- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

The American Dance Festival, celebrating its 70th anniversary in Durham, N.C., this summer, is at the heart of this country’s lively contemporary dance scene.

The beginnings of ADF, its performances and summer training program, were modest, but they loom large in the development of modern dance. Now-legendary figures Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm first gathered on the rolling green campus of Bennington College in Vermont in the early ‘30s and forged a new form that is recognized today as among the singular American contributions, along with jazz, to world culture.

Today, ADF is comfortably settled on another green campus, at Duke University in Durham. In between these two homes was a significant 30-year residence at Connecticut College in New London, Conn.

For half of its 70 years, ADF has been run by Charles Reinhart. He and his wife, Stephanie Reinhart, who joined him as co-director in 1993, also have been artistic directors for dance at the Kennedy Center since 1996. They’ve brought such innovative programming to Washington as its first, and one of its finest, dance festivals — the 2000 George Balanchine Festival; Mark Morris’ “L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato”; and last spring’s International Ballet Festival. Mrs. Reinhart died almost a year ago, and this season at ADF is dedicated to her and her important contribution to the world of dance.



When you enter the Duke campus, a banner flies proudly from ADF’s summer headquarters — “ADF: Home of an Art Form.” The claim is bold but unquestionably deserved. An unending stream of original artists have been developed at its summer sessions.

Performing here each summer are some of the best and brightest modern dance companies in the country. In recent years, groups from abroad also have danced here, many of them helped into being by ADF, a development spearheaded by Mrs. Reinhart.

This week (Thursday-today), the illustrious Paul Taylor Dance Company appears at the festival. Dancing later in the month are Shen Wei Dance Arts (Monday-Wednesday), Dairakudakan from Japan (July 10-12) and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company from New York City (July 17-19).

Continuing the ADF tradition of fostering new work and helping to develop modern dance across boundaries will be a program (July 14-16) of three commissioned dances choreographed by Dominique Boivin of France, Akiko Kitamura of Japan and Tatiana Baganova of Russia. Seen at the Kennedy Center last spring, Miss Baganova’s startlingly inventive approach to movement was a highlight of the center’s season.

Visiting the Duke campus is exhilarating not only for the performances that take place here, but for the vitality bursting out of studios around the campus as students study with master teachers.

Dance training is a communal activity. In one studio, 30 or so superfit dancers charge across the space, roll to the floor, fly up in a leap and bend over double, whirling like dervishes. In another room, a group of dancers taught by those sublime artists, Eiko and Koma, move with slow, quiet concentration in a “Delicious Movement Workshop,” being presented in free performances through Tuesday.

The range of dance that students are exposed to is huge, from all kinds of movers in many countries around the world. There are sessions on dancing for the camera, on the history and technique of the unique Japanese form called Butoh, on dance notation, on Pilates, on yoga — plus percussion discussions and singing workshops.

For an organization so dedicated to the new and cutting edge, ADF also places emphasis on continuity and awareness of modern dance’s heritage. Partly, that is, because history has been and is being made here every day.

ADF has commissioned premieres that are part of the legacy of the art form. In the years at Connecticut College, it was thrilling to be there and witness the first performance of Miss Graham’s “Diversion of Angels” and Jose Limon’s “Moor’s Pavanne.”

That thrill continues: One of the most stunning works of the past decade, Paul Taylor’s “Promethean Fire,” was commissioned by ADF and had its premiere here in Durham last summer. The dance has since been shown to standing ovations in New York and at the Kennedy Center.

As an artistic melting pot, ADF has led to important collaborations.

In Bennington, Miss Graham chose Merce Cunningham to dance with her — and so began his career as a celebrated iconoclast.

This week Paul Taylor, who first met Miss Graham when he was a student at ADF in Connecticut and danced briefly but brilliantly in her group, returns to ADF-Durham as a revered senior artist.

One of the groups that ADF encouraged from its very beginnings was Pilobolus, the company with the astonishing mix of physical daring and sculptural convolutions, which has become one of the most popular dance groups in the country.

Pilobolus gave five performances at Durham last month, including one for children who are fascinated — as are adults — by the magical way the dancers intertwine, ricochet off one another and wrap themselves into impossible knots.

First-time viewers frequently gasp at the prodigious way these dancers cantilever off one another. Even those who are longtime fans continue to be amazed at how the group continues to transform its unique movement style. At its ADF appearance, dances ranged from the comic slapstick of the 30-year-old “Walklyndon” to a spellbinding look at “The Brass Ring,” created last year.

The program was filled with strange and wondrous new sights; it also illustrated how an artistic impulse could deepen over time. Come to think of it, that is a pretty good description of what the festival is all about.

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