Tuesday, June 27, 2006

American Dance Festival: Provincial Dances Theater, Wings at Tea (2001)

I enjoyed seeing this Russian troupe, Provincial Dances Theater, a year or two ago at ADF, and remember the extended performance that they gave that was set in a forest in the Russian countryside. Tonight's performance, Wings at Tea, was consistent with the style I had seen earlier - music and mood reminiscent of rural Chekov-era Russia with quirky dance seeming almost anachronistically contemporary, yet working to create a harmonious affect.

A flying pig kept hanging over the stage; in Q&A afterwards, the choreographer Tatiana Baganova explained that she saw this toy in a Paris store and that led her to ideas that formed the basis of Wings at Tea. Dancers interacted in a comical storybook-like manner. I found it very interesting how a large spring-like form served as a cocoon a few times during the performance; three dancers would slowly make their way into the spring and rest there. Near the end, several male dancers each had a bucket of water; each of their female partners would put her long hair into the bucket and throw her head back, projecting water and hair in an interesting curvilinear throw.

Subtly off-beat, the performance grows on you as you almost forget that the stylized theatre is rather unusual - even the flying pig becomes norm. It was an interesting show, and I look forward to seeing what Tatiana does in a month for her commissioned piece for International Choreographers.

Note: I believe that the dance Wings at Tea was created in 2001, but the printed program lists it with a date of 2002.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Film An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006), Brazilian Noite de São João celebration

Back in April, we enjoyed going to the Carrboro Century Center for their film showing, $4 including popcorn and drinks. They continue tonight with a double billing of Sacagawea (Rolf Forsberg, 2003; "explore the life of a brave Indian woman who guided Lewis & Clark through the American frontier wilderness. Her legend will captivate you with its adventure and multicultural point of view. 60 minutes") and Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun (Ben Stassen, 1997; "computers take us on the Wild Side. Filmed for IMAX, this is a wide screen experience about dreamers who think up these rides and engineers who build them. This movie will entertain and thrill you. 40 minutes"), which we're thinking of going to.

We haven't yet this year been to the NC Museum of Art summer films on the lawn, due to conflicts with other events, but I do have Mad Hot Ballroom (July 14) and Neil Young: Heart of Gold (July 21) on my calendar for next month. Another good choice for tonight would have been the free 7p modern ("company premieres its site-specific work, which explores the elements of air, water, and earth and incorporates the outdoor art installation Picture This) at the art museum; it is followed by a (not free) film, Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, that I am not particularly interested in.

Also today, we're hoping on going to attend my friend Glenn's private "Goatstock" party. He is a drummer and has been hosting an annual get-together in horse farm country of North Raleigh on the property of his ex-landlady's, and asks musicians to bring their instruments; my wife may play sitar. However, I'm wondering if he'll have to postpone or cancel if we get the thunderstorms that may come through.

We ended up having an even richer day than we had planned, though we sacrificed seeing the two documentary films - and instead saw a current documentary film I've been anxious to see. We did make it to "Goatstock", but the turnout was very low and we could only stay an hour or so; music hadn't yet begun, but we enjoyed seeing the peacocks, goats, and horses there.

We have a good Brazilian friend who invited us to an annual celebration of St. John's Festival (Noite de São João, celebrated at night with fireworks with people dressed to joke about how "country bumpkins" look) at Duke University's International House, which we enjoyed in the early evening. There was good traditional food, lots of great company exhibiting the kind and fun demeanor I saw practically everywhere on my visit to Brazil in 2004, and fun dancing and games.

We went to the 9:30p showing of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006). I will probably write a more in-depth review, but here are a few quick points where o precedes a general point and a + or - a, respectively, positive or negative point:

+ I knew I had to see the film - and especially hope that many others not part of the environmental movement will, as well. I went into the film expecting it to be important to see, but rather dull, watching Al Gore give a slide show. I was wrong! I found the film moved right along, and the presentation materials did a great job explaining Al's points.

- We have to be careful, regardless of where our politics and views lie, in accepting blindly what politicians tell us. I am certainly sympathetic to the message, but would prefer to have information well referenced. Obviously the film can't include footnotes, but I didn't see such references in the companion website, climatecrisis.net. Hopefully, his book of the same title has good backup of his claims.

- To Al Gore's credit, he mentions in interviews that there is bipartisan support for doing something about global warming. However, if he mentioned it in the film, I missed it. He does say that the issue is non-partisan; I think his case could be more strongly received if he made the bipartisan support clear and tipped his hat to people of different philosophies and political parties making good change happen.

