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Summer of dance!

Merce, Mark Morris, Bill T. Jones, and some new faces bust out their moves for the festival circuit.

By Iris FangerCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 6, 2009

A vibrant summer season around the United States include performances by Mark Morris Dance Group’s ‘V’ – with dancers including June Omura, (c.) – at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass.

MMDG/Robbie Jack

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The summer calendar has been marked for dancing since 1933 when American dance pioneer Ted Shawn and his company of Men Dancers gave their first performances at Jacob's Pillow, his 163-acre farm in Becket, Mass. A year later, in 1934, Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey brought their companies to Bennington College in Vermont for rural retreats. These summer residencies gave the choreographers a respite from the baking caverns of New York with spaces for rehearsals and classes.

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As the world changed and new faces appeared, more festivals were started or expanded to include other art forms. This summer's travelers have multiple choices to see companies at work, while dance students can find many centers offering intensive courses. The American Dance Festival, now located at Duke University in Durham, N.C. (through July 25) is the largest in terms of student numbers, with an extensive performance schedule, while Jacob's Pillow, which runs through Aug. 29, presents an eclectic mix of forms, from ballet to ballroom, contemporary to the old-time styles of tap.

One of the most heralded events of the summer will be the revival of postmodern choreographer Lucinda Childs's 1979 work, "Dance," at Bard SummerScape, July 9-12, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Childs conceived the piece in collaboration with composer Philip Glass and minimalist artist Sol LeWitt, who designed a stage set with white vertical and horizontal lines, backed by a huge screen to project a film of the dancers on stage moving through the space. "Dance" became the emblem for a generation of choreographers flying the banner of dance for its own sake, without need of décor or story line, instigated by Merce Cunningham from his earliest inventions.

Merce, as he is universally called, remains ever the iconoclast. Among the celebrations of his 90th birthday this year will be a retrospective of his works at Jacob's Pillow, July 22-26, from "Sounddance" (1975) to "CRWDSPCR" (1993) to "eyespace" (2006), which provides iPod Shuffles for each viewer to listen to individualized scores. His company also appears at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., July 14, and the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in New York City, Aug. 1-2 (free admission). His work "Nearly Ninety" will be performed at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts in Urbana, Ill., Sept. 25-26.

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