Your guide to the American Dance Festival, from major debuts to crowd favorites

Pilobolus is back again with another ADF-commissioned world premiere slated for the big stage.Sara D. Davis

Putting together a dance season is never an easy task, nor is it easy to predict how a live performance will turn out.

But Jodee Nimerichter, executive director of the American Dance Festival, wants as many people as possible to see acclaimed performances from national dance companies and choreographers, whether attendees are first-timers or longtime season ticket-holders.

Related: Millennials, you can enjoy American Dance Festival on the cheap with ADF Go

This year’s festival is June 14 to July 21 and will spotlight a range of performers in a variety of venues — something for everybody, Nimerichter hopes.

Plus, there is a new feature — an ADF alumni weekend with a first-ever concert by five former ADF students — and, as always, an ADF faculty concert and a musicians’ concert with ADF School musicians. There will be tours, parties and hundreds of young dancers in Durham.

The American Dance Festival began to make Durham its year-round home almost 10 years ago, and it continues to draw a dizzying array of talent. This year’s festival will feature 53 performances by 26 companies and choreographers in 7 different venues. All are in Durham except for the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

That includes 4 ADF debuts, 11 ADF commissions and 10 world premieres. That also includes more women choreographers as well as a showcase for local talent.

We dove into through this year’s lineup to pick some of our best bets. Use this as your guide.

Must-see performances

The following is at the Carolina Theatre.

“Wondrous Women” features five women, five solos — five works created by women at a time when women are raising their voices like never before — a showcase for the diversity of female choreographers in dance today. The shows are scheduled for The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham, a handsome, old historic space, although not usually an ADF venue. Friday, July 13, 8 p.m., and Saturday, July 14, 7 p.m.

Chapel Hill native/tap wonder Michelle Dorrance’s company, Dorrance Dance, has performed for audiences from Singapore to Montreal, London to Stockholm. Three years ago, the tapper herself won a coveted MacArthur “genius” award, and currently is choreographing works for the American Ballet Theater. It’s not only tap shoes that can make a noise, she says, but also pointe shoes normally worn by ballerinas. She’s taught Stephen Colbert the shim sham on his late-night show and continues to take tap to new heights.

Rhapsody James creates what she calls “street jazz,” dance with an asphalt beat, electric energy and alleyway formations, combining hip-hop, jazz and modern. She’s choreographed for Beyoncé, Madonna, Puff Daddy and The Jonas Brothers, among others, and is artistic director/choreographer for the company, R.E.D. – Rhapsody En Dance. She teaches at the ever-popular Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan.

Aparna Ramaswamy, along with her mother, Ranee (both Indian-Americans), teaches and choreographs Bharatanatyam dance in Minneapolis, a South Indian dance form originating in Tamil temples. This fall, their company, Ragamala Dance Company, will perform at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Aparna has been lauded for her sculptural, lyrical dancing and for her complex rhythms.

Yabin Wang is considered the leading contemporary dance choreographer in Beijing, China, and head of a dance studio there, Yabin & Her Friends. She is also the leading actress in the Chinese soap opera, “The Love Story of the Village.” Wang trained in Chinese classical dance, ballet and contemporary dance, and admits she likes the control that dance gives her. Her movement style goes to the heart of drama: how life deals us pain, loss and beauty.

Camille A. Brown presents a solo from her latest work, “ink,” the last in a trilogy on black identity. Brown attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and hails from Queens, N.Y. A storyteller, she combines gesture, ritualistic references, history and contemporary culture, and is known for interweaving African-American social dance, African dance, tap, jazz, modern and hip hop – all to tell a tale of positive black cultural life.

Crowd-Pleasers and more

The following are at Durham Performing Arts Center.

Pilobolus is back again with another ADF-commissioned world premiere slated for the big stage, for the first time showcasing a female trio of dancers in what was once an all-male company. Given the line-up, the show should be a sumptuous look at why a company made history with its astonishing physicality — acrobatic, sculptural, even comic. Also included will be “Gnomen,” featuring a male quartet, and “Day Two,” set to a soundtrack by the Talking Heads and encapsulating nature’s creation, perfect for a group named after a fungus. Thursday-Friday, June 21-22, 8 p.m.; children’s matinee, Saturday, June 23, 1 p.m.

Paul Taylor Dance Company is back as well with two Taylor pieces from the 1980s, “Mercuric Tidings” and “Roses,” marked by the renowned choreographer’s flowing grace and liquid power. Never forget Taylor started out as a swimmer. Also on tap is a newly commissioned work by Doug Varone, “Half Life.” Tuesday-Wednesday, June 26-27, 8 p.m.

Shen Wei Dance Arts gives performances that are highly visual as well as kinetic. Choreographer Wei tackles the 1977 anti-opera, “Neither,” by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and American composer Morton Feldman, portraying the writhing darkness of existence combined with the strength of hope. From China originally, Wei studied Chinese opera and traditional Chinese ink painting and calligraphy, and his works are like animated 3-D paintings. Saturday-Sunday, June 16-17, 7 p.m.

