Archive for the ‘ Dance ’ Category

rsz_thenZORNITSA STOYANOVA Susan Rethorst’s “THEN” packs a lot of information into its 50 minutes.

The world premiere of Susan Rethorst’s THEN, with Group Motion and artistic director Manfred Fischbeck, was a bright, cheery, even cheeky little dance, only 50 minutes long. But it packed a lot of information into that short time.

A presentation of Philadelphia Dance Projects, in conjunction with the University of the Arts School of Dance, the new work encapsulates Rethorst’s first year in Philadelphia, which began last season at Bryn Mawr College. Her “Wreckings” have been a hallmark of her creative exploration and research. In them, she allows other choreographers to take over her dance rehearsals to deconstruct or even destroy her work before giving it back for her to return the favor.

In light of this risky practice, it seemed that THEN‘s clean, concise sections, like much of Merce Cunningham’s work, could be reordered for each performance and still be highly readable. Watching it through this lens, I thought it wouldn’t matter if I began this review by describing a middle section and then cycling back to the beginning, or by writing about the ending first.

So the second section has Gregory Holt doing a snaky Mick Jagger strut. Several sections have ice-dancing moments: death spirals and side-by-side forward waltzing. But all are marked by exaggerated and risibly dramatic silver-screen-style gesturing.

Lindsay Browning rubber-faces expressions hilariously while tossing away David Konyk and Holt with a mere forefinger. Konyk and Holt hopscotch over Eleanor Goudie-Averill and Browning’s splayed bodies. Lesya Popil glyphically poses, surrounded by the others as if in mock awe. In unison, all rise on tiptoe, calves trembling as if this is a difficult feat. But then an instantaneous return to control shows it’s nothing. There are horsy head wags, madcapping to the theme from Beetlejuice, slo-mo running.

Also strongly visible was the architectonic display of how the body stands or responds; such displays created living sculptures among the dancers. Renée Kurz’s playful costumes of dark, loose pants fringed in red just below the knees and swingy tops of red, turquoise, and yellows added a certain smirkiness to the whole. The shapes and colors against the charcoal back wall often made me think of a Miró painting, animated.

All of this began and ended with video of the dancers by Rethorst, lighting designer Matt Sharp and the dancers, first on long, white planks – moved about by the dancers to “wreck” the picture – and later danced with. And then the video rides the walls until it disappears, and the dance is over. The word then may imply sequence, but THEN is a work that doesn’t need to follow that rule.

Additional performances: 8 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad St. Tickets: $25. Information: 484-469-0288 or www.danceboxoffice.com

Superb Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers

Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2013, 3:01 AM

Brian Cordova and Liu Mo in Kun-Yang Lin´s 1999 "The Song That Can´t Be Sung," a gut-wrenching duet of forbidden love.
Brian Cordova and Liu Mo in Kun-Yang Lin’s 1999 “The Song That Can’t Be Sung,” a gut-wrenching duet of forbidden love.
Brian Cordova and Liu Mo in Kun-Yang Lin´s 1999 "The Song That Can´t Be Sung," a gut-wrenching duet of forbidden love.
Brian Cordova and Liu Mo in Kun-Yang Lin’s 1999 “The Song That Can’t Be Sung,” a gut-wrenching duet of forbidden love.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20131109_Superb_Kun-Yang_Lin_Dancers.html#gAUSw1jWYSfxJ6O2.99

At the Painted Bride on Thursday night, the artists of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers bared heart and soul, combining them with superb technique.

This retrospective evening of dances choreographed by Lin (first seen in New York through the 1990s to 2001) included four that received Philadelphia premieres. Lin moved the company here just five years ago, building it into the highly regarded Philadelphia fixture it now is, with a studio called Chi-Mac on South Ninth Street.

Liu Mo – whose background is Chinese classical dance and who has trained in contemporary dance with Lin for only about a year – takes the powerful solo “Moon Dance” (1993), originally danced by Lin.

Stepping onstage, he instantly put me in a thrall that lasted to the show’s final moment. Bare-chested and wearing a long muslin skirt, he angled wing-like arms, jerking them into flying motions. With astonishing balance, he ever so slowly dipped his head to the floor in a perpendicular arabesque. Then, mercurially, he changed direction, channeling Lin’s intensity while making the dance his own.

Lin and another male had originally danced “Run Silent, Run Deep” to Les Tambours du Bronx’s music and narrated poems. Here, with Evalina Carbonell bursting onto the stage, skittering in jarring spurts of movement, the evening’s thrill ride continued. Vuthy Ou joined her, and the pace grew more ferocious, with daring leaps, lifts, and catches that then slowed as she sensuously slithered downward along Ou’s body to his ankles.

In yet another revelation, Rachael Hart stuttered across the stage as if with a broken wing, struggling to stay in flight and mournfully dauntless in her trajectory in 2000’s “Butterfly” to “Un Bel Di.”

Former company member Olive Prince created “to dust.” (Disclosure: I’ve taken barre class with some of these dancers, including Prince; the most recent was in August, days before she gave birth to son Noah.) She had the company rush offstage and reenter to pose and slouch away, shoulders sloping, bodies angling into and out of stunning groupings. Prince later soloed in Lin’s 1998 “Renaissance,” exquisitely emerging chrysalislike from her cocoon of red netting.

