Archive for May, 2011

BY: Merilyn Jackson 05.21.2011

A report on priestly sex abuse prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pins the blame not on celibacy but on the sexual revolution that began in the ’60s. Take it from one who was victimized by a priest even before that era began: The 1960s were the best thing that ever happened to victims of clerical sex abuse.

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Who needs borders, anyway? 

Phillips: Nervous energy above all.


Several years ago, I painted my office a color called Spalding Gray. Yes, Sherwin Williams actually has such a color– SW 6074— and when I saw it I thought, what better way to make a small commemoration to the monologist/raconteur who had died earlier that year.

I had first seen Spalding in the 1980s in Swimming to Cambodia, his narrative one-man show at the Painted Bride about the making of the film The Killing Fields. Like everyone who ever saw Spalding, I was taken by the vividness of his storytelling and saddened that he most likely died by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry after a long and painful struggle to recover from a car accident.

Thaddeus Phillips— international theater creator, actor, writer and one-man verbal cyclone— follows in Gray’s wake, though I trust that will remain a metaphor. After receiving his B.A. from Colorado College, Phillips studied scene design and puppetry in Eastern Europe, where he may have acquired some of his pitch-perfect accents. He is artistic director of The Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, whose original theater is often based on Phillips’s actual travels and laced with references to current events. He premiered his latest work in a string of idiosyncratic successes— 17 Border Crossings— at the Painted Bride earlier this month.

The new South Philly

When he’s in Philadelphia, Phillips happens to live around the corner from me in South Philly with his wife and collaborator, the Colombian-born Tatiana Mallarino. The area south of Washington Avenue has become peopled with the city’s dancers, actors and performing artists who frequently collaborate or otherwise interact with each other, if only by attending each other’s performances for moral support.

Phillips transcends the kind of one-man sit-talking, water-sipping show that Spalding Gray created. He ramps his performances up with physical movement (he’s a pretty good tap dancer, when he’s of a mind), acting, a plethora of authentic-sounding accents in any language he affects, and ingenious stagecraft that includes lighting, the latest high-tech gadgetry and the oldest low-tech slight-of-hand.

As the audience settled in, Phillips worked the crowd like a maitre d’ in a fine restaurant, greeting people, hugging some, guiding some to better seats. Was it all part of the show or just his way of sloughing off some nervous energy before getting down to business? But nervous energy is what seems to drive Phillips.

Less frenetic

He must have been considered a skeptical and irrepressible student. Yet he is not so neurotic as Gray was, and in Border Crossings he slows himself down to a deliberate, less frenetic pace than in earlier works like Lost Soles, Flamingo/Winnebago or ¡El Conquistador!, all of which were hits at recent Live Arts/ Fringe Festivals.

Shakespeare is a frequent source for Phillips. To set the tone for Border Crossings, he recites the lines from Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, which mentions what was the first passport: a letter of passage signed by the king. Traveling in the last decade has become a trial, but even more so with the itinerary Phillips took on. He really did travel (and study) in the Czech Republic, and then on to Slovenia, Israel, Jordon, Cuba and Colombia, not necessarily in that order.
His retelling of how he experienced the border guards and how the culture of baksheesh varies from country to country is authentic. It reveals how freedom and free access to common goods and money informs value.

Israel $50, Jordan $2

In Eastern Europe, for instance, a pack or a carton of cigarettes gets you through customs. At the Israeli border, a $50 bill gets you by, while a short while later in Jordan only $2 suffices, except that you might have to submit to multiple shakedowns by the same guards at different border stages.

For each of the 17 crossings, Phillips updates the old vaudeville card and easel mode of announcing a change of scene by flicking on an iPad to indicate the number of the next crossing. A simple bar of fluorescent lights across the stage, designed by Maria Shaplin and operated by Bob Adamski, performs multiple duties from a rickety train to, hilariously, a ski lift, but I won’t give away how.

In this work, Phillips becomes his most frenetic, drawing the Amazon across the stage with chalk to illustrate the confluence of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. In this curly little delta there are no border guards and you can cross from country to country freely.

Costly stupidity

With dizzying incisiveness, Phillips shows us the irony, costliness, stupidity and inconsistency of crossing borders. In the end Phillips is talking to Pablo in Juarez, where Pablo asserts we are all aliens and then manages, finally, to sneak across the border to the U.S. Phillips is already at work on a new piece, Whale Optics, which he’ll workshop at the Live Arts lab on Fifth Street on April 18 and 23. For more details, click here.

Spalding Gray may have had a paint named after him, but Phillips’s work is so heady and criss-crossed with twists and turns that they ought to at least name a screwdriver after him.♦

Originally published by Broad Street Review, 4/11/2011

Posted on Tue, May. 10, 2011
By Merilyn Jackson
For the Inquirer
The Earth goddess of Philadelphia dance, Joan Myers Brown, hurled a thunderbolt of a program at the near-capacity audience in the Kimmel’s Perelman Theater Friday evening – but instead of running for cover, the crowd erupted in cheers as each of the four works ended.

It started with a vigorous sun shower, a reprise of Milton Myers’ Violin Concerto to the Philip Glass work of that name. Myers has been resident choreographer for Philadanco since 1986; this is one of my favorite pieces by him. Clad in variations of purple, 10 dancers race in diagonals across the stage to Glass’ pulse and, in a second section, stop the action with bodybuilding poses. It all ends with the lead female dancer held aloft in a fish dive by four men.

