Former Laura Dean dancer Rodger Belman gambled on a moody set designer for his outdoor tribute preceding the American Dance Festival's Scripps Award ceremony for Dean last weekend.
Mother Nature changes her mind a lot. It looked as if she'd decided to go for the wet look as dancers congregated on the lawn in front of Duke Chapel at Duke University.
But the rain held off until less than a minute after the 32 dancers finished the last of the turns and repeating patterns that mark Dean's work. Only the audience got soaked, as they headed to the neighboring Page Auditorium for the ceremony.
Inside, ADF students performed the mesmerizing "Skylight," which Belman re-created last season. It's one of Dean's signature works, and the Sunday revival was my favorite performance of the season so far.
You can see Belman's student reconstruction of Dean's "Tympani" in ADF's Past/Forward shows July 14-16. And Belman will gamble with nature again in a bigger and longer free outdoor Dean tribute at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the university's Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
Dean's acceptance speech was eloquent and funny, including thanks to her childhood dance teacher, her heroes Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno "for not being afraid to tell it like it is," to Einstein "for teaching me to think without words," and to dog whisperer Cesar Millan "for teaching us all to live in the moment."
ADF director Charles L. Reinhart's speech was less engaging, including a recollection of his initial boredom when he watched Dean's first ADF-commissioned work in 1974.
"After about 10 or 15 minutes," he said of her performance, "I began to wonder, 'A: Did they not have enough time to rehearse? B: Was our commission money not enough? C: Could she possibly want us to be bored?' "
Listening to those remarks in that moment, I had a similar feeling to that which he described: not understanding the purpose of what was happening on stage.
Fleeing the show
Dozens of audience members at Maguy Marin's evening ADF performance on June 25 know that feeling, too. They're the ones who fled midshow, plugging their ears to block the grinding din of a long rope being dragged over three electric guitars for what would turn out to be an hour.
About halfway through, the exodus began. Some said the deafening noise was the deal-breaker; others objected to the repetitive and increasingly disturbing action on stage.
"I was trying to understand the essence of the piece, but I was so physically uncomfortable that I wanted to leave well before I actually did," said Amyla Strode of Durham, one of the first to flee.
"I thought that the kind of repetition of everyday activities had some rhythm to it, but it was so distracting to my other senses that I couldn't stay with it," she said. "It didn't seem to progress or develop."
"It was awful," said Sheila Creth of Chapel Hill. "When they did the umpteenth time of the same routine, I said, 'They've got me here for the rest of my life. I'm leaving. This is some kind of hell.' And maybe that's the point ... but I don't like to pay $35 for it, thank you very much."
Have you ever walked out on a theater or dance performance? If so, call or e-mail and tell us about it.
Short attention spans wanted
If you don't like what's on stage at ArtsCenter's "10 by 10" festival, no need to flee. Just wait a few minutes and it'll be over.
The festival features 10 plays, each 10 minutes or shorter, using 10 actors in total. Short plays are tough to pull off without resorting to predictable skit formulas. But at their best, they can be potent, funny and even moving.
This year's pitch line from ArtsCenter encapsulates the variety: "The women are headed for Mars and feeling cramped. The insects are mating after 17 years. We're on a roof, in a spaceship, at the canyon's edge, and everyone's feeling jumpy."
The festival opens July 10 and runs through July 20, with a reception for playwrights July 12. Admission is, of course, $10. Details: 929-2787 or www.artscenterlive.org.
Playwright to visit
Playwright Ed Bullins will visit Durham next week for the preview and opening night of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern's production of his 1968 play "Goin' a Buffalo."
Bullins was "among the most talented and strident of the militant black playwrights to emerge in the sixties," according to The New York Times. Asked in 1975 what audiences he sought to reach, he told the Times:
"The blacks like it when the whites get put down and the whites like it when the blacks get put down. I don't write to please the audience and reassure everyone that we agree. I don't care how they feel or what they think -- whether they agree or disagree -- just so it makes them examine themselves."
"Goin' a Buffalo" follows a gang of small-time criminals scheming to escape Los Angeles. Jay O'Berski directs. It starts Wednesday with a pay-what-you-can preview and opens July 10. Shows are at Durham's Manbites Dog Theater.
PlayMakers Repertory Company has just scored a National Endowment for the Arts grant, this time to bring Shakespeare to middle and high school students and teachers.
The professional arm of the Department of Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill, PlayMakers is one of 40 companies across the nation that will participate in the NEA's "Shakespeare for a New Generation" program.
It's the same grant Durham's Walltown Children's Theatre got last year for its Spanish-language adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet." Walltown received another grant this year, so it can take "Romeo and Juliet" to four rural communities.
PlayMakers' 2008-09 season opens with Shakespeare's "Pericles," running Sept. 24 through Oct. 12. Producing artistic director Joseph Haj will direct the show, which will feature original music by Jack Herrick of the Red Clay Ramblers.
The PlayMakers grant will pay for tickets and transportation for students to attend educational matinees, as well as teacher training and study guides. Go to www.playmakersrep.org or call 962-7529 for information.