Mo’s feminine litheness melted into Brian Cordova’s masculine strength in 1999’s “The Song That Can’t Be Sung,” a gut-wrenching duet of forbidden love. The full-company tango, 2001’s “Shall we . . . ?”, had a cheekiness best expressed by Jessica Warchal-King and a drunkenness best articulated by Eiren Shuman. Flawlessly danced with spiky footwork and sexy, thigh-brushing barridas, this was no milonga triste, but a happy ending.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20131109_Superb_Kun-Yang_Lin_Dancers.html#gAUSw1jWYSfxJ6O2.99

At the Painted Bride on Thursday night, the artists of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers bared heart and soul, combining them with superb technique.

This retrospective evening of dances choreographed by Lin (first seen in New York through the 1990s to 2001) included four that received Philadelphia premieres. Lin moved the company here just five years ago, building it into the highly regarded Philadelphia fixture it now is, with a studio called Chi-Mac on South Ninth Street.

Liu Mo – whose background is Chinese classical dance and who has trained in contemporary dance with Lin for only about a year – takes the powerful solo “Moon Dance” (1993), originally danced by Lin.

Stepping onstage, he instantly put me in a thrall that lasted to the show’s final moment. Bare-chested and wearing a long muslin skirt, he angled wing-like arms, jerking them into flying motions. With astonishing balance, he ever so slowly dipped his head to the floor in a perpendicular arabesque. Then, mercurially, he changed direction, channeling Lin’s intensity while making the dance his own.

Lin and another male had originally danced “Run Silent, Run Deep” to Les Tambours du Bronx’s music and narrated poems. Here, with Evalina Carbonell bursting onto the stage, skittering in jarring spurts of movement, the evening’s thrill ride continued. Vuthy Ou joined her, and the pace grew more ferocious, with daring leaps, lifts, and catches that then slowed as she sensuously slithered downward along Ou’s body to his ankles.

In yet another revelation, Rachael Hart stuttered across the stage as if with a broken wing, struggling to stay in flight and mournfully dauntless in her trajectory in 2000’s “Butterfly” to “Un Bel Di.”

Former company member Olive Prince created “to dust.” (Disclosure: I’ve taken barre class with some of these dancers, including Prince; the most recent was in August, days before she gave birth to son Noah.) She had the company rush offstage and reenter to pose and slouch away, shoulders sloping, bodies angling into and out of stunning groupings. Prince later soloed in Lin’s 1998 “Renaissance,” exquisitely emerging chrysalislike from her cocoon of red netting.

Mo’s feminine litheness melted into Brian Cordova’s masculine strength in 1999’s “The Song That Can’t Be Sung,” a gut-wrenching duet of forbidden love. The full-company tango, 2001’s “Shall we . . . ?”, had a cheekiness best expressed by Jessica Warchal-King and a drunkenness best articulated by Eiren Shuman. Flawlessly danced with spiky footwork and sexy, thigh-brushing barridas, this was no milonga triste, but a happy ending.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20131109_Superb_Kun-Yang_Lin_Dancers.html#gAUSw1jWYSfxJ6O2.99

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Published Saturday, May 4, 2013, 1:07 AM

The opening of the Come Together Festival at Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Thursday night showed just four reasons critics consider Philadelphia the country’s top dance city (outside the Big Apple). This festival of 27 established and emerging companies spotlights only a sliver of the richness of our dance culture.

World-renowned Rennie Harris Puremovement set the pace with Continuum (1997), for five company members and guest dancers. Battling it out with serial solos in a circle of light, and cheered on by their mates, Dinita Askew and Katia Cruz were jewels in Harris’ crown of astonishing dancers. This might look like random improvisation, but when you later see three guys doing the same impossibly difficult and rapid phrases in sync, you realize how well-choreographed it is. Just don’t blink.

Meredith Rainey of Carbon Dance reprised his stunning ballet Through the Wake with a few new members. The romantic ballerina this time was Julie Degnan. Fierce Felicia Cruz, who opened like one of the Three Furies, later seemed more high priestess to Degnan’s acolyte. The sprightly Anna Noble brought divinity to the trio, and a duet by William Burden and Eiren Shuman caught them in beautiful barrel and stag leaps and then hand-to-hand weight exchanges. A somewhat militaristic ending with all on a diagonal, lifting their knees in a slow march, surprised and pleased.

Junk’s Brian Sanders offered four of my favorites – but then, if he’d offered 44 more I’d love them all, too. The bone-crunching duet Dancing Dead drew winces each time the ghoulish couple from the grave (Chelsea Prunty, Miles Yeung) cricked an elbow or knee as they delighted all with their gangly waltz. And I’ll never tire of seeing Sanders’ classic Swimmer, this time performed by Billy Robinson like the champion he is.

