A hallmark of Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth’s annual Modern Dance Festival at the Modern is that it always finds an interesting theme or through-line that, while often tied to an exhibit in the museum, seems have a fresh identity each year. That’s the beauty of modern dance.
This year there is not a national name in the world of choreography, but the festival, which opened Thursday night, is focusing on the current exhibition, “Doug Aitken: Electric Earth,” in interesting ways.
The first weekend’s event is called “Electric Earth in the Round with Illumination: Scatterlings.” The improvisational, multi-discipline work involves several CD/FW company dancers with a guest dancer, seventh grader Kaleb Smith, and speakers and singers reading stories, fiction and non, from multiple sources including their own. Some sing tunes that speak to them.
Sometimes lyrics of famous songs make it into the stories, everything from “What a Wonderful World” and “Ball of Confusion” to “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “In Your Eyes.”
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CD/FW Artistic Director Kerry Kreiman’s concept here is to creating sculptural poses and movement inspired by the Aitken exhibit, but fully created by the dancers. To make things even more interesting, there is harmless audience participation in which arts-goers are given slips of paper instructing them to casually slip into or around the performance space — a circular spot in the Grand Lobby — doing mundane tasks and/or movements. They’re also allowed to take pictures and videos (no flash) during the performance.
The work will look a little different each night, depending on the performers and the audience. On Thursday, the speakers included Solomon Espie, Tammy M. Gomez, John A. Parker and Deb Wood. Themes included the importance of arts education, immigration and protest.
Working from the Aitken pieces, shopping carts, coffee makers and cassette tape ribbon were part of the action. The dancers used not only the Grand Lobby, but the walkway above the space and the stairs, and lighting designer Nikki DeShea Smith created multiple-location designs inspired by Aitken’s use of light.
Young dancer Kaleb Smith was a standout, not only in his angular movement but his awareness of what happened around him and creating natural, organic improvised work.
As the audience became involved, it reinforced Kreiman’s long-held idea that anyone can dance. It might not involve complicated foot work, rhythm or pattern, or other traits we associate with dancers on the stage, but any kind of movement —maybe just the head, or a small gesture — can work.
The festival, which is free, has a different program called “Electric Earth in the Round with Natural Light: Revolve/Rebound/Resound/Reground” at 1 p.m. July 15 and 16 in the Modern’s Grand Lobby.
Modern Dance Festival at the Modern
8 p.m. Friday, July 7 ; 1 p.m. July 15 and 16
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Grand Lobby, Fort Worth