The 19th annual Modern Atlanta Dance Festival squeezed five troupes into a 90-minute program at Fabrefaction Theatre on Friday. Artistic and Executive Director Douglas Scott, who also heads up the host company, Full Radius Dance, has run the festival since its inception in the mid-1990s and deserves a bow for his commitment to the ever-evolving Atlanta dance scene. (A second and final performance of the festival took place Saturday.)
There were several firsts this year. It was the first time the festival has been presented at Fabrefaction Theatre, in a sleek industrial building on the Westside. It was the first time Scott has included a non-Atlanta-based company (SWADanceCollective from Valdosta). And it was the first time T. Lang Dance has performed. It was also my first MAD, which means I can’t compare it with the 18 previous festivals. Seen by itself, however, it offered five tempting slices of our local modern-dance pie. And slices they were. Each company performed for 10 to 15 minutes, four of them in excerpts from larger works. Sadly, only a smattering of people were in the audience to see them.
The one complete piece was “Behind Closed Doors,” choreographed by Sarah Wildes Arnett and performed by her and five members of the SWADanceCollective. To aggressive, driving music from Hildur Guònadóttir (“Erupting Light”) and Mother Tongue’s “Rewording,” the dancers, dressed in drab-colored street clothes, attacked the space and, in at least once instance, one another as if angry about not having enough physical or emotional room. There was nothing pretty or tender here, just a rush of combative movement in well-developed and beautifully performed patterns and groupings. The feeling was one of both isolation and overcrowding, both aggression and longing for touch. I hope this Valdosta group will visit Atlanta again.
A quieter mood infused an excerpt from the all-female Zoetic Dance Ensemble’s “What’s Under Here,” performed carefully by Mallory Baxley and Kay Stewart. Working center stage in a large circle of light, the dancers touched, pushed and annoyed each other. They shifted moods unexpectedly and manipulated each other’s clothing; Baxley pulled Stewart’s shirt over her face, creating an almost menacing mask. Their relationship was disconcerting: they were both vulnerable and disconnected.
T. Lang hails from New York and has brought that city’s exciting drive and intensity with her. Her five dancers were all kinetic energy in “Post Up,” part of a 40-minute work set to music by Hahn and Hauschka (violinist Hilary Hahn in an experimental mood and German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka). The dancers shone in bright coral-colored tights, which accentuated their solid technique and bold, athletic style. Deep lunges, squats and forceful extensions brought shape, weight and emotional dimension to this finely choreographed piece. Most effective were the unison sections of deeply grounded, repeated phrases that seemed to gain energy each time. Dancer Ashley Reid was a standout and the last to be seen onstage, digging into the floor with her feet.
An excerpt from Scott’s new “It is four years ago and it is yesterday” was just plain beautiful. Here the dancers — three in wheelchairs, five not — became interdependent in a multitude of ways. There was something delicious about seeing a unison sweep of arms as the able-bodied dancers stood and those in wheelchairs sat. It normalized what we often assume is abnormal. They leaned against one another, lifted, held and supported one another, creating a picture of vulnerability and acceptance, with deeply elegiac overtones. One dancer (Onur Topal-Sümer) shredded live flowers in her hands and strewed them onstage as if throwing them onto a grave.
While there were a couple of contrived moments when it seemed as though someone in rehearsal had said “let’s see if we can do this with the chairs,” the overall feeling was one of a community drawn together by grief. Irish folk ballads and the sound of crickets provided the soundscape.
Least successful was the opening piece, “River of Souls,” excerpted from Rule of 3 Productions’ “Persephone’s Fall” and choreographed by Kristyn McGeehan. As live music from the Ghosts Project (vocals, drums and amplified violin) filled the theater, a masked male figure (Thomas Bell) entered by propelling himself forward with a large pole. This was the boatman Charon, punting his boat across the river Hades. It was an arresting image. When his lover Acheron (Sally O’Grady) joined him, they performed not a duet but a trio, their bodies wrapping and unwrapping around the pole and each other. Six other dancers then appeared, as both the dead being pulled across the river Hades to the Underworld and the waves of the Hades itself. The seeds of an interesting work were there, but it lacked a clear choreographic style.
Presenting the work of five dance companies in one short evening is a wonderful way of sampling choreographers and dancers we don’t often see. It would, however, be nice to see more of each troupe, perhaps by presenting two on one evening and three the next. We’ll stay tuned to see what Scott does next year to celebrate MAD’s 20th anniversary.