The word “impresario” derives from the Italian word impresa, an enterprise or undertaking. Impresario is a high-falutin’ word for an entertainment manager, organizer, or administrator, and one of the snazzier job titles in the biz. I suppose many people fit the definition, but few actually live up to the implied mystique, as did Diaghilev, Sol Hurok, Lincoln Kirstein, and Harvey Lichtenstein. And consider Charles Reinhart, who is stepping down as artistic director of the American Dance Festival where he has been since 1968. He was feted in an evening at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House last week in honor of his 80th birthday.
It’s a memorable experience to spend time at ADF, which takes place in the high heat of summer at Duke University in Durham, NC. A combination of summer camp, performance festival, and convention (plus ancillary things like the Institute for Dance Criticism), it provides an immersive dance experience. Classes are taught throughout the days, and performances are given in the evenings, or in workshop showings at random times in classrooms and gymnasiums. The show audiences are filled with enthusiastic students, which puts the “festive” back in the festival.
A handful of the signature companies and artists chosen by Reinhart performed at the 80th birthday event. The oldest and best-known was Paul Taylor Dance Company, where Reinhart worked early on as company manager, and which has performed nearly every year at ADF for eons. They performed Brandenburgs, a lively, poetic formal dance anchored by the peerless Michael Trusnovec in the Apollonian male lead. He was joined by five men and three women (Parisa Khobdeh, Amy Young, and Eran Bugge, all excellent) in lush green velour to form an odd-numbered cast, one of the secret satisfactions to this strong dance. Eiko & Koma, in their signature glacial style, gradually converged mid-stage where, shockingly, an arrow “pierced” Eiko’s heart. As always, Eiko’s focused presence was so intense that in her trance-like state, she transported us with her.
Reinhart’s aesthetic includes other physical movers who have garnered impressive popularity with their own specific vocabularies of varying interest, including Pilobolus, represented by a sensuous, pliant duet, and Shen Wei performing solo, taking cues from a DJ calling out numbers which corresponded to movement sequences in his noodling sock-footed cursive. And Mark Dendy made an appearance as Martha Graham, doing a short monologue and wafting about in a lame gown. The performances were preceded by a biopic on Reinhart, and interspersed with speeches remembering various phases in his life. His daughter Ariane sang to her father, an indulgence for a man entering his ninth decade who has served the dance community dutifully.