In 12 years of producing the free summer Modern Dance Festival at the Modern, Kerry Kreiman of Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth has always found interesting programming for a mix of performance and film, from performing phrases of Twyla Tharp’s One Hundreds, to the 9 Beet Stretch, to last year’s experimental — and dizzying — experiment with a GoPro camera.
For the 13th annual festival, taking place the next two weekends at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, she is capitalizing on something that makes sense in a sanctuary of modern art. The entire event is programmed around a single exhibit, “Frank Stella: A Retrospective,” which runs through Sept. 18 and is a partnership with New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, where the exhibit has already been seen.
“I’ve always loved Frank Stella’s work,” Kreiman says. “A lot of it looks like dance or like movement.”
Kreiman began more research into Stella and discovered that in the 1960s, Stella collaborated with one of the masters of 20th-century modern dance, Merce Cunningham. And as it happened, the work they created in 1967, Scramble, featured dancer Gus Solomons Jr., who was part of the Merce Cunningham company.
Kreiman has a history with Solomons — he taught at the University of Illinois when she was a dance student there, and CD/FW has featured Solomons’ company Paradigm in its programming before, although not as part of the Modern festival.
Solomons, who is also a dance critic, will be in Fort Worth for the festival on the second weekend, performing his recent work I Used To Be Taller, as well as talking about his memories of Scramble. A film from Merce Cunningham Trust about Scramble and a long-distance interaction with choreographer/dancer Jeff Slayton, who was the first dancer to take over Solomons’ role in Scramble, will also take place.
This year’s festival happens only in the afternoons, 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and the second weekend also features CD/FW performing Solomons’ Steps #13: Thirteens. Both weeks will have dancers from around Texas and the region performing new work inspired by Stella — his career, themes or specific works.
Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth and guests will perform a new work called ConStellaTions: Cosmos to Chaos. Guest dancers in the festival include Hilary McDaniel Douglas/Project In Motion (Las Cruces, N.M.), elledanceworks (Dallas), Amy Morrow/The Theorists (Austin), Muscle Memory Dance Theatre (Dallas), Mysti Jace Pride (Austin), jhon r. stronks (Houston) and Wayne M. Smith (Memphis).
Creating the set
Scramble consists of 18 sections whose order could be changed or omitted. Each dancer has specific roles; Cunningham performed a clownlike solo.
Another giant of visual art, Jasper Johns, artistic adviser to Cunningham’s company, appointed Stella to design the set.
“I’m not sure at what point Frank and Merce would agree about what the set would be,” Solomons says by phone from Berlin, where he’s creating a new piece. “The movement was pretty much done. There were these bands of rainbow colors in the set and the costumes. [Set pieces] were on stands that would wheel around the space, and we spent some time figuring out how they would move and when they would move and how we would move.”
There was no interpretation at all with Merce’s work. We operated doing movement for movement’s sake.
Gus Solomons Jr.
The collaboration worked well because with both Stella and Cunningham, the meaning of the work is in the mind of the beholder.
“There was no interpretation at all with Merce’s work,” Solomons says. “We operated doing movement for movement’s sake.”
Solomons, an influential figure in experimental dance, studied architecture first, and his dance reflects that aesthetic.
“I was making dances before working with Merce,” he says, “but my style emerged after working with Merce, as an amalgamation of my architectural sensibilities and the way I saw things and liked things to be seen.”
Krieman has always programmed the festival to be multidisciplinary and showcase how other art forms have informed modern and contemporary dance.
“So far it’s been a good collaboration because we have crossover audiences,” she says. “We have people who come in who learn more about the other art forms. Some of the same aesthetics that came out of the visual art world influence modern and contemporary dance. … I like to see how artists are dialoguing and collaborating.”
Solomons says there’s another reason he wanted to participate in the Fort Worth festival: “I didn’t get to see the Stella exhibit in New York,” he says. “I’m excited to finally see it.”
Modern Dance Festival at the Modern
- 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and July 30-31
- Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
- 3200 Darnell St., Fort Worth
- 817-738-9215; www.themodern.org