BWW Review: AMERICAN DANCE GUILD Festival Fetes the Modern Dance Community's Triumphs

Celebration lingered in the air like a sweet dessert at this year's premiere of the American Dance Guild festival. Held at the Joan Weill Center for Dance, this four-day festival showcased the unique movement vocabulary of thirty-five different companies nationwide. On opening night, a true "Who's Who" of modern dance royalty was honored for their groundbreaking and richly varied contributions to this sphere, paying homage to Alice Teirstein, Liz Lerman and Doug Varone and basking in their individual choreographic styles. Sprinkled with striking pieces from five other choreographers, the night celebrated the art of movement in a most familiar way; nearly everyone present was a former or current dancer/choreographer so it truly felt like coming home.

First on deck was Imana Gunawan's vestiges, and other things that keep on. Set on a slippery white tarp atop the stage, a quartet of strong technicians clad in black emerged, playing with the notion of constant movement, particularly through repetitious spirals. The strength of the collective became increasingly obvious, as the dancers experimented with weight distribution in couples, trios and as a group. The shifting of movement in different groupings sparked a meditation on self-reflection and consciousness, and sparkled with each assisted lift or solo suspension. Without was next, danced and choreographed by Nathan Madden. Homage to longing and absence represented with a lit empty chair, Madden is a sound technician, moving through the space with an impossible fluidity, like liquid. But his choreography often felt self-indulgent and overly complicated for a rather simple, tried-and-true concept, which parlayed into series of four-or-more pirouettes or aggressive leaps that the piece didn't need.

A stark contrast to the previous, Gesel Mason's LEC/DEM or How Do You Spell Femaphobic followed. A movement-based lecture, this piece's standout was its form, which mingled text, costume and movement into a refreshed understanding of female physicality and sexuality: How do words and preconceived ideas inform the presentation of the female body in society? Soaked with a quick wit and tongue-in-cheek humor, this piece left nothing to the imagination, and the audience certainly wasn't left with "any questions." Will, choreographed by Cherylyn Lavagnino was a percussive study that reimagined pointe work for the modern age. Set to staccato violin, wonderfully executed by Jane Chung, a quartet of two males and two females displayed the gravitas needed in dueling pas de deux. Angular, terse movement and constant contact between the two pairs helped to redefine this new form of ballet, representing the physical boundaries and limitations that are imposed upon the self and the other. The constant sense of flow helped to showcase this in a most original way. Homeland, choreographed by Amy Marshall served as a whimsical counterpoint to the previous piece. Clad in cool hues, the dancers brought to life a refined thematic vocabulary, punctuated with sharp flicks of the wrist, inversions and buoyant leaps through the air; they moved like wind. But the piece would've been stronger if it had been shorter in length, keeping to a pithier, more mysterious sensibility.

The second act of the evening paid tribute to the night's honorees; first up, Alice Teirstein. A behind-the-scenes video peek into Alice's inspiring Young Dancemakers Company, the audience was privy to see the influence that both Alice and dance had on teenagers, who are trying to evolve and understand their growth in the world. This impact was then more fully realized in the piece that followed when Journey took the stage live. A completely improvised movement exploration, young dancers traversed along the stage's diagonals, embodying varying degrees of self-consciousness, confidence and individuality. Liz Lerman took the stage next to showcase her choreographic body of work through speech and a series of video clips. Lerman's individuality stems from her ability to focus on the "who" and "where" of her works, imbuing her choreographic vocabulary with distinction, dignity and geographic relevance. Ending the night on a high, Doug Varone's Lux showcased an easy, pedestrian approach to movement in a soothing, sweeping design. Set to Philip Glass' dreamy The Light, the dancers played with directional changes and calculated spontaneity that stirred the stage with familial joy.

A night dedicated to movement and the artists that create it show just how impactful dance is: to people, to society and to the world at large. It penetrates our sphere and gives way to expression that couldn't be fulfilled otherwise.

Photo Credit: Lois Greenfield via

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From This Author Christina Pandolfi