A Sizzling Summer: The Shows to Catch as Festival Season Hits Its Stride

June 16, 2023

Summer festival season is underway, boasting a staggering number of must-see performances. Here are a handful of highlights, along with a pair of July premieres happening outside any festival umbrella.

American Dance Festival

Two standing dancers on the left, one dancer on the right in a wheelchair.
Resident Island Dance Theatre in Chung-An Chang and Maylis Arrabit’s Ice Age. Photo by Huang Jyong Jhe, courtesy ADF.

DURHAM, NC  The modern dance festival’s 90th-anniversary season blazes on through July 22, with 32 performances featuring 13 festival commissions, 9 premieres, and 7 ADF debuts. Among the highlights: the Made in NC program featuring newly commissioned works by Renay Aumiller, Caroline Calouche, Kristin Taylor Duncan, Michelle Pearson, and Nicole Vaughan-Diaz; Kyle Marshall Choreography’s festival debut, including the ADF-commissioned Onyx, which digs into the Black and brown artists involved­ in the origins of rock and roll; and the U.S. debut of Taiwan’s physically integrated­ Resident Island Dance Theatre. Plus, catch the late-in-season premiere of were we birds?, Cara Hagan’s site-specific meditation on the disorientation of migration, on Aug. 22 at the Nasher Museum of Art. americandancefestival.org.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Three dancers wearing black clothes and sneakers are caught midair as one foot kicks up to their opposite knees, one hand upraised and the other pressed to their chest. They are in front of a nearby underpass, scraggly greens and streetlights visible nearby.
Rennie Harris Puremovement will perform during Hip Hop Across the Pillow. Photo by Danzel Thompson-Stout, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.

BECKET, MA  Offering its most international lineup since before the pandemic, the Pillow presents an overwhelmingly full nine weeks of programming. Dutch National Ballet, AXIS Dance Company, Oona Doherty, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, and Tulsa Ballet make their Pillow debuts. Mythili Prakash premieres She’s Auspicious, a bharatanatyam exploration of the paradox of femininity, on July 21, while two festival commissions will be unveiled during Hip Hop Across the Pillow, Aug. 2–6: one for Rokafella and Kwikstep and another performed by d. Sabela Grimes with the Ladies of Hip Hop. Over two dozen distinct performances will hit the iconic outdoor Henry J. Leir Stage, in addition to numerous exhibits, classes, and workshops across the campus and off-site. June 28–Aug. 27. jacobspillow.org.

Manchester International Festival

Two dancers work in a studio in comfortable rehearsal gear. One looks on as the other leans forward, staring intently at at their hand as they extend two fingers. They lean over a foot perched on forced arch.
L-E-V in rehearsal. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

MANCHESTER, UK  This year’s dance lineup for the ever-imaginative Manchester International Festival is brief, but boundary-pushing. Theo Clinkard provides the moves for the premiere of the musical adaptation of Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta’s novel The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, an anarchic bedtime story reimagining the history of the world through a queer lens. The dancers of L-E-V hit the nightclub floor with R.O.S.E, a collaboration between choreographer Sharon Eyal, record label Young, and DJ Ben UFO that invites the audience to join the performers on the floor at New Century Hall. And, in partnership with trans arts festival Trans Creative, cabaret legend Justin Vivian Bond performs One Night In Trans Vegas, which culminates in a celebratory takeover of Festival Square. June 29–July 16. factoryinternational.org.

Bates Dance Festival

Three Black dancers in pastels and bright colors in an outdoor courtyard. One leans back on their palms, a knee tucked beneath them. The other two sit on the lip of a small fountain, leaning into each other.
A.I.M by Kyle Abraham. Photo by Carrie Schneider, courtesy Bates Dance Festival.

LEWISTON, ME   Four carefully curated performances form Bates’ main-stage performance lineup. A.I.M by Kyle Abraham performs An Untitled Love, exalting in the complexities of self-love and Black love to songs from R&B artist D’Angelo. Gerald Casel’s Not About Race Dance responds to the silent but ever-present racial dynamics at play in the U.S. postmodern dance scene. LaTasha BarnesThe Jazz Continuum celebrates how Black artists’ contributions to jazz music proliferated a whole host of vernacular dances. In mourning after mornings, Vanessa Anspaugh’s multigenerational cast moves through communal loss and rituals to mark endings, inspired by a collection of death and grieving rituals. July 7–29. batesdancefestival.org.

Vail Dance Festival

Adji Cissoko balances in parallel on pointe. Her long, tawny braid form a waterfall midair as she tosses her head back. Her palms are upturned, wrists together as they extend forward from her waist.
Adji Cissoko. Photo by RJ Muna, courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

VAIL, CO  The starry, late-summer festival boasts 10 premieres this year, including a solo by and for artist in residence Adji Cissoko and a commission from Kyle Abraham for dancers from Alonzo King LINES Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Philadelphia Ballet, and A.I.M. Fellow first-time festival choreographer Melissa Toogood also contributes a premiere, as will regular suspects Tiler Peck, Lil Buck, Caili Quan, Justin Peck, and Larry Keigwin. DanceAspen will debut a new work by Matthew Neenan, while BalletX does the same with a piece by Jamar Roberts. Martha Graham Dance Company, L.A. Dance Project, and Music From the Sole will present programs, in addition to a who’s who of the ballet world and beyond appearing in role debuts and cross-company partnerships. July 28–Aug. 7. vaildance.org.

Dancing on the Spectrum

Jenn Freeman spins in a grassy field, long brown and tawny hair flying out behind her. Her arms curl outward to her sides as her chin tips upward.
Jenn Freeman. Photo by Mike Esperanza, courtesy La Jolla Playhouse.

SAN DIEGO  After being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 33, in 2021, Jenn Freeman was inspired to reexamine her childhood memories through dance. Is It Thursday Yet? is the result, a dance-theater work co-created­­ and directed by Sonya Tayeh featuring original live music by Holland Andrews, home video footage, and audio narrations from Freeman’s therapist as the artist navigates and celebrates the complexities of her own neurodivergence. Previews are slated for July 11–15, followed by a three-week run July 16–Aug. 6. lajollaplayhouse.org.

Ballet and Brushstrokes

Ten brightly costumed dancers stand in a cluster facing different directions on a black stage. Some reach upwards, others curl forward.
Ballet Hispánico in Eduardo Vilaro’s Asuka. Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

NEW YORK CITY  Ballet Hispánico artistic director Eduardo Vilaro responds to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Juan de Pareja, Afro-Hispanic Painter” with Buscando a Juan. Performed in the courtyard of the Met’s Lehman Wing, the new work considers the assumptions that might be made witnessing people of color in traditionally white spaces—like the multiracial Pareja at work in Diego Velázquez’s studio, where he was enslaved for over two decades before becoming an artist in his own right. July 13–15. metmuseum.org.