David Dorfman Dance at Mass MoCA: Survival, hope and cleaning up


NORTH ADAMS -- Clearly intrigued by the possibilities of dance expression, David Dorfman prowls unusual places for inspiration and then devotes considerable time developing each of his new choreographed pieces.

Dance enthusiasts may recall "Prophets of Funk," Dorfman's tribute to Sly and the Family Stone, late in the 2011 season at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Its party atmosphere invited the audience to join the fun, and the engagement managed to fill every seat in the Doris Duke Theatre over seven performances.

And now, David Dorfman Dance is back in our midst for a week's residency beginning today at Mass MoCA, preparing a new multimedia work that, according to Dorfman, is driven by the charged ferocity and poetry of indie, punk and folk-rock music, provided by five hard-working dancers and a band of musicians -- all of this embellished by a huge junk sculpture and some striking projections to create what he hopes is a kinetic anthem about humanity.

" ‘Come, And Back Again,' is an ode to how we as humans navigate our existence and the range of sensations that that entails," observes Dorfman. "We've really enjoyed putting it together, and I can't wait to share it with the Mass MoCA community. We've been working on it for two-and-a-half years," he explained during an enthusiastic conversation recently from Connecticut College in New London, where he is a professor of dance and department chair.

Dorfman will continue to make changes in his new piece prior to unveiling it Thursday evening at 8 in Mass MoCA's Hunter Center.

"In doing this I get so involved that the beginning point becomes obscured, there's one large middle, and the end is a bit fuzzy, but still it keeps growing with the piece, and it's just about ready," he remarked confidently, noting that the official world premiere will take place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater Oct. 16-19, as part of the Next Wave Festival.

The long road to "Come, And Back Again" began in a series of email exchanges with Patti Smith, the singer/songwriter/poet/ visual artist and activist -- a favorite of Dorfman.

"And then it turned out a year-and-a-half ago we weren't able to use her songs," recalled Dorfman who said his music director immediately called his attention to a song that Smith wrote and sang at the funeral of one Benjamin Smoke in 1995.

Benjamin, né Robert Dickerson, an American singer/songwriter, was noted for being a radical, gay rock ‘n' roll performer within the Atlanta underground scene, where Smith first had encountered him.

"I looked him up on YouTube right away, and then we contacted a couple of the (Smoke) band members who were happy to have someone reinterpret their music," said Dorfman, who then turned the score assignment over to Sam Crawford, the Brooklyn musician who created the new arrangements for his eight-member band.

"The band includes two vocalists, one male, Aaron Diskin, who sounds like Benjamin Smoke -- a gravelly, beautiful, sonorous voice -- and a female, Liz DeLise, who graduated from Connecticut College this past year. Her vocalizations are just unbelievable, so much presence and humanity -- she's worked on this for a year-and-a-half, solidly," said Dorfman. "One song, not a Smoke song, is ‘Wouldn't Mind Dying' -- I get to dance a lot on that one."

Crawford's band for the occasion includes a drummer, two guitars, each doubling on banjo, trumpet and a cello. "It's an acoustic cello amplified," Dorman explained, "which makes a nice band, a small kind of chamber band, a cross between indie rock, folk, and punk -- unusual instrumentation."

That sculpture spectators will see looming in the background is the work of Jonah Emerson-Bell. "It's an incredible project," said Dorfman. "He's into nails and screwdrivers -- things you find on the street. We find junk wherever we're performing, then paint it all white and assemble it into what is an entire wall at the back of the stage."

Dorfman's vision is completed by Shawn Hove, a media designer, also from Connecticut College.

"We're playing with some different kinds of close-ups," said Dorfman. "Part of the stage set is made of foam core material, and you can bring a viewer very close to the performer by projecting on this foam core -- the projection surfaces range from 20 by 10 feet, down to two by three feet. A lot of this piece is about intimacy.

" ‘Come, And Back Again' is a lot about love, a lot about survival, a lot about hope," said Dorfman, "and it's about the kind of messes we make that we want to hold onto, what we want to get rid of, what we want to leave for the next generation."

Dorfman is considering having individuals drop off personal junk to add to the big stage sculpture, in advance of Thursday's performance.

"We have two encore songs, and we may bring up anybody who wants to dance with us -- that's possible," he said, "and we've also talked about backstage tours.

"We have one week to see how, mulling all of these ideas, we'll come up-close and personal with the audience."


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