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American Dance Guild Festival 2013: Modern Dance “Cross-Pollination,” Nov. 8-10

10 Oct

Yung-Li Chen. Photo: Alexandra Vainshtein

Yung-Li Chen. Photo: Alexandra Vainshtein

Contemporary dance fans are in for a treat this November, when the American Dance Guild returns for its annual performance festival in New York City, this year at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center.

Thirty-three artists/choreographers, from emerging to mid-career, will present their work, reflecting the American Dance Guild’s unique position as both a promoter of the new and preserver of the living history of modern dance as an art form.With four performances over three days, plus videos and archival presentations, ADG Festival ’13 will showcase emerging talent and honor dance history. This year’s Festival will take place Friday November 8 through Sunday, November 10.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat about the upcoming Festival with Gloria McLean, President of the American Dance Guild. She is excited about the new production, and wants to fill us in. Here are some excerpts from our recent conversation:

The ADG Festival has become a fixture on NYC’s fall dance scene. How did it originate?

The Guild’s been around since 1956, started by dance educators dedicated to the furthering of modern dance in all ways. They would always have an annual conference, usually around timely themes such as “Dance and Social Values” or “Women in Dance” or “Dance and Technology,” with lectures, classes, and one big performance.

Over the years, the Guild adjusted and expanded according to the desires and interests of its members.  In the last five or six years, we’ve morphed into an artist-run organization, recognizing that choreographers are always looking for more opportunities to show their work. So, the performance aspect has expanded to become an annual three to four day Festival.

 You have named this year’s program, “Cross-Pollination.” Can you explain the title, and your relationship with the 92Y?

The 92nd Street Y dance programs, and the Guild, have been intertwined from the beginning. The 92Y Kaufman Hall in the 50’s was one of THE places for modern dance, and all the major artists performed there.  Lucile Brahms Nathanson was head of the 92nd Street Y’s teaching program at the time, and she started having conferences around the teaching of modern dance to children, and from these conferences the Dance Teachers Guild was born.

Jeanne Bresciani in Doris Humphrey's Water Study.  Photo: Lois Greenfield

Jeanne Bresciani in Doris Humphrey’s Water Study. Photo: Lois Greenfield

After a few years, the focus expanded to include professionals in all aspects of the field. There’s always been a connection between the teaching of dance, choreography and performance.  The 92Y gave support to so many artists and teachers –Graham, Humphrey, Limon, Hawkins, Sokolow, their descendants and beyond. “Cross-Pollination” is an image for what we have today – we are all hybrids in some way – pollinated by the ideas of these great artists, whether by acceptance or resistance, through direct contact or a few times removed – and by new ideas as well. So, it’s a way to call attention to the shared legacy of the Guild and the 92Y.

This year the Festival is honoring dance luminaries Lar Lubovitch, Marilyn Wood and the late Remy Charlip. Why did you decide to feature their work in this year’s program?

We try to bring people’s attention to some of the amazing work that has been created by mature, modern dance artists.

Lar Lubovitch is currently celebrating 45 years of his dance company, just finishing a two week run at New York’s Joyce Theater. We felt it was a great time to honor his body of work and lifetime of commitment to making beautiful, humanistic, deeply “dancerly” dances.  He’s a master, yet totally unassuming.  The work he has chosen to present – the male duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two – could not be timelier.

Remy Charlip died in 2012 at 83, loved by everyone who knew him. He was an utterly creative spirit and made art out of every aspect of

Lar Lubovitch. Photo: Rose Eichenbaum from Masters of Movement; courtesy Lar Lubovich Dance Company.

Lar Lubovitch. Photo: Rose Eichenbaum from Masters of Movement; courtesy Lar Lubovich Dance Company.

life, such as dancing in bed (as Arthur Aviles will show us); David Vaughn will perform his Ten Imaginary Dances; two wonderful dancers from HT Chen’s company will perform Twelve Contra Dances.  Remy also made Airmail Dances, not to mention his totally charming children’s books…

Marilyn Wood took dance into a wider world of connections as she created the category of “Celebration Art” back in 1969. She was an innovator in areas now taken for granted, like taking on an urban center as her “stage.” Her first break-through piece was a City Celebration of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, with dancers in the windows, on the escalators, dancing with businessmen, totally re-framing our ordinary perceptions of that kind of space.  Her work is always collaborative and interdisciplinary, bringing together all forms of art – lasers projected on the buildings, fire sculptures, dancing in water fountains, rock climbers repelling down buildings, performance art – all by way of her concept of re-inventing the ancient art of “festival” in new contemporary contexts. At 80, she deserves recognition.