As organizers of the festival, the Koresh Dance Company took the second half for itself, premiering – what else? – Come Together. The first section, “Home,” had the full company dressed in white in a sunny, laid-back, sidestepping dance to the cascading melodies of Tel Aviv’s Touré-Raichel Collective. “Promised to Another” has Micah Geyer and Shannon Bramham in heartbreaking split-up.

“Heart” shows off Melissa Rector in a slow and deliberate solo until Joe Cotler, in “Union,” joins her. In the “Raven” section, Alexis Viator, Eric Bean Jr., Krista Montrone, and Robert Tyler might be biblical lepers dancing in rags.

If you’ve missed the chance to fall in love with the 29 dancers in these companies, you’ve got more chances this weekend and again Wednesday through May 12.

http://www.inquirer.com/features/20130504_Come_Together_dance_fest_is_groovin__up_grandly.html

 

Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer
Posted: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 3:01 AM

ALEXANDER IZILIAEV

Pennsylvania Ballet dancers in company premiere of William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite.”

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The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2013 spring season with an artistically varied program that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. At the Academy of Music on Thursday night, the curtain rose on 12 dancers, backs to the audience, walking forward, taking steps back, making half-turns, adding more dance moves until they broke rank. The women in long-sleeved gowns, the men in blouses and straight trousers (by John Macfarlane, who also designed the moody set based on a Munch painting) were dancing Jirí Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land.

In this company premiere, Gabriella Yudenich and partner James Ihde were passionately dramatic in black, while Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis were exquisitely romantic in white. Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem gave the work gravitas, but the women’s hunched backs and crooked arms with fingers seeming to drip from their hands gave it a macabre, Munch-ian look.

The ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set his poetic At Various Points to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. A world premiere, this quartet is his 14th commission for the company. There is always something ludic about Neenan’s work. Here, it’s finger-wagging, putting the finger on the nose or chin, or pointing straight at the audience as if to say, “We see you seeing us.”

I wish I could have seen Rebecca Kanach’s raggedy costumes better, but lighting designer John Hoey shaded them too darkly and the particolored spotlights didn’t reach the dancers. If they had too little light, Martha Koeneman’s piano playing in the pit sparked them through the lighter parts of the score.

With the company and East Coast premiere of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, the Ballet adds to the two Forsythes in its repertoire. Condensed from his full evening-length 1984 ballet (the first he made for the Frankfurt Ballet when he became its director) and staged by choreographer Jodie Gates to the chaconne from Bach’s Solo Violin Partita No. 2, it looked very masculine: muscular, combative, cerebral, philosophical, and breathtakingly unsentimental.

The firewall falls repeatedly with unapologetic thuds to rise again on the 38 dancers now regrouped. Barefooted Caralin Curcio is “The Other,” who conducted arm signals throughout, echoing the mass motion in sync with Eurythmics exercises and Laban movement choirs. She was commanding, but sometimes got lost in the overly crowded field.

When these forces walked off in soft goose step at the end of the first half, it looked very like Forsythe was referencing Germany’s past while ushering in its artistic future. The pointe-slippered women performed a torrent of tendus to the late Eva Crossman-Hecht’s pianisms in the second half, as if in ballet barre class. Later, “The Other” leads the men, ribboning them through the women in this blitzkrieg of pure classicism sans embellishment.