- I think it undermines his message a little in referencing the controversial Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 film. I enjoyed that film and hope that Moore's claim to back every fact up is not just arm waving. But it's clearly easy to perceive that film as having a political agenda. I think that the filmmakers of An Inconvenient Truth used footage from the inauguration of George W. Bush from Fahrenheit 9/11; if I'm correct, surely they could have found many other sources.

+ (and this is a key point and the biggest plus) Al Gore tells a very important story that we all need to know about. It's amazing to see the magnitude and speed of havoc being caused by global warming, even to see some glaciers melting measurably over the course of days.

+/- Al Gore does a great job communicating in clear language. His slides are great, assuming they are factual. But he should make it clear that he is a mouthpiece and that the technical work is being done by well-trained scientists.

- I have heard some criticism that there is a strong message that things are not going well, but not enough is said about what we can do and how we can have hope for the future. Having seen the film, I don't think the criticism is fully justified, as Al does briefly go through a list of things that we as individuals can do. It's all very quick, but one thing that did stand out was his showing the impact a few key items (vaguely described, granted) could have on the CO2 buildup. He also refers folks to the film's website, climatecrisis.net. However, this material is presented almost as an afterthought and could definitely be better developed.

- He doesn't once mention vegetarianism; choosing a plant- over a meat-based diet is one of the single biggest ways that we can positively impact the environment.

o There was a group, Clean Energy Durham, there handing out flyers about what we can do. Hurrah! I hope to network with them and see if we can share some energy between the Triangle Vegetarian Society that I lead and them. We should probably be handing out material at the film showings as well, such as my flyer on environmental justice.

o It's difficult to rate this film on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (excellent). Using the (obviously subjective) metric of how much I enjoyed the film and based on my imdb site, I would probably give it a 7.5 rating.

Friday, June 23, 2006

American Dance Festival: Pilobolus

Image 'trevi fountain' sent by Pilobolus to Dilip July 21 2006 for use on this blog. Photo by John Kane, courtesy of the Joyce Theater.One of my annual summer hilights is seeing Pilobolus at the American Dance Festival. Of all the modern dance troupes I've seen over the years at ADF and other venues including Jacob's Pillow and college campuses, I am struck by the sheer joy and unbelievable contortions that Pilobolus dancers exhibit, all the while seemingly effortlessly using their strength to amaze audiences with what the human body is capable of. Their dances often are humorous and always full of the most uncommon creativity.

Tonight was another excellent performance. I went with a friend and my wife. Pilobolus opened with Prism, a new piece they created this year, and probably my second favorite of the evening.
They ended with the dance I relished the most, Day Two (1980), which included their typically impossible acrobatics. They also did a short humorous Solo from the Empty Suitor (1980) which had one of their dancers negotiating rollers on the floor, and Gnomen (1997) and Shizen (1978).

What fabulous dancers with such talent and finesse! There was a Q&A afterwards; the dancers were good spokespeople for modern dance and their decades-old troupe, and I particularly enjoyed hearing about their rigorous full-time passion. Their schedule has them touring for, as I recall, 8 or 9 months each year, with the rest of the time, except for only two weeks off, focused on creating two new dances.

Their website gives insight into their name and their origin:

Pilobolus (crystallinus) is a phototropic zygomycete - a sun-loving fungus that grows in barnyards and pastures. It grows on a stalk as a small bladder, pressurized by cell sap and topped with a tiny black cap filled with spores.
When time and Pilobolus are ripe, this entire sporangium is blasted off with incredible force and the little spore bags can shoot over a cow like clowns out of a cannon. It's reported that the acceleration - from 0-45 mph in the first mm of flight - is the second fastest in nature.

Image 'scorpion close-up_1' sent by Pilobolus to Dilip July 21 2006 for use on this blog. Photo by John Kane, courtesy of the Joyce Theater.Pilobolus, the arts organism, germinated in the fertile soil of a Dartmouth College dance class in 1971. What emerged was a collaborative choreographic process and a unique weight-sharing approach to partnering that gave the young company a non-traditional but powerful new set of skills with which to make dances. The group was immediately acclaimed for its startling mix of humor and invention and Pilobolus soon became a self-sufficient organization, its members choreographing, dancing, managing, and publicizing their own programs.

