Get Your Move OnThe Alabama Dance Festival kicks it up a notch

MCDC dancers Jennifer Goggans and Rashaun Mitchell in Crises. Photo by Briana Blasko.

Dancing. We all do it, whether we trot our stuff on the dance-floors of Birmingham’s local clubs or wiggle to a favorite mix in the privacy of our own bedrooms. Even the most bumbling wallflower has surely tapped a toe to a good beat now and then. Dancing is a part of human nature, the physical embodiment of our urge to express emotion through movement.

Yet, as an art form, dance seems to have suffered a greater share of our collective indifference. Our museums, symphony orchestras and theatres can all boast a greater attendance rate than our dance companies. Still, the art of dance thrives here in Alabama, and there is no greater evidence of this than the return of the Alabama Dance Festival for its 14th year on January 27-30.

Rosemary Johnson, executive director of the Alabama Dance Council, concurs. “All of the performing arts are suffering because of the current economic situation,” she says. “And of the performing arts, dance is the least well known, receives less funding than other arts disciplines, and is a more difficult ‘sell’ to audiences. That’s true across the country, not just in Alabama. Having said that, the Alabama Dance Council has worked hard to successfully establish a support network across the state that has brought the Alabama dance community together. The Alabama Dance Festival presents a connected and artistically thriving dance community that showcases this beautiful art form, raising the visibility of concert dance for the general public. The creative spirit has not been suppressed—we are being even more creative!”

MCDC dancers Cédric Andrieux and Jeannie Steele (foreground) and Company in Suite for Five. Photo by Tony Dougherty.

It’s true, the 14th annual Alabama Dance Festival (ADF) will bring a critical mass of dance to Birmingham. The festival is the flagship project of the Alabama Dance Council, a statewide, nonprofit service organization with a mission to promote the study, creation, performance and enjoyment of dance in all forms. Held in January each year, this iteration will bring over 1000 participants from all over the region to Birmingham to take classes, attend workshops, perform in their own companies and watch other companies perform.

It will be the largest festival in the history of the Alabama Dance Council and will introduce a few new programs as part of that growth. “This year,” says Johnson, “we added a new performance event through a partnership with the National Society of Arts and Letters. ‘The Choreography Competition: The Art of the Solo’ will present twelve semi-finalists in Saturday night’s performance, augmented by three local professional dance companies who will be performing as guest artists: Southern Danceworks, Arova Contemporary Ballet, and Sanspointe Dance Company. The winner of the competition will go on to compete in the national competition in May, which will also be held in Birmingham.”

This year will also feature the first-ever Opening Reception on Thursday night at the Alabama Ballet. Birmingham-based Sanspointe Dance Company is presenting Florida-based Fuzion Dance Artists as a part of the opening festivities. The evening will also include a showing of the documentary film by Charles Atlas, Merce Cunningham, A Lifetime of Dance, followed by a master class to professional dancers and college dance majors, which the audience may observe.

That class will be led by Robert Swinston, Director of Choreography for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), the guest company for this year’s festival. Merce Cunningham was an avant-garde dancer and choreographer who was considered a monumental force in the development of American modern dance. According to Johnson, this will be a once in a life-time opportunity to see the MCDC live. “It was this year or never because of the Legacy Plan that was implemented upon Merce Cunningham’s death in July of 2009. The plan stipulated that the company would do a final worldwide tour— the Legacy Tour—and take up to two years. The tour began in February of 2010 and will end in NYC on Dec. 31, 2011. The Alabama Dance Festival is an annual January event, so it was 2011 or not at all.”

MCDC dancers Daniel Madoff and Julie Cunningham in Xover. Photo by Kawakahi Amina.

In the past, the Alabama Dance Council has taken pains to make sure that artists of all disciplines have something to look forward to, and this year is no different. “Because of Merce Cunningham’s cross-disciplinary collaborations throughout his career,” says Johnson, “I think both musicians and visual artists will be drawn to the Festival. Specifically, there are several educational programs highlighting this aspect of Merce’s work—the pre-concert talk and post-performance discussion on Friday night presented and moderated by Nancy Dalva, the writer and producer of the webcast series Mondays with Merce; a Living Archival Presentation: ‘History Matters,’ a presentation providing a refreshing view of Cunningham’s work, ideas, and influences; and the presentation ‘Approaches to Sound’ presented by MCDC composers/performers David Behrman and John King covering a half-century of avant garde compositional methodologies, performative techniques, and evolving musical technologies.”

Other noteworthy events on the schedule include the Alabama Dance Showcase, which will feature 20 performances by regional dance troupes from around the region, and the Birmingham Dance Showcase, which will feature nine performances by local dance companies, including:

– Fitness with an Attitude by Dance Trance Birmingham

– Songs of Spring: Tagore by Notinee Indian Dance Group

– Flamenco Rhapsody by Corazon Flamenco

– Visit Prairies with Me by Wendy Huang

– Sint’e by Nathifa Dance Company & Outreach

– Tahiti.Past.Present.Future by Moe O Hakina Hema

– West Coast Team Exhibition by Bailey Dance

– Presentation of the Stepping Dance Form by The Cultural & Education Advancment Foundation, Inc. & Omicron Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

– Back in Time by Mad Skillz Dance Co.

This is only a sampling of all that the ADF has to offer this year, so if you have any interest at all in the type of quality artistic expression that Alabama is capable of producing, make sure you head downtown this weekend. Even those with two left feet will find a reason to dance.

There will be 16 free community dance classes offered as a part of Dance Across Birmingham at the BJCC and 75 master classes for professional and pre-professional dancers at four different locations across the city: the Alabama Ballet, Alabama School of Fine Arts, Birmingham-Southern College, and Children’s Dance Foundation. Thirty-three dance companies will perform at the Festival with a total of 332 performers taking the stage over the weekend. Tickets are available at or at the BJCC Central Ticket Office. For more information and details on the Alabama Dance festival visit or call (205) 602-3599.

Sam George is the managing editor of Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to

Orig­i­nally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on January 27, 2011.

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