The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2013 spring season with an artistically varied program that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. At the Academy of Music on Thursday night, the curtain rose on 12 dancers, backs to the audience, walking forward, taking steps back, making half-turns, adding more dance moves until they broke rank. The women in long-sleeved gowns, the men in blouses and straight trousers (by John Macfarlane, who also designed the moody set based on a Munch painting) were dancing Jirí Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land. In this company premiere, Gabriella Yudenich and partner James Ihde were passionately dramatic in black, while Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis were exquisitely romantic in white. Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem gave the work gravitas, but the women’s hunched backs and crooked arms with fingers seeming to drip from their hands gave it a macabre, Munch-ian look. The ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set his poetic At Various Points to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. A world premiere, this quartet is his 14th commission for the company. There is always something ludic about Neenan’s work. Here, it’s finger-wagging, putting the finger on the nose or chin, or pointing straight at the audience as if to say, “We see you seeing us.” I wish I could have seen Rebecca Kanach’s raggedy costumes better, but designer John Hoey shaded them too darkly and the particolored spotlights didn’t reach the dancers. If they had too little light, Martha Koeneman’s piano playing in the pit sparked them through the lighter parts of the score. With the company and East Coast premiere of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, the Ballet adds to the two Forsythes in its repertoire. Condensed from his full evening-length 1984 ballet (the first he made for the Frankfurt Ballet when he became its director) and staged by choreographer Jodie Gates to the chaconne from Bach’s Solo Violin Partita No. 2, it looked very masculine: muscular, combative, cerebral, philosophical, and breathtakingly unsentimental. The firewall falls repeatedly with unapologetic thuds to rise again on the 38 dancers now regrouped. Barefooted Caralin Curcio is “The Other,” who conducted arm signals throughout, echoing the mass motion in sync with Eurythmics exercises and Laban movement choirs. She was commanding, but sometimes got lost in the overly crowded field. When these forces walked off in soft goose step at the end of the first half, it looked very like Forsythe was referencing Germany’s past while ushering in its artistic future. The pointe-slippered women performed a torrent of tendus to the late Eva Crossman-Hecht’s pianisms in the second half, as if in ballet barre class. Later, “The Other” leads the men, ribboning them through the women in this blitzkrieg of pure classicism sans embellishment.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130615_Pennsylvania_Ballet_in_a_satisfying_spring_finale.html#oDpAS18wjckMS2D7.99
The Pennsylvania Ballet closes its 2013 spring season with an artistically varied program that is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. At the Academy of Music on Thursday night, the curtain rose on 12 dancers, backs to the audience, walking forward, taking steps back, making half-turns, adding more dance moves until they broke rank. The women in long-sleeved gowns, the men in blouses and straight trousers (by John Macfarlane, who also designed the moody set based on a Munch painting) were dancing Jirí Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land. In this company premiere, Gabriella Yudenich and partner James Ihde were passionately dramatic in black, while Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis were exquisitely romantic in white. Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem gave the work gravitas, but the women’s hunched backs and crooked arms with fingers seeming to drip from their hands gave it a macabre, Munch-ian look. The ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set his poetic At Various Points to Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words. A world premiere, this quartet is his 14th commission for the company. There is always something ludic about Neenan’s work. Here, it’s finger-wagging, putting the finger on the nose or chin, or pointing straight at the audience as if to say, “We see you seeing us.” I wish I could have seen Rebecca Kanach’s raggedy costumes better, but designer John Hoey shaded them too darkly and the particolored spotlights didn’t reach the dancers. If they had too little light, Martha Koeneman’s piano playing in the pit sparked them through the lighter parts of the score. With the company and East Coast premiere of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, the Ballet adds to the two Forsythes in its repertoire. Condensed from his full evening-length 1984 ballet (the first he made for the Frankfurt Ballet when he became its director) and staged by choreographer Jodie Gates to the chaconne from Bach’s Solo Violin Partita No. 2, it looked very masculine: muscular, combative, cerebral, philosophical, and breathtakingly unsentimental. The firewall falls repeatedly with unapologetic thuds to rise again on the 38 dancers now regrouped. Barefooted Caralin Curcio is “The Other,” who conducted arm signals throughout, echoing the mass motion in sync with Eurythmics exercises and Laban movement choirs. She was commanding, but sometimes got lost in the overly crowded field. When these forces walked off in soft goose step at the end of the first half, it looked very like Forsythe was referencing Germany’s past while ushering in its artistic future. The pointe-slippered women performed a torrent of tendus to the late Eva Crossman-Hecht’s pianisms in the second half, as if in ballet barre class. Later, “The Other” leads the men, ribboning them through the women in this blitzkrieg of pure classicism sans embellishment.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130615_Pennsylvania_Ballet_in_a_satisfying_spring_finale.html#oDpAS18wjckMS2D7.99
Travel Deals $999 — Punta Cana: 4-Star ‘Dreams’ Weeklong Trip from Philly * See all travel deals » Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer Posted: Saturday, June 15, 2013, 3:01 AM
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130615_Pennsylvania_Ballet_in_a_satisfying_spring_finale.html#oDpAS18wjckMS2D7.99

Revisiting a groundbreaking work

POSTED: Thursday, February 28, 2013, 8:32 PM

By Merilyn Jackson

Two duets dominate the three-piece Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane program that opened Thursday for a weekend run at the Painted Bride. Duet x 2 (1982) began the evening; Blauvelt Mountain closed it. Jones recently combined these works, along with a few others, under the title Body Against Body and presented them at the company’s home, New York Live Arts (formerly Dance Theater Workshop). They look as groundbreaking and timeless as they did at their world premieres three decades ago.

Jones’ huge following knows that his lover and choreographic partner, Arnie Zane, died of AIDS in 1988. The two co-choreographed the two other pieces, but Duet x 2 is solely Jones’ work. In it, after rocketing out of a set of swinging doors, Antonio Brown and LaMichael Leonard Jr. abruptly halt and pace about. Soon they shuffle, soft-shoe, and spar with each other until they slam back out through the doors. Leonard returns, this time with the buttery-limbed Talli Jackson; they repeat many of the bruisingly strenuous phrases, but it seems more and more manipulative – as it goes with relationships.

Repetition and relationship mark Blauvelt Mountain too, with seriously playful skipping and prancing by Erick Montes Chavero. He is adorably deadpan as he walks over Jackson’s chest and belly-bumps off the taller man’s shoulder, Jackson putting enough spring into it to send Chavero bouncing like a rejected cat. Jackson directs a teasing ronde de jambe at the audience, ends with a daring leap into Chavero’s arms – and then, darkness.

The stunner of the evening was the 1977 Continuous Replay, by Jones and Zane and revised in 1991 by Jones. It begins with a few quick-tempo, almost cartoonish bars of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by Plunderphonics composer John Oswald. Jenna Riegel, “the clock,” comes out naked and tight-fisted, elbows bent for work, lunging mechanically in profile across a band of light upstage. One by one, the others streak by her and join her machinations – mostly Nijinsky-like geometric phrases with the same driving intensity as Rite. Eventually they go haywire, donning bits and pieces of clothing, but Riegel keeps the time until she’s made her way around the stage, ending abruptly in freeze frame.