What other artists are participating?

Margaret Beals is making a rare appearance – now in her 70’s, Margy is an early exponent of improvisatory performance with an inspired style of her own; Maya Dance Theatre from Singapore will do a fusion of Indian classical and contemporary dance;  there are several reconstructions this year, including Deborah Zall dancing Anna Sokolow’s famous solo Kaddish, Catherine Gallant and Jeanne Bresciani  interpreting Isadora Duncan; Kim Jones will offer Martha Graham’s Imperial Gesture; Nai-Ni Chen’s company of eight terrific dancers will present a rhythmically exhilarating piece; Adriane Fang, Tina Croll and Yung Li Chen, a young and interesting performer, will also join us…

Open Window Dance-Seagram Building. Celebration NYC 1972; Photo courtesy: Marilyn Wood.

Open Window Dance – Seagram Building. Celebration NYC 1972; Photo courtesy: Marilyn Wood.

Can you fill us in on the Guild’s mission?

Our mission continues to be to support and further the understanding of modern dance as an art form with all its hybrid extensions, to honor its legacy, and to continue the creative “cross-pollination” of ideas and activity that has guided us from the beginning.

Adria Rolnik is helping to promote ADG Performance Festival 2013, Nov. 8-10 at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, 1395 Lexington Avenue, NYC. Performances are at 8pm Friday and Saturday, and Sunday at 3pm and 7:30pm. Visit 92nd Street Y for tickets.

This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post Dance Page, October 9, 2013.

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LOVING “BAC” – THE BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER

31 Jan

I always love going to the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Located in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen” on West 37thStreet, BAC is an unassuming place. In what appears to be a renovated warehouse, the Center houses studio spaces, offices, and the intimate 238-seat Jerome Robbins Theater which opened just two years ago.

Jerome Robbins Theater at BAC

Presentations at BAC are not big tourist attractions, mass market or often even mainstream. The cost to attend is minimal – typically $25-30 a ticket (depending on the production), and sometimes even less, with many offerings completely free of charge.

The programming line-up varies from dance and performance art to film and experimental theater. The Center opened in 2005, “to house the core activities of the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation,” according to the Center’s website. The New York Times summed it up best by calling BAC, “a laboratory and performance space for multidisciplinary artists.” Perfect.

The first time I attended a performance at BAC, almost two years ago, I picked up the evening’s tickets at the “will call desk” – a teenager sitting at a folding table with pink slips of paper (“tickets”) in a shoebox. After pick up, I was directed to a freight elevator which took me up to The Jerome Robbins Theater – the Met it was not.

Since then things have changed – the elevator is no longer freight, the tickets are “real” tickets, and the “will call desk” is sturdier, now a real desk, with tickets held in an upgraded tin box!

Back in May, 2010 I was lucky enough to attend a BAC production of “Unrelated Solos,” a mixed bill featuring three male dancers, five choreographers and six solos. Mr. Baryshnikov was in three of the solos – a piece by Benjamin Millepied, another by Alexei Ratmansky, and finally a “work in progress” by Susan Marshall. The last time I had seen Baryshnikov dance was at the The Metropolitan Opera House, so long ago, when he was a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. (The Opera House has 3,800 seats, so seeing him in the tiny Jerome Robbins Theater that night was exciting).

The up close and personal performance took my breath away. Baryshnikov, now older and less agile, nonetheless moved with expressiveness, elegance and grace. One of the highlights for me was the Marshall piece, “For You,” which included Baryshnikov selecting audience members to come onto the stage where he sat them in folding chairs and danced independently for each of them. Why, oh why was I in the second row?? If I were only in the first row, maybe he would have selected me!

UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW AT BAC

Last Wednesday night I was back to see Young Jean Lee’s “UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW,” presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center and Performance Space 122 as part of the 2012 COIL Festival. The performance featured six female dancers who with choreography and music, mime and sound, addressed the female experience. The stage was bare white, projections were beamed overhead, and the cast was completely, totally, NAKED! Not only were they naked, but they were of every size and body shape.

