November 21, 2011|By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Sometimes when a critic sees a dance the first time, it goes over her head. On a witty double bill with Lionel Popkin at Philadelphia Dance Projects’ season opener at the Performance Garage, I saw Gabrielle Revlock’s Share! a second time since it premiered in 2009.
I got the wit part back then, but not the “share.” With Julius Masri performing his soundscape live off to one side, Bonnie Friel stands on a riser lip-synching “Red River Valley.” Gregory Holt and Revlock dance Revlock’s eccentric and often original choreography: standing in place, the right toe raised slightly, the buttock rocking up and down with the eyes rolled upward – a motif repeated throughout the dance until you get its slightly bored affect. Eventually the three begin removing multiple sets of underwear and exchanging them, but finally it all ends up in heaps on Friel – shared.
Popkin illuminated Philadelphia stages years ago, but we lost him to Trisha Brown’s company and now to UCLA, where he teaches. His There Is an Elephant in This Dance is something you might have to see more than once.
Popkin, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Carolyn Hall, and Zornitsa Stoyanova warmed up the audience by coming out and chatting up individuals, creating a lovely connection between us. As Stoyanova donned the elephant costume, she asked an audience member to help her. When she danced, hopping, mincing along on her knees, flapping her trunk, we felt affection for her. The elephant seemed pensive, dejected, and then brightened at times, on stage as well as in Kyle Ruddick and Cari Ann Shim’s ghostly video projected throughout.
Popkin riveted us with an upstage center solo done in one spot. Without moving his feet, he moved or shook every other body part, even his mouth, blowing air out at us, eyes twinkling. At times he could have been evading an insect. Or he’d just let his upper torso sway and sink into his hips. All the while, he never lost eye contact with the audience, and we loved it.
Houston-Jones (another Philly ex-pat) stomps and travels rapidly across the stage in a vigorous dance that ends abruptly as he saunters away, shrugging it off with a raised eyebrow. Popkin dances with Hall; they do a back crossover tango step, and she leaps high backward into his hands. Popkin puts on the elephant, does kazatskis in it – funny, sad. Sometimes you don’t quite get a dance, but you know it was something heady.
Merilyn Jackson writes on dance, books, and food for
The Inquirer and other publications. Her blog is https://www.primeglib.com.