Images 'trevi fountain' and 'scorpion close-up_1' sent by Pilobolus and used with their permission for use on this blog. Photos by John Kane, courtesy of the Joyce Theater.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

American Dance Festival: The Musicians' Concert

Tonight my wife and I attended a lovely somewhat informal concert put on by the musicians of the six-week Dance Festival school. It was introduced by the Director of the ADF Musicians, my friend Natalie Gilbert. I enjoyed the many pieces that were played, which were:

  • Gift, Jim Roberts: he used interesting percussion and song in a story-telling mode
  • Resonance, Natalie Gilbert: a beautiful piano solo
  • Sans Souci, Dave Willey: a fun accordian piece
  • Fury's Lullaby, Claudia Howard Queen: Claudia told an engaging story of her as a starving Chicago artist who, she modestly claimed, didn't know much about the piano, but who suddenly got a break playing piano to accompany dancers in an opera school. This beautiful piano solo was inspired by the woman who gave her that break, whose first name was Fury.
  • Off the Top of Our Heads, Michael Wall (piano), John Hanks (drums), Ken Ray Wilemon (percussion): a lively experimental jazz number
  • Blackbird, Jeffrey Dalby (piano), Ken Ray Wilemon (percussion): a nice instrumental rendition of the famous Paul McCartney song
  • La Jengla, Vladimir Espinosa: good Cuban drumming
  • Doundounba in the key of 'D' major, arranged and directed by Khalid Saleem: there was a powerhouse of perhaps ten Afro-cuban drummers on stage - how did all the dance students stay in their seats?! I like the quote referenced in the program here - "The Bend in the Road is not the end of the Road unless you fail to make the turn."
  • John and Jefferson Rock Out!, Jefferson Dalby (keyboard), John Hanks (drums), Willie Painter (guitar), and Craig Dittmar (bass): great 70s and late 60s pop music that got all of us, including my wife and me, up and dancing!!

By the way, I discovered that the local Raleigh News & Observer newspaper has a blog about the festival.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

American Dance Festival: Private Parts (Solo Works by Sara Juli & Miguel Gutierrez)

I went on my own to see Sara Juli and Miguel Gutierrez at ADF tonight. I will start my comments with the caveat that I have no formal background in theory of dance; I greatly respect ADF and trust that any talent that they bring will be world class; and art, great or not, is not always pleasant or enjoyable. That said, for what it's worth, I am entitled to my opinion; I've been coming to ADF since the mid-1990s and haven't been to any performance that I enjoyed less than tonight's. Both artists struck me as self-obsessed and trying to stretch the definition of dance - but to what purpose?

Sara started the evening by sauntering down through the audience and essentially having a dialogue about gossip. She told bawdy, clearly fabricated, tales about ADF faculty and administrators, and asked our opinion about the role of gossip. She would occasionally take a drink from a water cooler and strike a few poses. She must be a talented dancer, but I was ill-equipped to discern that.

After the intermission, Miguel began his performance, naked but for a pair of sneakers and socks. He placed objects such as a television, video player, CD boombox, and a mirror, about the equally naked stage, all curtains pulled back. He donned a t-shirt and training pants for most of the performance, which more obviously showed off his dance talent. I was quite disturbed by a piece where he suspends himself above a candle that he lights, singing while (hopefully) hoping he wouldn't be singed in his bare upper thighs or buttocks. Over time, folks came on stage and added books beneath the candle, raising the stakes. What was the point? One thing that I did like about his show was a clever interaction with a video of his taking questions during an outdoor performance that he did, and his further recursive interaction with himself filmed earlier but dressed in the same clothes.

I'll chalk this one up to my missing key points. I look forward to the Musician's Concert tomorrow night and very much anticipate Friday's Pilobolus performance - their annual ADF show is almost always my favorite of the season.

From the ADF site:

Deep Throat (2006 world premiere)
Liar. Gossip. Hypocrite. Sara Juli reveals insider information about the administration of the arts in her “latest permutation of words caught in her throat” (
Gay City News) and the movement that follows. Deep Throat reveals the gossip behind the girl. Juli, a light of the downtown dance and theatre scene” (New Yorker), will perform the world premiere of her solo Deep Throat fusing movement, text and song to expose the humor and danger in leaking information to others.

Retrospective Exhibitionist (2005)
Retrospective Exhibitionist, Miguel Gutierrez shuttles through his own real and imagined performance history, discovering the vulnerability that comes with being watched by others. “Reckless, smart and passionate” (Village Voice), Gutierrez uses a tv/vcr, boom box, video camera and other props to look at the merciless
unraveling of time and its impact on live performance and the life on the

Friday, June 16, 2006

American Dance Festival: Rhythm Suites: Kathak & Tap Dance

Tonight my wife and I going with my parents and two friends to the third performance coming to the American Dance Festival, Rhythm Suites: Kathak & Tap Dance featuring Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith. We went to the first Festival of the Feet in 2004 (it was one of the very first ADF performances for my wife) and were amazed at how Tap, Flamenco, and Kathak dancers performed separately and then together. The finale had dancers performing to permutations of musicians from the other styles, and it gave to me a strong message of understanding, peace, and bridge building. Last year's Festival of the Feet II was good but not as inspiring. We're excited about seeing what's in store for us this year!