A new full-length Rite of Spring by Jones and Anne Bogart premiered last month in Chapel Hill, N.C., and goes to BAM in September. Won’t someone bring it here?

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013, 3:01 AM

 

Robert Battle programmed Paul Taylor’s 1981 masterpiece Arden Court as the opening note on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s three-night run at the Merriam Theater, which began Wednesday. Even with the antique beauty of William Boyce’s baroque music, the company breathed new life into Taylor’s work, and into the closer, Ailey’s 1960 classic Revelations.

The six men in Revelations danced like tightly coiled springs rapidly released, or, in static moments, X’d their bodies stiffly to be turned hands-over-heels by one another; one man rolled across the floor as the curtain dropped.

Linda Celeste Sims, Rachael McLaren, and Alicia Graf Mack were ethereal ballerinas wafting over the men’s shoulders, but, as with most Taylor works, the men had the edge.

In Battle’s 1999 Takademe, Jamar Roberts charmed in red ruched pants by Missoni, wriggling his way through multiple personality changes to fit Sheila Chandra’s vocalizations.

The most sensational piece was the local premiere of Philadelphia’s own Rennie Harris’ Home, to a terrific musical arrangement by Raphael Xavier, another homie and a former dancer with Harris’ Puremovement.

Philadanco alumna Hope Boykin stood out in this hot number, which featured sizzling performances by the 14-member cast, led by the matchless Matthew Rushing. Xavier used New York house DJ Dennis Ferrer’s “Deep, Deep Where the Sun Don’t Shine” as an anthem, and its techno beat gave Harris a multiplicity of choreographic possibilities. With the cast huddled together as if for protection, Rushing broke out and began the fast, fancy footwork and flying fingers that mark this dance throughout. Ultimately, all broke into house dancing, each sometimes in his or her own cloud of energy.

But underlying the sensational torso bending and hip rocking were the B-boy moves Harris grew up with and is justly famous for having morphed into a new genre for the stage. Here, the moves were softer, as if seen through fog – so swift the hops, sideways skips, leg crossovers; so elegant the interactions. At this soulful work’s end, Rushing gathers everyone back into the hushed huddle.

Of course, any Ailey audience would stay all night to see Revelations over and over. The praise dance never loses its punch, its beauty, its sass. It’s a classic that will last forever.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20130201_Ailey_invigorates_1981_masterpiece__classic_dance.html#ixzz2NSC9j0CI

A Tale of Lost Luggage

by Merilyn Jackson

This story first appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer
Sunday, August 12, 2001

Krakow, Poland. The indomitable Joan Myers Brown and her dance troupe, Philadanco, are no strangers to travel. In the 90s, they collected baggage claim checks from Turkey, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the U.K. Last year took them to a dance festival in Korea, which Brown allowed “had its difficulties but was one of the best tours ever. Travel has two objectives: to introduce the company to new audiences and allow the dancers to experience different cultures.”

In July, Philadanco found a lot more about how the new world is ordered after spending ten challenging days in post-communist Poland. The company was invited to perform at the Eighth Annual International Contemporary Dance Conference and Festival in Warsaw and two outpost cities, Poznan and the host city, Bytom, located in the economically depressed coal-mining region of Silesia.

For many Poles this was a new exposure to a high-profile Afro-American troupe whose repertoire ranges from vernacular dance to stylized modern ballet. Responses ranged from multiple curtain calls to remarks from arts cognoscenti with expectations of more edgy choreography from an American company.

But choreographer and director of the Silesian Dance Theater, Jacek Luminski, was not necessarily looking for edge when he visited Philadanco and Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project (administratively based on Rittenhouse Square) in Philadelphia last October to engage them for his two-week event. White Oak was to open the festival and Philadanco to close it, with companies from around the world in between. “I wanted Polish audiences to see these two very different streams of American dance,” Luminski said. “Philadanco is an extreme contrast to American post-modern dance, dancing with such joy. Just right for our gala finale.”

For the 16-member Philadanco troupe, the road to the finale near Bytom ultimately proved more frustrating than joyous. Just getting to Poland was a tricky dance. LOT Polish Airlines, which flies direct from Newark to Warsaw, refused to discount tickets for their party of 16. They had to take a more circuitous route.

At De Gaulle airport, a baggage handler’s strike snarled every process from baggage transfer to passport control. When French officials required an unanticipated visa from dancer Francisco Gella, who holds a Phillipino passport, company manager, Vanessa Thomas, refused to leave without him. Suddenly, Cisco saw their bus, flew down the steps and boarded before anyone could stop him. The troupe followed, arriving in Warsaw just a couple of days late.

Unfortunately, costumes for three of the four works on their program didn’t make it. On the six-hour drive to Poznan, they discussed how to deal with the missing gear.

