The American Dance Festival’s “Footprints” is one of the most anticipated programs each year because it’s a chance to see the best of the festival’s summer students in new material by established choreographers.
This summer, there are memorable moments within the three pieces, but none come together as a unified whole. This might seem unfair criticism in light of a process that happens in six weeks using as many students as practicable. But it’s the times when everything did come together that establish the benchmarks.
At Monday’s premiere, Dafi Altabeb’s “It’s Now. It’s Never” had the most riveting opening. Six dancers, male and female, stood with exposed undergarments, pants around their ankles. As one female writhed on the floor, inching toward an authoritative female figure, the others robotically sang “Love Me Tender.” That vivid scene immediately provoked images of sexual abuse and cult activities. Then the scene changed several times over, placing the dancers in different contexts while having them repeat or mirror movements from the first section. Although reflecting Altabeb’s premise about the altering nature of memory, these subsequent scenes seemed more like class exercises in which dancers are assigned a particular gesture to explore.
Beth Gill’s “Footprints” also has an arresting start. A female, and later a male, looked provocatively at the audience as they isolated movements of their arms, legs and pelvises with sensuous precision and impressive balance. But the addition of other dancers, mostly performing one particular movement sequence and then disappearing, diluted the mesmerizing effect. Only when one dancer became the ominous shadow of another on a darkened stage, lit by a glitter ball, did the piece match its opening grip.
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Lee Sher and Saar Harari’s “Bunker” had the most unified atmosphere and the most talented dancers. In what appeared to be a post-apocalypse world, 10 dancers struggled to survive some kind of mass extinction. In a shadowy landscape, they fought for dominance, crawling over each other and forming alliances. The dancing was more athletic and complicated than in the previous pieces, but the strong premise seemed weakened by a number of individual, disconnected solos and the lack of a discernible arc.
Still, these performances prove the worthiness of the festival’s summer school and its continuing commitment to new work.
What: “Footprints,” presented by the American Dance Festival
Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University, 125 Science Drive
When: 8 p.m. July 27
Info: 919-684-4444 or americandancefestival.org