L-E-V Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, scheduled for one performance, will present “OCD Love,” a darker piece about love out of sync, physical angst, prayers for deliverance and the repetition inherent in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Both Eyal and Behar are from Israel, and the word “lev” in Hebrew means “heart.” Music is by percussive techno musician Ori Lichtik. Tuesday, July 3, 8 p.m.

Expanding Horizons

The following are at Reynolds Industries Theater.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. kicks off the season with an ADF-commissioned world premiere. This rather large company is known for its evocative, energetic dancing and technical prowess, as well as its archive of classic African-American dances. The company will again revive choreographer Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder” about life on a chain gang from 1959, set to work songs.

They also will present “Awassa Astrige/Ostrich,” a brief solo from 1932 by Asadata Dafora, who introduced authentic African music and dance to the U.S.; “This I Know For Sure…” by choreographer Ray Mercer, who danced in “The Lion King”; and a new work by Abby Zbikowski, who is also featured in the Footprints show at the season’s end. Thursday, June 14, 7 p.m.; Friday, June 15, 8 p.m.; children’s matinee, Saturday, June 16, 1 p.m.

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence melds traditional African dance with contemporary choreography, along with the spoken word. Brown, the choreographer, is set to receive this year’s Scripps/ADF Award. On tap are “Torch,” a tribute to one woman’s life and featuring incredible spins; “On Earth Together,” inspired by and danced to Stevie Wonder’s music; “Walking Out the Dark,” a funeral-like conversation about our relationships; and a duet from the larger “Lessons, March,” set to a speech by Dr. Marin Luther King Jr., about man’s value. Thursday-Friday, June 28-29, 8 p.m., Saturday, June 30, 7 p.m.; children’s matinee, Saturday, June 30, 1 p.m.

Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre, from Miami, draws on performance art, opera, drag and contemporary ballet, and is led by Cuban-American Rosie Herrera. The company will present an ADF-commissioned world premiere of Herrera’s dance-theater piece, “Make Believe,” probing the line between religion and fantasy, spirituality and magic, paganism and celebrity. Friday, July 6, 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 7, 7 p.m.

Footprints ends the ADF season with three ADF-commissioned world premieres by three emerging female choreographers: Dafi Altabeb, from Israel whose work reflects youthful searching and tenderness; Abby Zbikowski, who teaches dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and creates work that’s weighted, even hard-core, and marked by punk, hip-hop and the martial arts; and Jillian Peña, whose work centers on the probing of self and others, giving a nod to psychoanalysis and queer theory. Friday, July 20, 8p.m.; Saturday, July 21, 7 p.m.

Tere O’Connor has said he sees “dance as a system with its own properties.” His rather abstract work plays with gesture and movement defined as shape and space, attempting to bypass spoken language and any assigned meanings. He has created works for the Lyon Opera Ballet and Mikhail Baryshnikov. To be performed is his latest work, “Long Run,” an ADF commission. Tuesday-Wednesday, July 10-11, 8 p.m.

Pushing Boundaries

The following is at Rubenstein Arts Center’s von der Heyden Studio Theater in partnership with Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University.

“Places Please!” starring Nicole Wolcott & Larry Keigwin offers audiences a comedic look at backstage moments just before the curtain goes up, along with the craziness of making dance and being in New York’s dance world. Friday, June 22, 7 p.m., 10 p.m.; Saturday, June 23, 10 p.m.; Sunday, June 24, 5 p.m., 7 p.m.

Anne Plamondon hails from Quebec, Canada and has danced in that country and Europe. Her solo, “The Same Eyes as Yours,” takes on mental illness, portraying the struggles, obsessions, fragility and release of being inside a body in need. Saturday, June 30, 7 p.m.; Sunday, July 1, 2 p.m., 5 p.m.

Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M. is Abraham’s New York-based company that will present “Dearest Home,” solos and duets that represent an intimate probing of relationships and our deepest feelings of love, longing and loss, or what it means to be at home inside yourself. Abraham grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., and teaches at UCLA in California. He has received a MacArthur “genius” award. Tuesday, July 17, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, July 18, 2 p.m., 8 p.m.; Thursday, July 19, 8 p.m.

The following is at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

Dana Ruttenberg Dance Group performs the interactive “Naba 2.0,” created by Israeli-born choreographer Dana Ruttenberg and offering audiences in this ADF debut a gallery tour with four dancers dressed as museum guards. Participants use audio guides to select their own music, do some dancing of their own, live it up and be the art. Stand, walk, sit and lie on the floor. Ages 6 and up. Saturday-Sunday, July 14-15, 6 p.m., 8 p.m.; Monday, July 16, 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m.; Tuesday, July 17, 6 p.m., 8 p.m.

Local talent

The following is at the Durham Fruit & Produce Company warehouse.

Murielle Elizéon is French-born, but works in Saxapahaw, now as part of the arts nonprofit Culture Mill. She describes “Brown,” her ADF debut, as “a collision with the lingering allure of gender and racial stereotypes.” Adult content and nudity. Sunday, July 8, 2 p.m., 7 p.m.; Monday, July 9, 7 p.m.


The 2018 American Dance Festival (ADF) season is June 14-July 21. For tickets, locations and schedules, go to


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