“OK,” said Joan, tackling the program in order. “The women have their dresses for Echoes (an Alvin Ailey tribute). The men will have to dance in T-shirts and jeans.” Warren B. Griffin III, the tallest of the troupe, and some of the other men protested. “J.B. (the dancers call Ms. Brown, JB or Aunt Joan), how are we gonna dance in jeans?”

“You dance in jeans at the clubs,” she said firmly, “you can find a way to dance in them on stage.”

Gene Hill Sagan’s glamorous La Valse could not have been danced in casual jeans. Fortunately, the waltz-length gowns and the jumpsuits for Cisco Gella and Antonio Sisk made it. At the first performance in Poznan, three petite dancers, Tracy Vogt, Allyson Tripplett, and Willa-Noel Montague, entered swirling in black chiffon, and when Cisco and Warren leaped out, a rustle went through the sedate audience which applauded in Soviet-style unison.  Dr. Grazyna Czarnecka sat next to me and it seemed her favorite, “Very romantic ballet,” she said, “but dark and thrilling too.”

David Brown’s marvelous fluted tunics for Labess II accent the dancer’s flow, but only their briefs were on hand. Unflappably, Brown and the piece’s dancers, Odara Jabali-Nash, Hollie Wright, Tracy Vogt, and lead dancer, Dawn-Marie Watson, raided an open-air market before the first show. “We found four little dresses similar to the wine-colored briefs and took scissors to them,” Brown said. The men danced bare-chested, only in their briefs.

Each of the tour’s three performances closed with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 1998 celebration of the Black Power Movement, Hand Singing Song. Program notes described it as “Afro-Amerikanow-style Solidarity.” All the costumes but the black hats for this dance were lost too.  “Everybody just go to your luggage and pull out anything black,” Brown commanded.

Michael Wimberly’s jazz-based music underscored the ‘60s-period themes, but the dancers worried that Polish audiences wouldn’t get the text and gestures. Ahmad Lemons, the troupe’s powerhouse dancer, had just heard rap sung by a Polish group, and quipped, “It’s the first time I understood the words!” Jazz, gospel, and rap are very popular here.

In Warsaw, Philadanco drew four curtain calls, jeans and all in Stalin’s gift to Poland, a hideous building called the Palace of Culture. The audience responded enthusiastically to the dancer’s exaggerated street walking and upraised fists. Warszovians joke that the Palace is Warsaw’s best address, because from there you can’t see it. An intimidating Communist-era staff still runs it; its priority is to maintain order, not to be helpful or hand out programs. In other festival venues, staff wasn’t able to prevent theft in the dressing rooms – dancers from Israel were robbed backstage in Krakow.

Philadanco’s last concert was in a theater in a small town near Bytom. Like a frontier town, the host city, Bytom, has public drunkenness, a sizeable red light district, few restaurants, and only one grimy hotel – ill-equipped for the likes of Brown, her mostly African American troupe, and Baryshnikov. (A van whisked Baryshnikov and company to an elegant Krakow hotel an hour away.)

Walking through Bytom’s main square, some of the Philadanco dancers were called monkeys and animals in English by people who also threw things at them from a window above. New York’s famed LaMama Theater founder, Ellen Stewart, visiting a concurrent theater festival in Poznan, was similarly insulted while being refused service in the Sphinx restaurant there.  (Stewart is also black.)

“Without me,” the unescorted and shaken Stewart said just after fighting off pickpockets on the train down to Katowice and the dance festival, “Polish dramatists like Grotowski and Kantor would not be known in the United States. I was the one who brought them there.”

Poland’s high-culture is stuck in the 19th century, but with a technological foothold in the 21st century, the country has had to make whimsical compromises, “to touch down in the 20th century in only ten years time,” as some here say. The nation teeters between old-time socialist rules and new world service economy in sometimes charming, sometimes discomfiting ways.

The dancers’ initial conceptions of Poland ranged from informed to impressionistic. Kristen Irby, a soft-eyed young man, attended Pulaski High School in hometown Chicago. Lighting designer, Melody Beal lives near a major Polish neighborhood, Greenpoint, New York, so both were familiar with the most ubiquitous Polish foods like sauerkraut and pierogi[cq] and the sound, if not the meaning, of the language. But most of the group, who range in age from 18 to 32, had a spotty knowledge of Poland. Willa Noel-Montague holds a B.S. in psychology from Temple University and just returned to the troupe after a six-month scholarship at Columbia University. “I imagined it was all countryside,” she said, “like the Poland Springs water label.”

Romnee Marisa Hayes, at 18 the wide-eyed freshman of the troupe, said that she liked, “how open Warsaw is, with the tall buildings spread apart by parks and wide streets.” She didn’t know the streets were widened after the Nazis destroyed it, block-by-block.

This tender, but very mature group decided early on to visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz, a short drive from Bytom. “We were all divided at first,” said Odara, “but then we decided we might never get back here and that we should go.” Tracy Vogt, from Erie, PA, had Polish grandparents and learned for the first time, that besides the Jews, many Poles, gypsies and homosexuals were also murdered there.

Throughout the trip, Brown mentioned her own German-Jewish grandmother. When the guide told them that you’d have been taken here for having a Jewish grandparent, she said, “My God, I’d have been killed on two counts.”

