The big showcase of Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth’s 13th annual Modern Dance Festival at the Modern is stripped down this year: no lighting rigs, no marley floor, no formal seating. Featured guest artist Gus Solomons Jr. said it best in remembering a game-changing statement from his onetime teacher, the legendary Merce Cunningham.
“The notion that all movement was dance was a revelation,” Solomons said Saturday in a lecture/Q&A session after the tall, lanky, legs-for-days dancer performed his recent work I Used to Be Taller. More on that later.
The festival is centered on the Modern’s current exhibit “Frank Stella: A Retrospective,” a celebration of one of the 20th century’s great abstract artists. Solomons’ connection is that he was a dancer in the one collaboration between Cunningham and Stella, 1967’s Scramble. Stella designed the set, a series of panels on wheels, of different widths and heights. Each panel was a different color of the rainbow, reflecting Stella’s fondness for color and pattern.
Those colors, and other Stella themes, made appearances in works performed in the Modern’s Grand Lobby. The inspiration wasn’t as obvious in some pieces, and that jibes with the spirit of this festival, which has always been interested in interdisciplinary conversations.
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Project in Motion of Las Cruces, N.M., began with STELLAAA!, an aerial silk ballet in a stabilized tentlike structure, performed by Hilary McDaniel-Douglas. In Changing Topologies by M2 of Monroe, La., Tina Mullone danced a solo of moves that seem to be influenced by martial arts to a live score played by Mel Mobley, using paintbrushes, large PVC pipe, mallets and steel pipes on foam egg crates to make percussive sounds.
Kelly Kocinski Trager of Dallas had one of the best solos with Full of Scratches, using a small patch of floor, heavy on arm motion and the movements of a robot losing battery power. Another highlight was the gorgeous Done, choreographed and performed by Marianne Ruth of Dallas, paired with Frank Chapman on a cyr wheel, with remarkable grace, speed and balance.
The premiere of What. This. Is. by Wayne M. Smith of Memphis and jhon r. stronks was a comment on understanding other perspectives. Stronks unrolled a long paper carpet of different colors and shapes taped together, with Smith moving loose scraps into piles to Nina Simone’s If He Changed My Name. It ended with inviting audience members to dance and be introduced to one another.
The final declaration, with him backed against the wall, was a gut-punching statement about being a black man in America.
CD/FW impressively performed Solomons’ Steps #13: Thirteens, a complicated, fast-moving ensemble piece with specific phrases and repeats.
Solomons himself was clearly the star. In the Modern auditorium, along with the lecture, was part of the 1967 German documentary about Cunningham, called 498, 3rd Ave., which features Solomons.
The man now walks with a cane, but his solo dance offered no hint that he needs help to move. In a three-piece suit and tie, he spoke of the things he used to be (taller, skinnier, stronger, impatient, etc.), with jangly arms and model-like posing. The final declaration, with him backed against the wall, was a gut-punching statement about being a black man in America.