The Festival Series: American Dance Festival (1948-Present)

November 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

Last week we talked about the Bennington School of Dance. Today we’re talking about the American Dance Festival, a festival that has a history of collaboration with the NC Dance Festival and is a major force in Modern Dance here in North Carolina and nationwide.

Started in 1948 at Connecticut College and moved to Duke University in 1978, American Dance Festival has its roots at the Bennington School of Dance. After Bennington ceased to exist in 1942, one of the “Big Four”, Hanya Holm, in addition to Martha Hill, helped to start what at that time was referred to as New York University-Connecticut College School Of Dance/American Dance Festival. It had similar goals to Bennington: training dancers and providing space for modern dance to flourish.

Hanya Holm and man. Taken from ADF's archives on Facebook

Hanya Holm and Louis Horst some time between 1934-1937. Photo credit Barbara Morgan

The New York University-Connecticut College School of Dance/American Dance Festival was originally two separate parts. The first 5 weeks were dedicated to training and teaching. Both new and established artists came with their companies and taught students their techniques and repertory. The last week was dedicated solely to showcasing the artists’ work. In 1969, the name was changed to the American Dance Festival; this change marked a full integration of education and performance.

Member of Límón's company working with students

Member of Límón’s company working with students. Photo from ADF’s archives.

Many artists and their companies spent their summers in residency at ADF including Paul Taylor, Pilobolus, Martha Graham, José Limón (who spent 10+ years in residency!) and cited it as an influential time in their careers as choreographers.

ADF has grown immensely since its founding. Today over 400 students can be found each summer studying and performing at Duke University. The curriculum has grown to include all major dance techniques, dance medicine, body therapies, repertory, and choreography. There are teaching and performing workshops offered each year as well. Over 640 premieres, 340 commissions, and 50 reconstructions of classic works have occurred throughout the history of the Festival.

Since 1987 ADF has also had a humanities division which has released publications about philosophy, aesthetics, and cultures of modern dance. This division’s goals include integrating dance into the national cultural history of America. One of the largest projects completed was in 1987 when a publication called “Black Tradition in American Modern Dance” made it possible for over 20 works to be reconstructed and many others to be Labanotated.


Teresa Sneed, ADF student from 1985. Photo by Kevin Keister

In 2012, ADF opened the Samuel H. Scripps studio which was the first time the Festival offered full time, year round training at one facility. American Dance Festival continues to thrive today and is becoming a fully integrated part of the culture in Durham, North Carolina.

ADD from 2012

ADF from 2012

UP NEXT: Jacob’s Pillow. Tune in next week to learn more!


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