Asked how she’d evaluate the trip, Brown said, “In Poland, we saw how they still live with their terrible war experiences and economy, but also their centuries old architecture and churches, their foods, their great shopping. The racial slurs are to me universal prejudices, often fueled by film and television. It is never an expected overt action, but it happens all over the world. We just live it. Despite this and the travel problems, we took back important and good memories of Poland.”

This story ends with a Philly twist. At press time the costume trunk was still missing. “Last time we heard from Air France, it was back in Paris,” said company manager Thomas. “To be sure it got here, we thought of asking them to put it on the same plane with Ira Einhorn.”

Review: WOLF-IN-SKINS

POSTED: Monday, January 28, 2013, 6:46 PM
By Merilyn Jackson
FOR THE INQUIRER

A full moon soared diagonally across the stage backdrop at Temple’s Conwell Theater Friday night for the opening of “Wolf-in-Skins.” Hounds and wolves bayed; the hair on my neck prickled. The animals loped in on all fours, knuckles fisted like paws. From the opposite fly, three consorts of the prince regent of Annfwin (Gwyn ap Nudd, a stag) danced across in vertical contrast, often in relevé. Their breasts were cupped loosely in petals, their diaphanous empire-waist tutus flared by acrylic. This tale, drawn from pre-Christian Celtic mythology, takes place when man and beast mated and procreated, if only in myth.

“Wolf-in-Skins” is the brainchild of choreographer Christopher Williams in collaboration with composer Gregory Spears, and this was but a preview — Act I, and a short excerpt of Act II. Terry Fox, director of Philadelphia Dance Projects, laudably brought this huge project to Philadelphia on her shoestring budget.

As a child, Williams danced the myths he read and locates the work in Prydein, yet it does not seem based on Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles even though it uses similar names.

Not since the gang rape by antlered men in Tomasz Wesolowski’s “Rite of Spring” in Warsaw have I seen costumes and movement this primal and erotic. Williams staged an equally savage disrobing of Bleiddwen, Kira Rae Blazek, by the hounds of the stag, Burr Johnson. Johnson (reviewed here last year for his poignant role in John Jasperse’ Fort Blossom)is a peerless Gwyn ap Nudd, his anguished, serpentine torso undulating in conflicted seduction of Bleiddwen even as he is banishing her for loving “the flesh of men.” Bleiddwen has whelped three bastard sons by Gwydion, the nephew of King Math; now she is turned into a she-wolf Gwydion cannot recognize.

Geoff McDonald conducted Spears’ postminimalist, early music-influenced score for a small ensemble and a four-voice “Greek chorus” singing in polyphonic harmonies, with soprano or countertenor breakouts.

Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek and Anthony Roth Costanzo gave voice to Bleiddwen and her son Gwrgi. Matthew Flatley danced Gwrgi until he changed into a human who serves the king as a footman, at which point Costanzo took the role in a tour-de-force of movement, acting, and singing.

The great Caitlin Scranton, seen here in 2010 in Lucinda Childs’ “Dance”, and again in excerpts of Williams’ “Saints” project in 2011, is one of Gwyn ap Nudd’s consorts. Six Philadelphia dancers danced the roles of courtiers and mock courtesans in this cast of 30: Gabrielle Revlock, Gregory Holt, Beau Hancock, Drew Kaiser, Stuart Meyers and Alec Moss.

Even without the puppets and additional acts to come, Williams has realized his intention to create a Gesamtkunstwerk — a total synthesis of the arts. With lighting by Joe Levasseur, set design by Michael Wang and Tom Lee, and sensational costumes by Ciera Wells, Carol Binion, and Andrew Jordan, it’s a visual feast. If dance is looking for new directions, I say one way to go is on this lush, sensual, and primal path.

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012, 3:01 AM

Wednesday night’s BalletX season opener at the Wilma Theater began as dark and stormy onstage as it was outside. But the program grew progressively lighter and more serene, and ended with its loveliest and most upbeat work, the Philadelphia premiere of Switch Phase, by BalletX co-artistic director Matthew Neenan.

The evening also featured world premieres by two guest choreographers. Mauro Astolfi’s Instant God, for the full company, posits that people would like to have a personal “god” to fix everything in life – in a snap. He expressed this through confrontation, tensions, movement phrases frustrated by awkward endings, all underpinned by Notfromearth’s soundscape of rain and dissonant noise.

The women were all in Martha Chamberlain’s little dark sheaths, the men in street clothes, and all wore socks, the better to slide when pushed along by another dancer. Struggling entanglements of small to large groups and oppositional moves filled much of the dance. Astolfi’s sensuous, offbeat use of musicality and William Cannon’s solo – all about off-center backward falls and lunges – were the spine of this dance.

Philadelphian Kate Watson-Wallace, known for small site-specific works, made I Was at a Party and My Mind Wandered Off. . . . In the second work of hers for the stage I’ve reviewed in two years, she once again created a scene, this one a party winding down. Colby Damon and Jared Brunson lean into each other like boxers in the ring in the 10th round. Three women in white, their hair hanging over their eyes, rotate their shoulders. And all harmonize a song as they circle into and out of the larger group, ending with a wild last dance.

