 or americandancefestival.org