American Dance Festival Brings Year-Round Movement to Durham

American Dance Festival Brings Year-Round Movement to Durham

The festival celebrates 40 years in Durham, where it has left a lasting imprint in modern dance history

ADF Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter is proud of the number of dance opportunities that the studios provide for the city.

Five years ago, champions and staffers of the American Dance Festival (ADF) saw a long-held dream fulfilled. For the first time, ADF claimed permanent dance studio space.

“Now, in people’s minds, we’re seen as year-round, not just a seasonal festival,” says Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter.

The 5,000-square-foot Samuel H. Scripps Studios occupies the second floor at 721 Broad St., which has allowed ADF to expand its offerings to include year-round classes and bring in choreographers and dancers off-season to create works for summer premieres. The building is near Jodee’s ADF office on Duke University’s East Campus, and features two large studios marked by high ceilings and no columns, perfect for dance. Last year, 763 people came to the programs at ADF’s studios, 273 of which were kids. “[I’m] thrilled that we can provide accessible and engaging community workshops for adults who have had no previous dance experience, provide artists’ residencies, [and] rehearsal space for the local dance community,” Jodee says.

Sakarah Hall-Edge balances Khyler W., 10, on her hip and reaches out to Sumi Farrell, 10, held by Sheldon Mba. Oakley Gaddy, 8, sits on his shoulders and Dahlia Louis, 9, balances on his other hip. The young girls are students at ADF’s Samuel H. Scripps Studios. Sakarah and Sheldon have also benefited from the adult classes taught at the studios.

Settling in Durham

Jodee worked for ADF in New York City before her move to Durham in the fall of 2008, and she notes how the world and Durham have changed in the last four decades since ADF came here.

The world became more connected, and Durham grew significantly. According to Jodee, she became involved in The Rotary Club of Durham and met local developer Arthur Rogers as his building – the same one on Broad Street – was under development.

The two worked together to bring ADF into the mix. The ADF studio space now includes an office, lobby, conference room, storage space and bathrooms with showers. BLOK Architecture’s Sasha Berghausen designed the building and ADF’s architect, Oswald Nagler, from Columbia, S.C., designed the second-floor space.

“Moving here was a wonderful way for ADF to build even deeper and stronger roots,” Jodee says. “I can’t begin to say how important it has been for me and the institution.”

Jodee began her work at ADF as an intern in 1991 and became associate director when Stephanie Reinhart, ADF executive co-director and wife of fellow executive co-director Charles L. Reinhart, died of leukemia. Upon Charles’ retirement in 2011, Jodee was named executive director the next year.

Global View

This year, Jodee says, the festival’s performance schedule is more packed than ever. Her move to Durham has allowed her to discover more alternative spaces to showcase dance.

Partners include the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and the Living Arts Collective dance studio downtown, along with Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art and Cary’s The Cary Theater.

International offerings remain a focus. ADF students headed here are “literally coming from all over the world,” Jodee notes.

Jodee’s husband, Gaspard Louis, a former Pilobolus dancer, recently returned from Siberia, where he conducted a dance workshop. As head of ADF community outreach, he not only connects with people across the world, but also across Durham. He will again lead a youth camp in the studios this summer – the “Shadow Camp with Pilobolus,” which is geared for kids ages 8 to 12.

“I think of my summer class as a playground [for the kids],” Gaspard says.

Jodee adds: “We invite the [camp] participants to attend a performance during the ADF season, which bridges their own experience with the work of professional dancers.”

‘Fur Flew and Debate Raged’

How ADF got to Durham is another story. In the mid-’70s, then-ADF director Charles Reinhart was unhappy at Connecticut College and was looking to relocate the ADF summer festival. The choice eventually came down to UMass at Amherst or Duke University, where then-president Terry Sanford and his staff (Vicky Patton, Terry’s personal assistant/social secretary at the time, played a pivotal role) were big arts supporters.

Duke won.

It was in 1977 that ADF celebrated the move from Connecticut in late spring with a gathering on Duke University’s East Campus. A young Governor James B. Hunt Jr. mingled with the small crowd as people filled paper plates with fried chicken and strawberries.

The decision to move in 1977 was not taken lightly, however. Writing in Dance Magazine, critic Nancy Vreeland later said: “Fur flew and debate raged.”

The festival opened its doors officially the next summer. Many, including Terry, didn’t think the ADF would last. Page Auditorium, the place for the performances, had no air conditioning, so Charles invited Terry often, assigning him to the hottest seat far up in the balcony. “The next year, we had air conditioning,” Charles has said in the past.

Audiences flocked to the ADF – women in summer dresses, men in khakis, young people in dance attire and wild outfits. The festival not only had staying power, but also became a part of Durham’s transformation. ADF helped push forward the Durham Performing Arts Center, where major dance works are now performed.

Durham – and North Carolina – has been the location for most of ADF’s programming, and as a result, “it is the record of place for an important part of modern dance history and an indigenous American art form,” Jodee says.

Photography by Briana Brough