From the ADF site:

After meeting during the ADF’s 2004 Festival of the Feet program, Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and Emmy Award-winning Tap dance star Jason Samuels Smith have joined together to explore the complex rhythms and movement between North Indian classical Kathak and American Tap dance. “It all works because the dance forms share two things: a history of improvisation and a veneration for past masters” (San Francisco Chronicle). Featuring North Indian classical and American jazz musicians, the piece is an exploration of movement, rhythms and music between two dynamic artists of diverse cultures.

No surprise, we enjoyed ourselves! We were happy that my parents had a good experience, as well, at this, their first ADF show.

I do think that the very first Festival of the Feet was the best, but seeing Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels ply their talents separately and together is thrilling. We were amazed to hear that Chitresh Das is, I believe, in his 60s - he certainly looks younger. We enjoyed the post-performance discussion and in particular hearing Chitresh describe how both the artists' work was delving deep into their respective traditions and not simply creating a passing moment of fusion.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ninth Annual Hi Mom! Film Festival

After a class that I taught in Carrboro tonight, my wife and I walked to a nearby bar where the first night of the ninth annual Hi Mom! Film Festival was underway. It is a festival of short films, some only a minute or two or even less in length, submitted by international entrants competing for prizes.

Thankfully the first night was free - we didn't like the smoky too-small bar that afforded poor viewing of the screen, and didn't much enjoy the films that we saw. I did like the last film shown,
Westbound/Eastbound (director Rohan Bader from Toronto, made in 2005, 5 minutes), a pleasant music video focused on inclusivity and togetherness, shot on a Toronto subway platform.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

American Dance Festival: David Dorfman Dance

Image of 'Underground' by Derek Anderson, Staff Photographer, The Independent Weekly; used with permission.
Tonight I went solo to see David Dorfman Dance perform their 50-minute piece Underground which opened last night in its world premiere. There were 35-40 dancers on stage; I believe the group is about 12-20 strong and they ask for volunteers to train in each locale.

During the Full Frame Film Festival in April, I enjoyed the 2002 documentary film by Sam Green and Bill Siegel about the Weather Underground (imdb has more information). I believe it was this film that inspired David - in comments after the performance, he said that the story of the group that used destructive means to voice opposition to the Vietnam War, as retold in the film, was a story he couldn't get out of his mind.

I didn't initially enjoy the piece, but quickly found it to be rather compelling. Beyond the choreographic scope of dozens of strong dancers, what made the piece especially interesting to me was the multimedia screens behind them. I noted (and received a strong confirmation when I asked in the post-performance discussion) a strong diagonal element to the graphics that implied a separation of generations, protestors vs. convention followers, activity vs. passivity, and Vietnam and Iraq wars.

It added quite a spark near the end when dancers aimed "LED blinkies" (flashing light emitting diodes that they had attached to magnets which could then stick to the metalic screen) at the large hand on the screen and flung them, leaving a hand with lovely colored lights. In the post-performance discussion, David talked a little about these lights - they have recently been used in places like San Francisco by folks wanting to make a statement but without permanently defacing buildings with grafitti. I'm glad that I saw this show!

On the troupe's website, David has this to say about Underground:

Although I was only 13 during the Days of Rage in 1969, too young to be protesting in the Chicago streets, I remember being awed by the audacity of the Weathermen. Now I am interested in the legacy of the Weather Underground's principles, and also in its foibles and its regrets. Looking back at the 60s and how it was the core of my emotional and artistic formation will be my entry point into this exploration-in essence, a return to my own ‘movement’ roots." “underground” will explore the inside world of political activism, asking the questions: when can activism become terrorism, or vice versa, and is condoned or endorsed killing/destruction ever justified?

Postscript: You can read reviews of this and the Paul Taylor performances in the June 14 Independent.

Image by Derek Anderson, Staff Photographer, The Independent Weekly, and used with permission.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Film Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (Adam Shankman, 2005)

After having seen it, I'm embarrased to report that I saw Cheaper by the Dozen 2. I wasn't particularly looking for this film, but we didn't have any plans for tonight, and it was playing outdoors in Chapel Hill's Southern Village.