Neenan’s Switch Phase was the most accomplished piece on the program, but the company had had time to absorb it fully since premiering it last summer in Vail. To music recorded by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, the dancers oscillate around each other like celestial bodies moving through space. Allison Walsh straddles Cannon’s prone body as he snaps his torso up to her. When Walsh later slices her arm up the side of Cannon’s neck, he grasps her hand before she can pull it away.

The most poignant section was a tango with newcomer Richard Villaverde and retiring Tara Keating. If you’ve loved watching this adorable vamp-next-door dancer over the last 15 years, first at Pennsylvania Ballet and then with BalletX, you’ll be as sad to see her leave the stage as I am.

http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20121109_BalletX_at_Wilma__all_darkness_and_light.html

November 08, 2012|By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

Three works by Italy’s Mauro Astolfi crown this fall’s dance season in Philadelphia, as a flurry of new pieces – from him and others – take to two local stages only a week apart.

Arriving in Philadelphia from Rome just before Sandy, Astolfi worked through storm-related delays to make Instant God for BalletX, which the company is premiering this week at the Wilma, along with new work by Matthew Neenan and Kate Watson-Wallace. And next week, Astolfi’s highly regarded Spellbound Contemporary Ballet debuts here with two Philadelphia premieres presented by Dance Celebration at the Annenberg Center.

Spellbound has been touring the United States on a subsidy from New England’s National Dance Project, the only European company to be chosen last year by the project. When BalletX cofounder Christine Cox saw them in New York in January, she sensed Astolfi’s sensual yet cerebral choreography would be a good fit for her company, and it wasn’t long before a BalletX commission was set.

“Working as a freelance choreographer in Europe,” Astolfi said, “I sometimes find the young dancers complain – about what time rehearsal is over, about traveling too much because they can’t recover. They want to be taken care of. For some, it’s just a job. But you can’t do this work just for money. It’s impossible.”

On the other hand, he said, after only three days of rehearsal, the BalletX dancers already were taking to the shape of Instant God.

“If I were here for a month,” he said, “they would look like my company. These dancers are hungry, and they can do anything. They are professional and don’t just work as a job.”

Dance companies in several countries have commissioned him in recent years, including Chicago’s River North Dance, which is coming next spring to the Annenberg.

He says he never comes to a company with preconceived ideas, “because when I meet the dancers, I just change everything. I need to feel their energy. So I’m trying to create an atmosphere and using an ambient soundscape created by Not From Earth for this piece.”

Neenan, BalletX’s co-artistic director, said, “In less than two weeks, Mauro and the dancers have created a dance that is sculptural, intimate, entangled, and precise.

Instant God is the darkest work on the program,” he said, “so we decided it should open, and my own work Switch Phase, which is more upbeat, closes it. We put Kate’s piece in the middle because it contrasts with both – it starts dark but gets funky, wild, and fun by the end.”

New York Times critic Alastair Macauley wrote warmly about Switch Phase after its world premiere over the summer at the Vail International Dance Festival and recently praised Neenan’s Party of the Year, saying the choreographer “is emerging as one of today’s foremost dance poets of American behavior and society.” Switch Phase was originally presented with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider performing onstage; here, the music will be recorded.

Watson-Wallace has been the Philly dance scene’s It Girl for more than a decade and received a Pew Fellowship in 2007. She may be best known for her Live Arts Festival trilogy House, Car, and Store. ( Car was performed for an audience of three in the backseat, surrounded by spectators who might have been witnesses to an accident.)

Those were site-specific works for small spaces, but last year, she began choreographing again for the stage. For BalletX, she’s made I Was at a Party and My Mind Wandered Off, which she calls a “nonlinear work that functions like a dream, a lot of washes of imagery – some futuristic and some animalistic or from nature.”

Fans of the impishly sexy and versatile dancer Tara Keating will be sorry to hear that this run marks her final appearance with BalletX. Keating danced with Pennsylvania Ballet from 1998 to 2008 and, in her last three years there, was also a founding member of BalletX, in 2005. She will continue as artistic coordinator and become the company’s ballet mistress.

In Dance Celebration’s program next week at Annenberg, Spellbound, which Astolfi formed in 1994, performs Lost for Words and Downshifting. While Italy is not short of highly regarded contemporary-dance companies and choreographers, Astolfi and Mauro Bigonzetti among them, Astolfi said that politicians and funders have not fully embraced the genre and have given very little support. They back traditional art forms, “the classical,” he said.

“To us, they say, ‘Oh, you’re fantastic, you’re one of the best companies – we’ll help you,’ but they promise, and they don’t fulfill their promises. Their words are empty. This was the inspiration for Lost for Words.”

Downshifting “is like the person who is changing the quality of life, maybe changing his job or going in another environment,” he said. “And we were changing some of our dancers and moving away from Italy a bit, and so I found this word in English, and I thought it was the right title for a dance.”

Spellbound, Nov. 15-17 at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-$55. 215-898- 3900 or annenbergcenter.org.

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