The premise, according to Lee, was to create “a fluid sense of gender… a world in which people could identify and be however they wanted regardless of their sex.” She said her concept of uninterrupted nudity was “far from being shocking or titillating… it prevented the audience from imposing identities on the cast and allowed them to experience all the possibilities the performers could embody.”

In his review of UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times addressed the show’s nudity by saying there was “certainly something celebratory about the performers’ carefree attitude toward their bodies and the joyful abandon of their movement… but nudity is hardly extraordinary in modern dance, or theater for that matter…”.

Young Jean Lee explains her craft - YouTube

That’s true, but somehow, this show did seem extraordinary. Was it the intimacy of the theater? The shapes and sizes of the performers? The message they tried to convey? I really can’t be sure. But including this show in the BAC lineup is what makes the Center fun and different – their mission to present emerging talent is what makes things special.

Mr. Baryshnikov recently donated his personal artwork to the Center, which in turn auctioned it to raise funds to benefit new programs. I can’t think of a better reason for the auction than Mr. Baryshnikov gave himself – he was “using old art to generate new art.”

BAC helps to produce new art indeed! I believe their mission is heartfelt and a stellar showcase for what’s new and thought provoking – it’s a great venue. Get there!

Baryshnikov Arts Center – 450 west 37th st bt. 9th and 10th Avenues; http://www.bacnyc.org

Untitled Feminist Show has been extended until Feb. 4

The Jerome Robbins Theater is home to The Wooster Group, the Center’s resident theater company.

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FINDING NATALIE PORTMAN

11 Oct

I know the ballet world wasn’t particularly fond of the movie Black Swan. From American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane not being credited as Natalie Portman’s body double, to the implication ballet dancers are self possessed, anorexic freaks, the complaints were loud and clear. Top that off with the fact that it takes a lifetime to train to be a professional ballerina (not the one year producer’s implied it took Portman) and dancers were, for the most part, upset. And that’s understandable.

Nevertheless, I liked the movie!! I was entertained. And I tend to agree with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott who said, “Black Swan is no more about the behavior of ballerinas than its central pretext, ‘Swan Lake,’ is about the habits of birds.”

Natalie Portman as "The Black Swan." Movie Poster: Wikipedia

Besides, I LIKE Natalie Portman. I’ve always enjoyed her films (from Garden State to Cold Mountain) and was delighted when she won the Oscar for Best Actress in Black Swan last February. I thought she did a great job portraying a ballerina similar in personality to Odette, the White Swan, who slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

That being said, let me zoom back to a great night at The Metropolitan Opera House last May, when I attended opening night of ABT’s mixed repertory program with members of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. The evening included two premieres – Alexei Ratmansky’s Dumbarton and Christopher Weeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, plus a performance of Benjamin Millepied‘s Troika and a revival of Antony Tudor’s Shadowplay.

The audience was filled with ballet luminaries such as Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet his wife, prima ballerina Darcy Kistler; Anna Kisselgoff, former chief dance critic of The New York Times; philanthropist and former dancer Nancy Zeckendorf; Amanda McKerrow and her husband John Gardner, both former ABT principal dancers and now Tudor Trust répétiteurs; and, of course, Benjamin Millepied and his very pregnant significant other, Natalie Portman!

Tudor's "Shadowplay" on YouTube - Anthony Dowell, 1967

Ok, I’m star stuck! I’m a fan. Natalie’s big time – an Oscar winner and girlfriend of one really cool choreographer… how could I not be excited when I went to the rest room at intermission and came face to face with the Black Swan herself! Very pregnant and very gorgeous, there she was, waiting in line next to me, and then the two of us were there, alone together, at the sink!

Staff of The Tudor Trust at the Met for ABT's "Shadowplay" Premiere

My mind was racing. Should I say something? A hello? Make a comment? Introduce myself as a member of the Trust? Say something pedestrian like, “I love your work,” or, “Congratulations on your Oscar?” Or how about, “Good luck with the baby?” Instead I just stood there and looked at her. Then she looked at me, and I looked at her again. She glanced at me once more, because I looked twice. And I didn’t say anything. Not a word.

I eventually returned to my seat, after a chat with some friends in the lobby. I plopped down next to Amanda McKerrow and said excitedly, “Guess who I just ran into in the ladies room? Natalie Portman!” And what do you think Amanda said? “Gee, Adria, I would have introduced you to her – I was just hanging with her and Benjamin by the bar. I would have introduced you, but I didn’t see you……..”

Oh. My. God.

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