The setting was great and the weather perfectly comfortable for an outdoor film. But I guess it's been a long time since I've seen a film like this, not particularly thought-provoking. I actually acted in Cheaper by the Dozen (with Meg Ryan!) in high school, but the story in the film tonight had nothing to do with the classic story.

Friday, June 09, 2006

American Dance Festival: Paul Taylor Dance Company

Yesterday was opening night of the American Dance Festival, the country's biggest contemporary dance festival and one I always look forward to! We try to attend to see all or mostly all of the performers, and this year we will only miss a few. I taught last night, so we went to the second night performance by the first troupe, Paul Taylor Dance Company, which has been around for more than fifty years.

We enjoyed the four dances presented, particularly one entitled Banquet of Vultures, a hard-hitting dance that rails against civilian leaders who wage war, cynically shown as not caring for the deaths of people including soldiers or for liberty. The other dances were Aureole, Troilus and Cressida (reduced), and Cascade. They were all good - Troilus and Cressida (reduced) was funny, but we found the first (Aureole) and last (Cascade) to seem less contemporary.

We picked tonight, and most of the other nights, as the night that the performers stayed after to take questions and have a little discussion. I asked two questions - did they intend the civilian in Banquet of Vultures to be the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (no - it was meant to be a general statement against war); and how did the dancers find balance in their lives with so much focus required on their art and did criticism they might read affect them. We felt privileged to get a chance after it all broke up to speak one-on-one to a few of the dancers, Parisa Khobdeh and Orion Duckstein.

We also bought tickets to the Tuesday June 13th performance by David Dorfman Dance, Friday 16th Rhythm Suites: Kathak & Tap Dance, Tuesday 20th Private Parts, Wednesday 21st ADF Musicians Concert, Friday 23rd Pilobolus (a favorite! should we attend their Saturday show, too?!), Tuesday 27th Provinicial Dances Theatre, [having it seems to skip Emanuel Gat Dance and Shen Wei Dance Arts and possibly Doug Varone and Dancers], Sunday July 9th ADF Faculty Concert, Tuesday 11th Keigwin and Company, [missing Ronald K. Brown/Evidence], Wednesday 19th International Choreographers, and the closing night, Saturday July 22 Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca. I'm so excited that ADF has begun!

Oh, we also saw Art in Motion again today. They performed at Weaver Street Market at 6p; we bought dinner there and saw them perform till we had to leave around 7:15 for ADF. We're so glad that we saw them last week in an ideal setting; tonight's wasn't ideal with people not focused on the performance and many distractions - it was difficult to see and appreciate the performance.

For reference, this week's Independent has a surprisingly positive (it tends to be very tough on ADF for some reason) review of this year's festival, including a PDF-format table that can be downloaded. And of course there is the official ADF website which includes a PDF-format season brochure.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Multimedia performance Dance in Motion

I had read about Art in Motion in the May 24 issue of The Independent, and hoped to see their performance last Sunday, May 28, but couldn't get there - we went immediately after the show and could see that the outdoor dance/painting group of artists from Italy must have put on a unique show. Thankfully, they also performed today at Southern Village in Chapel Hill, where we saw them, and are performing this Friday (at 6p) at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, where we may venture out to see them again.

Quoting from the May 24 Independent:

The Goathouse Gallery--Looking for a few new names in modern dance? It's two weeks until American Dance Festival reconvenes, but Italian sculptor and Chatham County transplant Siglinda Scarpa has invited dancers/choreographers Cinzia Fiaschi and Cristina Mazzoni and musician Dario Arcidiacono from the old country to fuse disciplines in an outdoor performance at Scarpa's studio at 680 Alton Alston Road, today at 2 p.m. and tomorrow at 11 a.m. Sounds like an excursion to remember. Pay what you will.
What an interesting contemporary, abstract performance it was tonight! Two dancers, initially cocooned within a white gauze, slowly (over maybe half an hour or more) emerged to naturalistic spoken word/atmospheric music. A third dancer painted bold strokes of color onto portions of the gauze, and later painted upon a canvas.

The performance was right in tune with the lovely outdoor setting where films are shown in the spring and summer. The weather was ideal - pleasantly cool and overcast. And the timing was perfect; within a minute or two of the end, it started to rain.

It's difficult to believe that the American Dance Festival is about to begin! Last year I think that I saw each artist who came, and hope to make most of them again this year.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Film Water (Deepa Mehta, 2005) again

I loved the film Water that I had seen on local opening night, and wanted to watch it again. My parents and several friends hadn't seen it, so we went as a group of six to the Galaxy Cinema in Cary. I enjoyed it even more on the second go-round, and in fact wouldn't mind, after some time passes, seeing it again.