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.