Also reprised was Cottonwool, by frequent contributor and former company member Christopher Huggins with music by the UK electronic music duo Lamb. It increased the volume and intensity of the evening to a downpour of movement. Tommie Waheed-Evans, Jeroboam Bozeman, and LaMar Baylor take turns teetering in spotlights as if to fall, while around them Chloé O. Davis, Roxanne Lyst and Rosita Davis and the other dancers skitter and speedball at high risk with never a misstep.

A Philadelphia premiere by Ray Mercer, a dancer of Lion King fame, was called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It had its world premiere in New York in March and has nothing to do with the movie but with a huge table that provided a feast for the eyes. I’ll never know how Philadanco kept pouring it on after the first two high-velocity pieces, but this technically tricky (if sometimes shticky), virtuosic table dance all but brought the house down. Davis, Lyst, and Lindsey Holmes take solo turns on a four-foot-high square table that acts as a platform to leap onto, dive under, or spring from, which they did with wild abandonment. Good thing Michael Jackson Jr. or Baylor or Evans was always there to catch them as the women flipped onto them backward, swan-diving with their noses to the floor and toes meeting between the men’s shoulder blades!

Finally, Rennie Harris’ often unexpectedly poignant hip-hop hit, Philadelphia Experiment, was danced with precision. Davis and Heather Benson got down but stayed elegant. How these dancers kept cool while doing squats, leg sweeps, and pumping or locking body parts at the end of such a demanding program is a mystery.

Diaghilev may have demanded “Étonne-moi!” but it only takes Joan Myers Brown’s steely gaze from the wings to make these artists astonish us.

Posted on Sat, May. 7, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Artistic director/choreographer Roni Koresh sometimes cherry-picks the best-received sections from his earlier dances, gathers them into a sequence, then gives the whole a title and a vague raison d’etre, as he has with his new Through the Skin.”Don’t intellectualize this dance, feel it viscerally,” he said before Thursday’s performance at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, which launched Koresh Dance Company’s 20th year.

Like Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin (with whom he worked last year), Koresh in recent seasons has found this formula – linking choreographic nuggets that otherwise wouldn’t make a golden coronet on their own – to be a good way to showcase minor work among the company’s showpieces.

His Sense of Human and Somewhere in Between, both from 2010, had 14 sections each, and he said Through the Skin grew out of his plundering of those two works. Showman though he is, however, he might have found a better way of setting it.

Why not program the full-company, two-part chair dance “Alarm” and “Ease” sections from Somewhere in Between as an excerpt in the first half of the show? The company of 10 dances the first section with stunning precision to Hugues Le Bars’ pulsing music, then repeats similar choreography at a slower pace to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 4. It’s long enough and strong enough to be a stand-alone piece. But as one of the 16 sections of Through the Skin it broke the momentum Koresh had going with much of the newer work.

Nonetheless, there were moments aplenty to savor, and the best of it was the overall change from Koresh’s signature quicksilver tempo to one slow enough to see his movement phrases more clearly. The whole was loosely laced together by Karl Mullen’s hypnotically voiced-over poem that states “We let the world in, through the skin.”

Koresh now has four virile men in the company, but some of the women’s sections stood out. In “Clash of the Humdrum,” Shannon Bramham, Jessica Daley, and the company’s sole remaining original member, Melissa Rector, all but spike the stage with triangled bends. In “Bang, Bang and Banging,” Leo Abraham’s music has Alexis Viator and Asya Zlatina aggressively jumping, skipping, and hopping around each other as if they were in a boxing ring.

Rector’s brief solo with Micah Geyer had the push- and-pull that something titled “Sin and Forgive Me” should. And when Joe Cotler shoved Fang-Ju Chou Gant’s leg down from arabesque like a lever, it soon flew up into one of those 6 o’clock extensions for which Koresh women are justly famous.

Posted on Fri, Apr. 29, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson


The backbone of the month-long Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts has been more local than international, with collaborations among many Philadelphia arts groups.

Some were unlikely matches and few will live on memorably as great works of art, yet many have resulted in surprisingly high-quality works that made for pleasurable evenings in the theater.

One of those occured Thursday evening in the Kimmel’s Perelman space, with the Philadelphia premier of Igor Stravinsky’s Renard, his Ragtime, and Terry Teachout and Paul Moravec’s Danse Russe.

In Renard, a collaboration among the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Orchestra 2001, and Center City Opera Theater, the orchestra, singers and dancers gave us a sparkling reinterpretation of the 1916 work that Stravinsky called a burlesque for the stage with singing and music.

Was the original just too flimsy to bother remounting as a concert work without set? From my elevated view in the first balcony, I could better see the dance’s choreographic patterns than those on the unraked orchestra section, which had been emptied of seats and filled with cabaret tables and chairs.

The six dancers in masks by Hua Hua Zhang all wore black formal suits by Amy Chmielewski. They danced within a wedge of stage left after the orchestra and male quartet filled the other side – a stage divided, with little interaction between the forces. Dancers fell to their sides on one knee, springing into cartwheels, their arms and hands signaling a strategy to rescue the Hen (played by Olive Prince) that was captured by Scott McPheeters, as Renard. The other creatures formed a militaristic marching line and retreated to their chairs, each with its own American flag. McPheeters pulleds wads of money from a suitcase as if to bribe the other animals.

With these objects, Lin sought, perhaps semiotically, to inject a political nod to contemporary issues of war and economy, but the choreography in this work did not spring from his usual deep well of meaning and, unlike much of his other work, was difficult to read. The dance seemed to still be in sketch stage, and that may be where it should remain.

Lin’s joyful opening bibelot with McPheeters and Prince dancing to Stravinsky’s Ragtime, did have glimmers of moves – a preparatory step that suggested a fox trot, for instance – that he’d do well to elaborate on.


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