The American Dance Festival is back. So too are the joys and complications of live dancing.

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American Dance Festival 2021: Together we dance | Thursday, September 9 to Thursday, September 16, 7:30 p.m. every night, $ 35


Early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdowns became life as usual, Kyle Abraham – who directs the AIM ensemble and is one of today’s most requested choreographers – was alone in Los Angeles. And when he says alone, he really means alone.

“The thing with all the conversation people had [during the pandemic] around the phrase ‘alone together’, says Abraham, is that we really are not. You probably have your partner or your dog. My parents are deceased. [Lockdown isolation] has been a very different experience for people like me.

Sharing the constraints of all artists who usually work together in person, he turned to outdoor parks as a space for practice. Once he had access to an indoor studio to generate material for a New York City Ballet commission, he turned to Nina Simone songs and filmed himself dancing. The process seemed intuitive, an echo of the way he usually works with his own company: he will send the recorded material to the dancers and “see how it rests on their bodies, have conversations, make changes”.

These exchanges produced pieces for a new repertory work composed, in part, of solos, a generative choreographic form for dancers scattered across the country. Circumstances reminded Abraham of the extent of an economic approach.

“What I realized during this pandemic is how to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t do,” Abraham says. “It’s something that I hope I can take with me.

This week, North Carolina audiences will be the first to see Nina Simone Suite (working title) when AIM launches the American Dance Festival’s “Together We Dance”, a week-long series that marks the organization’s first stage performances in over a year and the first festival since summer 2019. Staged, like a Jacob’s from the South Pillow, in the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr. open-air theater at the North Carolina Museum of Art, the lineup of eight companies and solo artists is a mix of alumni and festival associates, ranging from annual standards like the Paul Taylor Dance Company to more recent alumni like Abraham’s Company.

In addition to Nina Simone Suite, audiences will see the most suitable solo model for pandemic rehearsals in Molissa Fenley Rite of Spring-reinterpret State of darkness, originally commissioned by ADF in 1988, and the work by Reggie Wilson / Fist and Heel in 2016 Citizen.

The fall festival commission has also taken an economic approach. Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter, determined to ‘support artists as best we can’, sought to keep artist commitments already made at the end of the first half of 2020, when the organization canceled the summer festival and that the office was filled with thousands of unusable posters. .

In the first year of the pandemic, ADF shifted to virtual programming and education, and then slowly to outdoor performances throughout the Triangle, including at Mystic Farm & Distillery and Maplewood Cemetery in Durham.

The current festival, says Nimerichter, is “pretty close to what we can safely do right now that looks like what we normally do”, that is: presenting professional dance artists on a stage front-stage. (However, when searching for a venue, the festival was open-minded; one abandoned idea was the former Durham Bulls baseball stadium.)

Keeping up, for 18 hellish months and counting, was difficult. With no season ticket sales, ADF relied on a PPP loan from the Small Business Administration, grants, the National Endowment for the Arts, and donor support to take the festival from 88 years to l wringer. The festival also put several staff on leave and ultimately ended three positions.

These kinds of organizational decisions, which are not unique to ADF, have prompted arts workers to organize and prompt field-wide calculations of how the COVID disruption of ‘business as usual In the arts highlighted long-standing inequalities, especially between work, race and gender. lines. For the field of dance, already marginalized in the arts funding hierarchies, these problems were particularly acute.

“I think [the pandemic] exacerbated a scarcity mentality, ”explains Shannon Drake, who worked at ADF for four years and whose role as co-director of school administration ended in the fall of 2020.“ There was not as much [resourcing] do anything, so we had to do as little as possible. And of course do as little as possible during COVID [safety-wise] was excellent. But I think it has resulted in a sort of dispensability of what keeps everything flowing, which is the workers. “

For many, COVID has put a sharper focus on the personal-political intersection: how workers fit into the work they do, how the missions they fulfill with their work do or leave no room for. their own agency and creativity.

“I’m so grateful that we were able to keep the dancers and staff paid,” Abraham said of his business sustenance during the pandemic. “But it was also the time for so many people to think about what they want to do and how they want to do it. This created a lot of open communication on how to improve the organization and how to improve the individuals in the organization as well. “

In its highlighting of the body, the field of dance also focuses on the materiality of our ongoing public health emergency and the meticulous care measures needed to organize a festival, organize a rehearsal or just get together in a small group.

When the audience fills the amphitheater for ‘Together We Dance’, they are expected to follow masking protocols, contracts necessary to take the pitch back to something that looks like a normal flow of activity, although, as with Abraham’s questioning of the phrase “alone together,” there seems to be no more “normal”, no more exact “return”.

Moving forward took unprecedented creative planning and hope tempered by a willingness to change plans. ADF’s goal is to have indoor performances next summer and to reactivate Scripps Studios with “bubble” residences and possibly the return of community dance lessons.

But for now, events like “Together We Dance” are opportunities to adjust to the present: to celebrate, to cry and to reflect on what we feel and how we move.

“If you think about what we lost during COVID,” says Moses T. Alexander Greene, Director of Performing Arts and Cinema at NCMA, “we’ve lost the ability to be with each other, to hug us, which is just dancing, when you think about it. “


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