Judge not 

Dance festival lets students critique first

First things first: Before any of the 395 dancers from 26 attending colleges takes the stage at the Northwest Regional Conference of the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA), the three professionals adjudicating those students’  performances will have to show what they’re made of.

“We’ve got these people who are giving choreographers and dancers all this feedback,” says Nicole Bradley Browning, University of Montana associate professor of dance and conference coordinator (and, full disclosure, also the wife of Interim Editor Skylar Browning). “Well, let’s put them up to the test too. What’s their choreography all about? Let’s see them perform.”

The move is atypical for an ACDFA conference, 10 of which take place around the United States every year. Each conference typically features a three-member panel of judges and a kickoff professional dance concert, but almost never melds the two, usually because people articulate enough to give good feedback and diverse enough to provide different perspectives are no longer choreographing and performing their own work.

“When I brought [the idea] up to the director of the ACDFA,” says Bradley Browning, “she said ‘Huh, good luck finding those three people who will be able to still dance.’”

The people were found. So, performing during the opening night of the conference will be professional dancers Maureen Fleming, Allyson Green and David Dorfman—and all three will then spend the next two evenings adjudicating, offering comments and selecting notable performances for Saturday’s gala concert. But first the adjudicators will have a chance to earn the respect of their students.

Not that the adjudicators have much to prove coming in. Fleming has taught on the faculty of the Julliard School and NYU Tisch School of the Arts, as well as performed around the world as a solo artist and with her company. Her work is influenced by Butoh, a Japanese post-World War II movement reacting against the brutality of war with a focus on grotesquerie. Stylistic elements of the form include nude dance and slow-motion movement, which Fleming incorporates in “Axis Mundi,” which she will perform in Missoula.

Green currently heads the dance department of the University of California, San Diego. Her early work was heavily influenced by her experiences in Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the Soviet Union; her latest work turns south from her current location and hearkens to her childhood in the border town of El Paso, Texas, focusing on the personal stories of those caught up in the shifting tides of history. Green will perform “Abandon,” a piece that integrates digital light design and streaming video in a multidisciplinary performance.

Dorfman teaches at Connecticut College in New Haven, Conn., and heads the New York-based David Dorfman Dance Company. Both pieces he will perform, in the athletic style to which he is accustomed, include text to specifically reference the subject addressed by the movement and music.

The first of Dorf-man’s pieces, a solo from a larger work called Lightbulb Theory, features Dorfman dancing in his deceased father’s overcoat and jewelry. In an effort to address the question of what’s left behind when a person passes, the piece moves from mourning into inspiration, a transience Dorfman says is echoed in dance.

“Dance,” he says in a recent phone interview, “is a very ethereal art form…For the most part, it’s seen in concert and people remember only certain aspects about it. It exists very much in the present tense.”

Where dance takes place becomes a metaphor for questions about stability and safety in Sequel to Social Security: A Work in Progress, a structured improvisation Dorfman will also perform in Missoula. In it, Dorfman asks about the sources of safety in contemporary America and to what lengths we will go to secure it.

“The theater [is] a safe place, which on some level is great,” he says, “but if it gets too safe then nothing’s really happening…That’s my fear for this country—that if we concentrate so much on safety that we’re not really living.”

In fact, stepping on the stage and performing before the people he will later judge strikes Dorfman as similar in theme to the piece.

“I definitely don’t know how it’s going to go over in Missoula. I’m nervous about it,” Dorfman admits. “In the face of some criticism of safety, I’m almost yearning for a little bit myself and wanting things to work out. And yet I’m putting myself up on stage and taking a risk in doing so.”

The ACDFA Northwest Regional Conference’s opening concert takes place Wednesday, March 28 at 8 PM in UM’s University Theatre. $10/$8 students, seniors. See www.sfa.umt.edu/drama/acdfa for a full schedule of events.
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