"Modern dance is an ongoing revolution," Charles Reinhart said in 1987. At that point Reinhart had run the American Dance Festival for almost 20 years; on Thursday night the festival celebrated his 43-year reign and final season as director with an opening-night gala at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Reinhart was honored with an appropriately eccentric lineup of pieces, punctuated by brief tributes to his influence on the dance world.
There's no questioning that influence: Reinhart (whose wife Stephanie, was co-director from 1993 until her death in 2002) transformed the small, homespun festival, begun in 1934 by modern-dance pioneers at Bennington College in Vermont, into an international destination for modern dance.
Under his direction, major choreographers have been given first chances; classics of American dance have been revived; an international choreographer's residency established, bringing in work from around the world; and contemporary dance programs developed in China and Russia.
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Durham has become a major summer dance destination, with hundreds of students descending on the Duke University campus to take classes and workshops and to watch the dozens of performances.
On Thursday, Mark Dendy paid tribute to the influence that the festival has had on young artists in a funny, wistful solo, "I Am a Dancer," in which he offered the Martha Graham impersonator Richard Move a run for his money.
There was John Kelly in "Pagliaccio," a strange, haunting solo by Martha Clarke, long associated with the festival, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in an excerpt from Ohad Naharin's brilliant, tough "Three to Max." Both were exceptional performances, with "Three," showing Naharin's compositional genius and the dancers' mastery of his particular movement style.
In the festival's tradition of introducing new work to the U.S., there was the premiere of the Scottish Dance Theater, which presented a hard-driving duet, "Drift," by James Wilton. Set to a mix of electronic and rock music, it was a little relentless in its endless rise-and-fall, crash-and-support partnering, but superbly danced by James MacGillivray and Natalie Trewinnard.
At the end, Reinhart offered a self-deprecating thanks to everyone. "If you believe what they all said, I have a bridge to sell you," he said. It was a nice end to a night during which the dance spoke loudest of all.